Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Comprehensive strategies to keep people and buildings safe

By Ryan Searles 

How often do you walk into an office building or hospital and marvel at the large boulders or bollards and the brightly lit path that takes you right where you need to go? Probably not that often, unless you’re compelled to think “that is a nice boulder,” whenever you see one. Or maybe that’s just me. 

But if you don’t notice them, then the security and architectural professionals involved in the site’s design did their job well.  

When I first started in the security consulting world, I heard other security professionals mention the phrase “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design,” or CPTED, in reference to simply using these large boulders and trees to protect the key points of a building. I suppose this checked the box at a very basic level for many owners, but a huge opportunity to create a holistic and community-minded design was missed. 

CPTED is so much more than surface-level protection; it encompasses multiple phases of design, social programs, colors, lighting, natural surveillance, natural access control, and even traffic curbing. CPTED strategies leverage architectural elements to create secure environments that do not detract from the design aesthetic or function. Some of these design strategies include ensuring territorial boundaries of design are well established both internally and externally; creating a maintenance plan for vegetation that could otherwise counter the concepts and principles of CPTED; and ensuring natural access control of interior and exterior spaces is achieved using design in conjunction with mechanical access control to create a safer and smoother flow of personnel. 

For a successful design, it’s best to have the architect involved in incorporating CPTED principles at the outset of the design process and engage the surrounding community to build trusted relationships and programs that increase the awareness and safety around an organization.  

However, CPTED is not meant to be a stand-alone, be-all and end-all security feature; physical security technologies such as cameras and access control devices still play a vital role in an organization’s overall security. But CPTED strategies work as a force multiplier with these physical systems, and when designed properly, are not noticed by the everyday worker or visitor. But a well-designed site keeps personnel and buildings safe and less susceptible to crime. 

Since becoming a Certified CPTED Professional, I now see the world of security from a different viewpoint. I’m encouraged by the ways we can influence people, organizations, crime mitigation, and overall environments through a more comprehensive design understanding, rather than simply trying to prevent crime events only armed with physical security.  

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