How to Use Building Design to Increase Security Effectiveness

How to Use Building Design to Increase Security Effectiveness

Did you know that adding security measures after the design process has reached the 35% designed phase can increase the cost of a construction project by 20%-30% in the short term and much more in the long term?  Think about it.  This factor is caused by the need to re-design and restructure the utility schemes so that the additional security features that are added can be accommodated.  Adding security solutions at the beginning of a project may add a mere 2% to the overall project costs.  Let’s look at why.

Most buildings are designed for aesthetics and not for the threats that the building or occupants must face – whether those threats are man-made or from natural causes.  Architects love to get their creative juices down on paper.  The more intriguing the design the better they feel.  On the other hand engineers, look at blueprints or plans and ask the question, why is this like that when it would be more logical if it were like this instead.   When I joke with my engineer friends I recite this old axiom; Positive people see the glass as half-full, while negative people see it as half-empty.  Engineers want to know why the glass is twice as large as it needs to be.  They always look at me like, “Well, yeah!” When we add designing against the threat to the building design process, everything changes.  And security professionals when they see the plans for the first time can’t understand why what they see as vulnerabilities were designed into the building by the architects and engineers.

Getting Stakeholder Buy-in on the Design Basis Threat

There are plenty of regulations that address fire and earthquakes or other phenomena but rarely are their construction codes for incorporating security measures for the myriad of other threats.  That can change.  By bringing architects, engineers, planners, facility managers and security professionals together at the beginning of the design process the building design including the surrounding area can actually be used to deter criminal activity and reduce the effects of catastrophic events; such as, high winds or terrorist attack.

The design team needs to know and agree on what possible threats there are to the building, people and information inside.  This is called the “Design Basis Threat” or DBT.  By knowing the DBT the design team can ensure each potential threat is mitigated through the design of the building and its surrounding area.  In general terms, mitigation strategies fall into five categories; maximizing stand-off distances, reducing flying debris hazards, preventing progressive collapse, limiting airborne contamination and providing mass notification.

For example, the further the stand-off distance is from legal parking spaces to the building façade, the less likely it is that the building will be affected by a stationary vehicle borne improvised explosive device.  Keeping the “unobstructed space” (the area immediate adjacent to the façade) free of shrubs or other places where small explosive devices or tools could be concealed, will eliminate the potential threat of someone leaving a small device close to the building or hiding tools that can be used later during hours of darkness for burglary.  These are just two threats that can be affected by applying just one design strategy.  This in turn reduces the possibility of people being injured by flying debris caused by a blast and therefore, meets another design criterion.

Designing from the Curb Inward

In order to be effective the design team must consider all threats that are capable of effecting the building, whether they control the surrounding property or not.  If adjacent property offers the opportunity for people with “ill intent” to compromise the building, then that area must also be considered.

There are four general rules to follow in providing mitigation strategies when “designing from the curb” in building design.

Rule 1 – Training is the Best Deterrence

First, deter bad behavior.  We do this by training personnel on what is expected of them during on-boarding orientation.  We should also teach what constitutes “bad behavior” and how to report it.  An additional deterrent is a well-trained and well-equipped security force.  A common practice is to post a warning sign or a fence but rarely will this deter a determined adversary.  That said, we can design inhabited space so that a-would be perpetrator’s behavior will be seen, the bad guy recognizes this and chooses another “softer” target.

Rule 2 – Slow Approaches to Assist with Observing Behavior

Second, we should delay “the bad guy” so that through effective design their presence and the activity they are conducting will be noticed.  A very effective way of doing this is creating as much distance as possible from the entrances of the building to the uncontrolled/public space.  The longer it takes to transit the space the more likely it is that someone will notice.  We commonly forget that each perimeter layer provides an opportunity to delay.  Use them when they are present.

Please note, it’s not that anyone is doing anything wrong here.  Everyone has a different perspective and sees the project from their vantage point.

Rule 3 – Get “Eyes on”

Third, detect bad behavior. We can do this by limiting the number of access points, so that someone attempting to enter in a different fashion will stand-out and be noticed.  The use of combined landscaping; i.e., rocks, meandering pathways, shrubs, trees, water obstacles can be very effective tools in channeling persons to the correct access point.

Another good design tool is to make walkways pass by windows where people in the building, either from their workstations or a public space, such as, a break room, will be able to see people as they approach.

Taking this strategy further; get as many “eyes on” the space as possible through a variety of means throughout the day.  Private spaces can be planned with balconies, porches, windows and open stairwells that allow observation by the residents of the areas surrounding their buildings.

Public spaces can be planned so that several different types of activities are conducted throughout the day and night in the same space.  By becoming multi-use the area is less likely to harbor criminal activity.  The more diverse the backgrounds and age groups the better.  Age group distinction is also important; small kids in the morning, older kids in the afternoon, teens in the early evening, adults a little later and millennials throughout the night.

In the 80’s we relied on security guards to do most of the watching for us.  As man-power cost rose over the next couple of decades, we replaced the guards and started to rely heavily on electronic security systems (ESS); i.e., Close Circuit Television (CCTV) or Access Control Systems (ACS).  While ESS is a great force multiplier, I submit that by designing approaches to the building so that they can be observed by persons inside will add tremendous detection capability and reduce long term costs in maintaining and monitoring the ESS systems.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune reported that less than one half of one percent of crime is solved by cameras.  Even if it were ten percent of crime solved by cameras I’d still say that’s not very good Return on Investment.

Some assistance is provided by biometrics and analytical video but remember technology is a tool to be used by a human.  This brings us to the next point.

Rule 4 – Adequate & Timely Response

And finally, the fourth element of design is to defend against or respond to bad behavior.  In other words, the good guys have to show up in time to catch the bad guys.  One of the most common mistakes in using too much technology is that the requirement to respond to bad behavior is often forgotten.  Therefore, the bad guy gets away with the “goods” and the response force shows up after and all they can really do is collect evidence.  So, it’s imperative that a response force is readily available.  Not necessarily on-site but close enough to respond quickly.  Additionally, they must be well-trained through drills and exercises and they must be well-equipped.

In summary

Remember, the building does not have to look like a fortress in order to be secure.  But it must be designed to provide a series of mitigation strategies that overlap and assist in thwarting a number of threats.  By working together; architects, engineers, planners, facility managers and security professional can ensure the building or built up environment is aesthetically pleasing, yet still provides adequate measures of security.  The most effective solutions are usually transparent to the untrained eye.  And that’s what we want.  We want the public to use the space freely without thinking about why the space is so friendly and accommodating for them.

When these disciplines come together to collaborate on incorporating security at the beginning of the project, an immediate gain can be realized in keeping the project costs down and in the long term by limiting the need for maintenance and manpower.

Architects, Designer, Engineers, Facility Managers, Planners and Security professionals will meet in New York City, 19 – 21 September 2017 to discuss other mitigation strategies with specific emphasis on Designing Secure Buildings: Integrating Security Technologies.


Increase Security Effectiveness    Increase Security Effectiveness