Building Perimeter Security with Environmental Design

More than fences and cameras

Office building exterior with landscaping

You might assume that the entrances to your building are where you need the most protection, and you might be right—but if you limit security efforts to your front door, you would still be leaving your building vulnerable.

While security is important, it should—and can—be done without taking away from the aesthetics.

Instead of solely focusing on the building, start by controlling who can walk or drive onto your property. Start at the building perimeter, or property lines, and move towards the building entrances. As an added incentive, installing outdoor security features is often simpler and cheaper than indoor or building envelope measures.

What’s on the outside counts—especially when you’re trying to protect what’s on the inside.

Design Your Environment to Increase Security

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a proactive design philosophy. The concept is simple: a multi-disciplinary approach is applied to buildings and properties to productively use the space to reduce exposure to crime—the same way they are designed to prevent damage from daily weather and natural disasters.

The benefits of CPTED aren’t limited to crime prevention. Taking a proactive design approach can also create cost savings, improved quality of life for building users, and decreased loss and liability.

CPTED Principles

There are three main components of CPTED:

  • Surveillance
  • Territorial Reinforcement
  • Access Control

Surveillance

Surveillance doesn’t just mean installing motion sensors and security cameras all over the property; it can be done naturally as well.

At its most basic level, surveillance is visibility. Overgrown shrubs, dense trees, low-light conditions, and large window displays can all give criminals places to hide out of sight. Shrubs should be kept shorter than 3 feet tall, and trees should be no taller than 7 feet. Adequately lit parking lots, pathways, and entrances should be as safe at night as they are during the day.

Lighting bollards outside building

If security is considered early enough in a building’s design stage, driveways, paths, and walkways can all be placed in view of natural surveillance structures like building entrances and windows.

Intruders outside the building aren’t the only ones whom you’ll want to make sure are visible. If passersby can see the interior of the space from the sidewalk or street, that will also increase safety. Potential criminals can see that the building is occupied and be deterred, or passersby may notice illegal activity going on indoors and can alert the authorities.

Of course, motion sensors and security cameras also play a role. Automated surveillance systems have several advantages over natural line-of-sight security, especially at night or in low traffic areas. Motion sensors can trigger lights and security cameras, and send alerts to a security or building manager. Security cameras can capture criminal activity, and, particularly in cases where the intruder isn’t caught immediately, the footage can aid authorities in following up on the event.

Territorial Reinforcement

Having a property perceived as a cared-for and secure space can protect it. This is called territorial reinforcement, and it is done through social and maintenance tools.

The primary component of territorial reinforcement is maintaining the premises. The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that the little things matter. If properties that are not steadfastly maintained, they are more likely to be targeted by vandalism and thieves, as they display a lack of owner care. By maintaining a clean, cared-for appearance, buildings can discourage crime.

Second, encourage building users to take ownership of the space. Users who feel proprietary concern for a building are more likely to notice and challenge strangers or people who don’t belong, and report them to security or police if necessary.

When visitors enter buildings, they should be screened—this can be a more formal, intimidating security checkpoint, or simply a soft reminder by a greeter or receptionist that they are entering a private space.

Ownership of the space can also be encouraged by placing amenities such as refreshments and seating in common areas, and requiring guests to wear visitor tags.

office reception area

Other measures that increase territorial reinforcement include placing security system signage at entrances and restricting the use of certain areas to staff only. Property lines can also be enforced through fencing, shrubbery, or other visual barriers; physically threatening fencing such as barbed wire should be avoided because it detracts from the environment and sends the message that the area has a high crime rate.

Access Control

Well-designed buildings take the proverbial high ground. They don’t give criminals any advantage or easy approach. They easiest way to accomplish that is to clearly delineate public versus private space, and control all paths to the building. Visitors should be guided—both visually and physically—to where they need to enter the building.

Entrances and exits, fencing, lighting, landscaping, and other site furnishings can be placed to control pedestrian and traffic flow. For example, small shrubs can be placed between a sidewalk and driveway to deter pedestrians from walking into a traffic area outside of a crosswalk. Physical guides like architectural bollards and light posts force visitors to slow and navigate around them.

Recent terrorist attacks have increased the prevalence of crash-rated or steel-pipe security bollards at military, governmental, and other buildings or spaces requiring higher security levels. Security bollards are more than a visual marker; they can be used to protect property and occupants from vehicle ramming attacks. Pedestrians can easily walk around them, but a well-placed bollard can greatly increase building security.

Some site furnishings have also moved toward increased security. Impact-resistant garden planters, blast-resistant garbage bins, and crash-resistant bike racks are all also available.

Environmental design protection isn’t always about rigid security, however. While heavy duty security bollards have their place, not all bollards have to be able to take down a ramming truck. Often, it’s enough to provide a visual or light physical barrier to cars, to remind them where they should and shouldn’t go. Flexible bollards can instruct drivers where not to go, but will bend and decrease damage both to the vehicle and the bollard itself in the case of impact.

For paths where certain vehicles need to enter, but most visitor access must be restricted, removable bollards are also an option—left standing, they will block vehicles from entering the driveway, but they can easily be removed or locked in a prone position to enable maintenance vehicles, for example.

Access control should also take into account other, non-vehicle modes of getting into a building. Doors and windows should always be locked during non-business hours, and key control maintained. Access to ladders should be secured, and trees should not be placed within reach of windows.

Corporate headquarters with security bollards

Conclusion

The landscape around your building can do more than just look nice—it can protect your property and occupants. Installing security measures on the lot can also be more cost-effective than focusing your security efforts on the building envelope alone.

You make sure your building and surrounding property are designed to last. Why not build in smart security too?

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