How to get the most effective, cost-efficient security design

By Charles LeBlanc

Identifying when a site or building concept cannot support an owner’s security requirements is a far less intuitive process than, say, assessing the potential risk and mitigation options of building in a floodplain. Nevertheless, security is often taken for granted or treated as an afterthought, when it should be considered from the moment a new site or building is conceived.

One reason security is not discussed early in the development process is because many design and construction teams consider security to consist simply of key locks, card readers, cameras, and other typical security system devices supported by security guards. However, these are only the physical components that should evolve from a holistic security plan developed through application of industry-accepted concepts and strategies. Furthermore, security designs developed late in design or after construction has begun are much more expensive and difficult to maintain.

The following considerations can help guide you through the often-misunderstood process and impact of security on new building construction.

Security Program: The security program is essential to properly constructing a building and should be developed concurrently with the architectural program. The complexity of the program can vary widely and will depend on the owner’s anticipated operations and security requirements. Owner interviews should identify such elements as:

  • Property boundary identification
  • Site vehicle and pedestrian access controls
  • Utility service protection
  • On-site vehicle and pedestrian paths
  • Parking areas
  • Site lighting
  • Landscaping
  • Building setback distance
  • Building entrances and exits
  • Employee/visitor/delivery processing
  • Lobby design and controls
  • Building vertical transportation and controls
  • Security operations
  • Areas with specific security requirements

Some building owners also may require a threat assessment to further identify and define security requirements.

Site Selection and Building Layout: Security concepts such as setback distance, vehicular and pedestrian queuing and interaction, employee and visitor access, parking, and deliveries are often directly impacted by the site layout and the building location on the site. While some of these concepts may not always apply, many are fundamental to every building. Physical security system devices cannot compensate for many of these fundamental security requirements and, in rare cases, may lead to reconsideration of the site.

Permitting: Security plans are many times excluded from the site and initial building permit process. However, street access, utility access and service protection, fences, gates, driveways, sidewalks, vegetation, and other site features may be impacted by security requirements and may lead to costly permit revisions and construction delays if not addressed in a timely manner.

Life Safety Considerations: Early security plan discussions with the owner are necessary to identify and address security concerns that impact architectural design, such as location and adjacency. A common security concern is with current life safety and building codes that require emergency egress stairwells near the building exterior. Early coordination can ensure that required egress pathways do not pass through areas that must remain secure, such as sensitive record storage. Exit stairwell configurations, assembly areas, and stairwell re-entry requirements also may compromise security.

Building Lobbies: The impact of security requirements on building lobbies is often overlooked and should be coordinated early in the building design. Open lobby designs should be carefully coordinated with anticipated operations and traffic flow to ensure that the owner’s security policies can be enforced and applied in a consistent manner. Modifying a lobby to accommodate security requirements after construction is often difficult and expensive, and will likely negatively impact aesthetics and the user experience.

Unique Requirements: Owners often identify unique security requirements for the facility or specific areas within the facility. Many of these may be specific physical security control or monitoring requirements; however, some have a significant impact on design. Biometric controls, for example, can be accommodated easily for specific areas with low traffic. However, these controls require more time for each transaction and can significantly increase queuing times when deployed for high-traffic areas such as site access and building lobbies.

Categories: Design Tips