Crime prevention through environmental design provides subtle yet strong design-based security
In the last several years, our country has collectively experienced the horror of active shooters in public spaces. While these acts of violence have occurred throughout history, our collective awareness has heightened in recent times. Continuous news cycles, live reporting and the proliferation of social media have kept us aware of up to the minute detailed information of the attacks on school, college, public and corporate grounds. Just recently, an active shooter took the lives of three innocent victims in the lobby of the Fifth Third Center, just minutes from our design firm, in the heart of Cincinnati, Ohio. This type of senseless violence has hit home for us, as it has for many other communities across this nation. We have good friends that work in the building and have heard the unnerving stories of survivors’ experiences. Citizens, building owners and public officials are now asking designers to share their expertise on how to help obstruct criminal activity through our design of buildings and public spaces.
Most public spaces rely heavily on public safety members, such as our police and fire departments, to serve as the first line of defense. However, now more than ever, building owners and city planners are looking to design firms to incorporate crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) as an initial line of defense against public threats. CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach to design which reduces criminal behavior through subtle and strategic manipulation of the built environment. While it may have once been viewed as something solely required for protecting military and civic buildings in years past, we have seen from the increased mass shootings, bombings and even vehicular assaults, that it has become a very necessary design principle to integrate into any building with a public or semi-public use.
Regardless of the type of public space, utilizing CPTED is one tactic that can create a warm, welcoming environment while providing the community-based security with the ability to easily monitor the space through visually open spaces and clear site sight lines. This transparency may seem counter to security. However, threats tend to fall into two categories: Covert or Overt. The first type of threat likes places to hide; if they believe they can be watched, then they will look for a softer target. These are typically threats of opportunity. The second type of threat has a specific target where any amount of security may not deter the action. In this case, transparency allows many eyes on the situation for a faster response time.
With both types of threats, CPTED principles should be applied to alter the persons ability to carry out the malicious act. First, compartmentalization or zoning should be incorporated to slow the assailant. This presents the space or building in a challenging way, and it slows the attacker down so that the innocent can escape. If an attacker is looking to quickly get away, a site that is difficult to escape can be a deterrent. If the attacker does attack, compartmentalization slows down the assailant so that the innocent can run away. Second, you should provide a clear designation of public and private spaces, so that the spaces can be easily identified. People naturally protect spaces they feel are their own and it’s easier to identify intruders in a well-defined space. Creating environments that maximize user’s familiarity with each other and their surroundings discourages potential offenders from entering the space. These are just some of the ways designers offer protection in a subtle and nonintrusive way. CPTED tactics help shape a safer environment without inhabitants feeling like there is an imminent threat, or that they are hunkered down in a fortress or bunker.
Other physical aspects of CPTED can include vehicle access and routing, placement and design of sidewalks, landscape and seating design, bullet resistant glazing, storm water management features, site artwork, and thoughtful parking design. Many times, these tactics can be disguised as aesthetic design features. Sculptural columns can act as traffic barriers and dry creeks can prevent a vehicle from assaulting a building while providing pleasing landscape and essential storm water management design. These security measures add to the site and building aesthetic while allowing the building and site to feel friendly, approachable and safe to their users.
While some acts of violence cannot be stopped, savvy designers are able to mitigate some of the potential crimes and limit the damage by active threats. As you consider your next public improvement project, please ask your design professionals to include CPTED principles to their technological solutions in their designs. It will make your community a better and safer place.
Timothy Wiley, RA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a project manager and project architect for the civic government market at emersion DESIGN.