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Intelligent Design

When security professionals at one large state university planned a new parking structure as part of a recently constructed medical campus, they knew they had to address the potential security risks presented by the surrounding neighborhood. The site for the standalone parking garage was within one block of both a corrections detention facility and an alcohol treatment facility. But neither security nor the architects were starting from scratch in deciding how to handle the issue, because the university had prepared a security standard that served as a guide.

By following the guide’s directives about natural surveillance and other security principles, the team working on the project was able to incorporate appropriate security elements, such as visible and well-lighted entryways and stairwells, that were effective and consistent with the rest of the campus.

Universities are often in a growth mode, where they must add to a building or build entirely new facilities on campus. As that growth occurs, it’s important that security be considered during the design phase and that security be consistent across the campus. Universities are most likely to meet those twin objectives if they have a set of security design standards in place.

Unfortunately, building security design features are too often considered on an ad hoc basis and are frequently given a relatively low priority. While most colleges and universities have well-defined standards for electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and life-safety issues, only a few have developed standards or design guidelines for environmental, physical, and electronic security issues.

In the absence of adopted security design standards, security concerns are often considered as late as the final stages of design development. The later security issues are addressed, the fewer the options and alternatives. This is because, at later stages, construction budgets are well established and the architectural design is fixed, meaning that the opportunity for changes is limited and any required alterations will be more costly than if they had been part of the initial design.

To avoid that type of problem, security directors should take the lead in advocating for the development of standards for campus building projects. Following is an overview of how the process should work, including who to involve, what’s entailed in developing the standards, what they should include, and what benefits will accrue.

Who to involve. The design and implementation of the standards should be undertaken by a campus committee and a design professional working with the campus security specialist or a qualified consultant. In addition to security personnel and architects, the campus committee should include a representative from the school’s physical plant or maintenance department, purchasing personnel, and engineering specialists.

What’s entailed. The committee should be prepared to spend significant time developing the security design standards, so that they will be tailored to the unique risks, threats, physical environment, and culture of their college or university. The standards cannot be “boilerplated” from other manuals or past projects.

The standards contained in the document should represent minimum requirements for all new building projects at the university. There may be circumstances, however, where the nature of the building activities or occupants warrants additional protection. Design professionals should be sensitive to such situations.

Some of the more common circumstances that require extra care are where extensive after-hours operations are expected, where large amounts of cash are maintained, where clinical operations or patient treatments are conducted, where prisoners or psychiatric patients are treated, where animal care or research is involved, where chemical or biological materials are maintained, or where it is required by insurance or regulation.

After each project is completed, the final building should be compared against the campus standard to gauge compliance and to make adjustments for future projects. Standards should be updated as needed.

Benefits. Design standards offer several benefits. They facilitate a uniform security program, lower operating costs, make it easier to integrate crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles, smooth the way for the integration of systems, and help to limit liability.

Uniform programs. The presence of security design standards minimizes the potential for deans or department heads to inappropriately influence the level of security measures. And that, in turn, leads to consistency that allows for uniform expectations on the part of building users.

To see what can happen in the absence of such standards, consider what happened when one prominent northern university built a high-tech and expensive animal research building as part of several campus projects. The level of security implemented was based not on need but on the financial resources of the department in question. As a result, the animal research facility—which was a likely target of animal-rights groups—had no access control system, while an adjacent administrative building was equipped with a sophisticated security system, including electronic access control.

Had an incident occurred, the university would have had a difficult time justifying its actions. The extent of the problem was not discovered until the university hired security consultants to conduct a risk assessment.

Lower operating costs. A uniform standard will also reduce operating costs because security equipment installations will be uniform throughout the campus. Parts can be carried in-house, and maintenance personnel will be familiar with the products, minimizing the need for additional training. Institutions may also avail themselves of quantity discounts for products used as standard.

CPTED. CPTED principles of natural surveillance, natural access control, and territoriality are most effective when implemented in the early design stages of a facility. Having a standard that incorporates these principles up front helps to ensure that they will not be overlooked during the building design phase. 

For example, when University of Louisville architects planned a mixed-use building containing administration offices and a computer lab, security had several suggestions. The nature of the computer lab made it necessary to keep it open around the clock. However, security did not want lab users roaming around the administration building at night.

To address these concerns, the building was designed to place the computer lab on the perimeter of the building rather than in the interior. The lab was sealed off from the rest of the building, and to make sure that all user needs were met, the lab had its own restrooms, entrances for the disabled, and vending areas. Having a standard was critical in this case.

Integration. When security design standards exist, the university has consistent criteria for electrical and mechanical components for access control systems, intrusion detection systems, and CCTV systems, and those specifications are known to the building designers. That means that the building will be designed to accommodate any wiring needs, for example.

As a result, all of these systems can be easily integrated into the building structure either at the time or later at minimal cost and with minimal construction. Among other things, this approach allows wiring to be totally concealed behind walls, above hard ceilings, or within door and window frames.

Also, security devices can be coordinated within the environment. For example, CCTV cameras and lighting can be matched for better image quality, signage can be designed with the same color and aesthetic quality, and finishes can match the planned look and feel of the environment.

This concept is especially important in relation to door hardware. Doors can be fabricated specifically to accommodate specialized electrical components. If standards call for the use of only certain electronic components, planners will know how to have doors made. Trying to make changes later to adapt to other components can be a problem. Fire-rated doors are particularly problematic, because they generally cannot be modified once they are installed without compromising the facility’s fire rating.

Liability. With multiple buildings and facilities, colleges and universities are particularly vulnerable to tort litigation involving negligent security claims. Uneven or inconsistent levels of security for buildings similar in purpose or design can lead to liability exposure.

A security standard, consistently applied to new campus facilities, can offer an excellent defense to negligent security charges. A standard is particularly compelling evidence when it has been demonstrated that the institution has carefully considered all the relevant risks and has prescribed appropriate security strategies for inclusion in the design of all new facilities.

Standard elements. A standard consists of six main sections or elements and can run to dozens of pages when properly detailed. They include the objectives of the standard, situations requiring added protection, details related to CPTED, specific design issues, and guide specifications.

Objectives. The standards should first include a discussion of the security objectives, how they were arrived at, and how the document should be used. It should address the organization of the standard and illustrate what results are expected at each stage in the design process. Of particular relevance is the university’s expectations of what documents should be submitted at different stages of construction. Vendors and architects should both be given specific deadlines.

The standards should also include copies of any relevant contracts. For example, the agreement between the school and the architect should be included. This section spells out the architect’s responsibility to ensure compliance with the security design standards set forth in the document. This section also requires that the architect provide campus security with copies of the design for review and comment at each stage of the building design process.

Situational guides. The standards should include a section detailing any facilities that need special or more extensive security. For example, for high-risk facilities, the ability of the building to withstand the detonation of an explosive device or resist an intentional biochemical attack is clearly an issue that affects the structure in significant ways and involves numerous design elements.

Few buildings on a college campus necessitate such measures, but they do exist. Common among such facilities are research buildings, particularly if the research is controversial or involves defense-related grants and contracts. Other buildings that fall into this category are those housing special offices or VIPs, such as foreign dignitaries who may be at risk of attacks.

The tools available to mitigate this threat vary from exterior bollards and crash barricades to special protections for glass curtain walls and special hardening of wall surfaces. In some cases, government standards may exist for specific types of facilities.

Another special situation applies to common areas. The standard should address the specific security needs of common areas found in a campus environment, including parking lots, building lobby spaces, restrooms, and computer facilities. It should address the standard equipment and design issues for each of these spaces.

Within most buildings, there are a number of areas that are shared or are common spaces that are used by different groups. In office buildings, this may include conference rooms, copy centers, and break rooms. Lab facilities could require common chemical storage rooms, animal resource areas, or glass-washing areas.

These common or shared spaces should be positioned within the structure in a way that provides a common entry, without the need to enter another individual’s assigned space. For example, to access a common conference room shared among several different departments, the entrant should not be required to enter the space of an adjacent department.

Security principles. A discussion of CPTED principles should be in the standard. Let’s look at what this might include as an example of the kind of information the standard should contain.

CPTED guidelines are intended to be used during the earliest design phases, since these directives tend to affect site planning, use of space, and the positioning of major building components. They are general in their nature and are intended to permit the architect a substantial degree of latitude in how the objectives are accomplished.

The standard would direct architects to maximize opportunities for natural surveillance, increase a sense of territorial control and identification of space, and enhance natural access control. CPTED topics to include in the standard are landscaping, concealment, fencing, entry points, way-finding, blast resistance, perimeter planning, unsafe areas, shared space, after-hours operation, and area-specific concerns.

The concept of safe landscape design should be addressed in both objective form and with specific references to the type of plant materials, their placement, density, and height. Design standards for landscaping and plant growth should be such that they minimize areas of cover that potential attackers could use and maximize observation of areas by occupants and passing security personnel.

The standard should require that the architect eliminate publicly accessible interior and exterior areas of concealment. Areas of concealment include building alcoves, areas beneath stairwells, ornamental architectural features, and dense shrubbery. Particularly noteworthy are those areas that are close to entry doors and windows that offer concealment opportunities to an intruder.

The standard should lay out some options. For example, it might say that fencing and similar barriers such as plant materials may be used to provide a physical barrier to unauthorized access and to define the limits of an exterior space. It would also say that exterior fencing, such as ornamental wrought-iron fencing, can be used to channel or direct persons to appropriate walkways or building entry points.

The bottom line for the standard is that the building, its landscaping, and proximity to other structures should make it impossible for unauthorized people to access upper floors or a roof.

Within the concept of CPTED, way-finding is an important element of both interior and exterior design. Thus, this should be clearly addressed in the standard. Simply put, it should be easy to locate the structure, the particular entrances to be used, and the specific destination within the building.

This issue takes on even greater significance when the building has multiple occupant types such as faculty members and the public or when it has diverse uses. Architects should use entry features and visual cues such as symbolic architectural features and directional signs to accomplish this task.

The location and position of perimeter entry points are important to the issue of natural surveillance and natural access control. Highly visible entry points promote their own use by legitimate users of the building and are easily monitored by security or public safety personnel. Conversely, there may be entry points that, because of their location in a concealed area, should not be used routinely. In such cases, the architect should require the use of design features or electronic mechanisms to essentially eliminate these doors from use except during an emergency.

The standard should spell out that certain areas, such as restrooms and ATMs, should be located in or near safe locations, such as lobby desks and reception areas, to aid natural surveillance and to increase the perception of safety for normal users as well as offenders. These elements serve as magnets for normal users and serve as a warning to unauthorized users that they are at greater risk of scrutiny or apprehension.

Design issues. Strategies in this category tend to be more specific in nature, and relate primarily to configuring specific security-related components of a project. The standards should indicate certain standard security provisions—such as duress alarms in reception areas, access control alarms on doors, and the types of doors that should be used for specific facilities. This section lays out minimum security provisions that can be applied to all risk situations—high-risk situations specific to the campus should be described under the situational guide section.

These general design directives are intended to be reviewed and incorporated into the design process during the development and early construction phases. The author’s standard is broken into 16 divisions to comply with specifications set out by the Construction Specifications Institute. These divisions are general requirements, site work, concrete, masonry, metals, wood and plastic, thermal, doors and windows, finishes, specialties, equipment, furnishings, special construction, conveying systems, mechanical, and electrical.

These divisions include numerous items that might be necessary for construction but might not have security implications. For example, divisions relating to concrete, masonry, metals, wood and plastic, and thermal might not have any specifications in the standards. However, other divisions such as those that deal with doors and windows and mechanical specifications might have several specifications that must be met.

For example, the door and window section should include the details of what doors should be used along with the door hardware and keying requirements. It should also include instructions on how hardware vendors should interact with electronic security systems vendors. The final testing to be used to approve secure doors should be detailed. Security window designs should be laid out in this division along with details about which windows should be protected.

Other, less obvious topics also have security implications. For example, under the division dealing with furnishing, the standards should set out the design of ash and waste receptacles to prevent them from being used as door propping devices. This division should also include requirements for furnishings in specific spaces, such as residence halls or lobbies, to reduce vandalism.

The development of appropriate security design standards for campus construction projects can be a time-consuming task. But university security departments that take the time to develop those documents will save money while obtaining better, more consistent security results across the campus.

Dan Keller is president of Aegis Security Design in Louisville, Kentucky.