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3 Tips for Designing Safer Buildings that Discourage Crime | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
June 13, 2017
Photo of a security camer

The Master of Science in Security Technologies (MSST) program at the Technological Leadership Institute (TLI) goes beyond cyber security to include all 16 critical infrastructures. It is crucial, especially in this day and age, that people feel safe, not just online, but in their everyday lives —  whether they are at school, the grocery store or at home.

Carol Martinson is a corporate security, asset protection and risk management executive who teaches Security Science and Technology Foundations in the MSST program. In that course, students learn about prevention in design and how it applies in multiple setting.

We all know how different buildings can evoke different feelings. You walk in and you either feel welcome and relaxed or anxious and on guard. Much of that has to do with the design of the space inside.

Martinson says we can actually manipulate an environment to influence positive behavior. The concept dates back to the 1970s when it was used in public housing neighborhoods to prevent crime and build community. Today, those same principles are being applied to retail spaces, workplaces and our local schools.

Martinson speaks frequently with various groups, including schools and law enforcement about crime prevention through environmental design. She was recently asked to lead a conversation about security design for a new high school in the Sartell Public Schools system. She says incidents like Rocori and Sandy Hook have put a new emphasis on school safety and helped renew the interest in security design, which became more broadly applied after the release of Tim Crowe’s book Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, published in the early 90s.

Here is a look at some of the key principles and how they impact design:

Natural Access Control

Martinson says people feel better walking into a building when it is clear where to go and when they are greeted at or near the entrance. It naturally puts us at ease. That is the idea and goal of natural access control. It focuses on creating a well-defined entrance that is clean, clearly visible and welcoming. It should be well lit, with good signage, smooth pathways and no trees or large bushes obstructing the view. Visitors should be greeted at the door.

In the case of a school, administrative offices should be located near the entrance with a centralized check-in system. Schools may use another door during designated times for students who arrive by bus, but all other students and guests should enter and exit through the main entrance. It’s not only safer, it is good marketing.

“During my days working in the grocery industry, I often wondered why some stores had two or three entrances. How do you 'wow' a customer with that many entrances?” wondered Martinson.

Natural Surveillance

No criminal wants to get caught, meaning they are less likely to act if they know someone is watching. Natural surveillance creates better visibility and reaction time in the event something does happen. The key is to allow people on the inside to see out. The farther they can see, the better.

“In schools, we encourage glass, even though it may seem counterintuitive,” said Martinson. “Glass means people can see in. It also means teachers and other staff can see out.”

She said clean, maintainable landscaping is another key element. The rule of thumb is to keep bushes shorter than four feet and trees trimmed up six feet from the ground. Martinson said this is where many schools and organization fall short. She said consistent lighting is also very important to improve visibility and discourage crime.

Territorial Reinforcement

Mark your territory. Martinson says just like animals do in the wild, it is important for schools, businesses and organizations to clearly mark their territory. People should know the moment they step on the property who it belongs to. This can be done using a number of tactics like fencing, signage, pavement and landscaping.

“You should start by establishing the perimeter from the street, flowing into the parking area and pathways, all the way to the front door”, said Martinson.In schools, this often means staff and teachers park in the back of the lot. Then, create designated parking areas near the front of the building for students,

In schools, this often means staff and teachers park in the back of the lot. Then, create designated parking areas near the front of the building for students, parents and guests.

“This principle carries into sensitive spaces within the facility, too,” said Martinson. “For a school, that may be the nurse’s office or technology area. In retail spaces, it means locating and layering around the cash vault. Pharmacies, for example, should be located in the middle or back of a retail space with walls that go to the roof to prevent unauthorized access.”

With a little thought and foresight, we can make intentional design decisions that impact how people react in a space and prevent crime, increase safety and improve the community.

To learn more about security design and protecting our critical infrastructures, consider enrolling in the Master of Science in Security Technologies program at the Technological Leadership Institute. You can find a list of upcoming information sessions here.

About the Author photo and profile of MSST Faculty Member Carol Martinson

With a little thought and foresight, we can make intentional design decisions that impact how people react in a space and prevent crime, increase safety and improve the community.

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