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‘Security Needs to be as Integral to Building Design as Plumbing and Power’

‘Security Needs to be as Integral to Building Design as Plumbing and Power’
07 September 2023

Paula Balmori, Global Director of Security Design and Systems Integration at Brivo, argues her case for why security considerations need to be embedded in the design of a building.

Paula specialises in physical security and force protection design, and has crafted a security design methodology which bridges the gap that traditionally existed between the realms of security and design.


"Building security in from the very beginning means not having to spend revising plans or retrofitting designs to incorporate security."

Is Security an Afterthought?


It’s a lesson most of us learn very early: the lego house we built doesn’t have quite enough room for furniture inside, or there isn’t quite enough room on the paper for all of our finger-painted daubings. Planning is vital, retrofitting is hard.

These lessons are built into the way we design our world. Key aspects of building design are integrated from the very beginning. It would be complete folly to design a new building, finalise the plans, and then think about how power and plumbing should be integrated. MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) is considered a vital part of design that turns buildings from empty rooms into comfortable spaces that are welcoming and liveable, and is fully integrated into the process from the very start.

Security is, by comparison, an afterthought, even though creating somewhere safe is vital when creating somewhere new. This may have been acceptable in the past, but the increasing sophistication of security technology and knowledge means processes must evolve so that security is a fully integrated system, not a mere add-on.


Integrating Security


Today, there are many principles that exist to help design spaces for better security. Too often, these principles are seen as lower priority or have to wait long after many of the different considerations that go into building design, something that can be “slotted in” later. So, for example, if a design creates a “blind spot” with no natural surveillance, there’s a good chance that it will be solved by placing cameras, rather than trying to create a design without this issue.

One example of the principles that can be used to identify issues is CPTED, or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. These look to reduce crime by taking away opportunities and demonstrating that an environment is lived-in and cared-for, similar to a “broken windows” approach. The idea is that there is no opportunity for criminal behaviour and the environment is one where anything out of the ordinary will be noticed or reported. If crime can’t get a foothold, then there will be a greater sense of security as well as simply better security.

The problem is that these principles are often applied in a way that is about mitigating issues rather than avoiding them in the first place. Their use can sometimes lead to “hostile architecture”, ways of fixing designs that can be unpleasant. The best-known examples of this are ways of preventing homeless people from bedding down but there are others—spikes on top of walls, CCTV warning signs, metal fences and more. This approach of mitigation can change environments that are designed to be worth spending time in, to places where there is a greater unease.

We wouldn’t accept this for other aspects of MEP, for example, extension cables pinned haphazardly to the floor, or bringing in portable heating units or portaloos to address the failings of more integrated planning. We shouldn’t expect the same with security.


More than Crime Prevention


The other problem with this approach is that integrating security is about more than detecting and discouraging criminal activity. Instead, architects and design professionals should be thinking about resiliency.

A similar shift is taking place right now in cybersecurity. Before, the way security providers would work would be to make sure that the right antivirus and spam software was installed everywhere necessary. Today, they are considering what data a business holds is most important, where the biggest risks lie, and what can we do if something goes wrong.

This is the type of attitude shift that is necessary when it comes to integrating security. People and businesses place a high value on asset protection, business continuity and resilient practices—they want where they work to be safe, not just because security was added later, but is built into the foundations of the project (pun intended). This requires the holistic integration of security strategies into the design process, rather than mitigation later. Just as designers and architects look at the inherent hazards of an environment such as extreme weather and natural disasters, they need to also look at more everyday risks and build resilience to these too.

While low-probability, high-impact events such as hurricanes and floods need to be understood and built for, so do the types of high-probability, low-impact events that security technology addresses. And rather than make a best guess at the problems and their mitigations, the use of data analytics can help create more efficient designs—but again this approach is most effective if integrated from the start.

There are also benefits of integrated security that can go beyond people and assets being safer. Building security in from the very beginning means not having to spend revising plans or retrofitting designs to incorporate security. For example, if natural surveillance is made a priority, then there will likely be a need for fewer cameras, and for those who need to monitor those cameras. Better planning will mean paying less later on as problems are discovered and mitigated for.

Ultimately, thinking about security from the start of planning a building is about more than just protection. Done right it helps to create better knowledge of a space, helping to make it better to work in and more efficient, and is as necessary as the plumbing and electrics. 

Picture: a photograph of Paula Balmori. Image Credit: Brivo

Article written by Paula Balmori | Published 07 September 2023


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