November 10

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Security In Building Design

By Robert Salvador

November 10, 2021


Building security is not just about having the latest electronic gear, software and security guards. Building security is also no longer just for building types with highly specific occupancy considerations. Increasingly, buildings of all types and purposes should benefit from careful security planning during the architectural design process. More and more, architects need to acquaint themselves with the range of security factors that affect design.

Security Against What?

What a security system is designed to protect? Some answers are obvious, a security system's most important job is to provide safety for all the employees, the staff, and the visitors who use a building. 

Security considerations often go beyond those needs.  Access control very often extends beyond merely controlling who may enter a building - to include the control and monitoring of the specific people permitted access to particular areas within a larger facility. Different building types - healthcare facilities, banks, hotels, offices with sensitive data storage areas - all require such concentric layers or levels of access control.

As that brief list of building types begins to make clear, security considerations are hardly limited to protecting people. The building's contents need protection from damage or loss, which may seem obvious for warehouses, retail outlets and banks but it's also clear that control of access must always be complemented by control of egress, that is, who leaves a facility and what they're allowed to carry out. A fine example is pharmaceutical storage rooms in hospitals, where pains must be taken to prevent the theft and loss of drugs and controlled substances. In technically sophisticated facilities, it's not just material property but information - and the systems that carry it - that must be protected from harm. In many modern facilities and situations, data and data systems rank second in value only to people, damage that could lead to "down time" and the financial and institutional chaos that might result.

Security must tie into a host of other considerations bearing on all a building's systems, including power, telecommunications, and other vital utilities. The connection between security and fire protection is obvious, as is, for example, the link between security and seismic engineering in earthquake-prone zones. Data systems require not only protection but also adequate backup and systems redundancy.  What's more, the integrated infrastructure design being incorporated into many new facilities links security to all the other building information systems. Thus, the design of an appropriate security system becomes ever more dependent on knowing something about all the other systems a building will use.  It is also important to note that the security components can provide crucial documentation in the investigation of crimes that have occurred.

Security experts stress that the later that security design is addressed, the more likely it is to cause significant change orders and a lot of conflict with the existing architectural plans. If the vulnerability isn't addressed it can result in an incident that can cause insurance issues, litigation, or even bankruptcy for an organization..

Why Security Is Overlooked

Security is not considered a basic design criteria on most projects, unless the building is something like a bank or an embassy.

Unfortunately, with the already long wishlist that comes with new construction or a large remodel, security planning is often an afterthought during the design process.  There are often moments during the design and construction process when security issues are finally presented and the building owner suddenly realizes that more intensive security precautions might be required.  Moreover, security isn't required by building codes, so the building owner must include security as part of the building program or it will be overlooked. These  "Ah ha!" moments are  potentially costly, as any construction design oversights can be.

Experts recommend a risk assessment to be conducted as part of the architectural process.  The design considerations on the front end can ultimately save money and give a market advantage of being a safe and secure building. The result is a more user-friendly and secure building for the occupants.  By including security from the onset, the investment in technology and people can be minimized by creating proper zones of control and protection.

But sometimes that "good architectural design" wasn't part of the planning stage. What then?

Without preplanning for security technologies, the result can be as bad as core drilling through concrete to add conduit to the pull wire to run the security systems and facing other challenges as the owner discovers that other design elements are up to the standard to support the security needs.

Some notable challenges:

  • Multiple entrances 
  • Insufficient room for screening
  • Loading docks adjacent to mechanical rooms containing fire pumps
  • Screening facilities adjacent to evacuation paths
  • Fire exit design where use of a card reader violates life safety codes
  • Emergency bypass that sounds an alarm but defeats the access control

It's not just the building codes  related to emergency exits that can complicate security planning. In a tour of a data center where there were concerns about employee sabotage it was discovered that the "Emergency Data Center Power Off" button was labeled and in public view, as per code requirements. Security is something that hasn’t fully been addressed, even in building codes. If we're worried about employee sabotage — maybe we shouldn't publicly label the 'Power Off' button."

Regardless of the location and complexity of a facility, the first protective layer will always be regarded as the exterior perimeter of the facility grounds. But rarely do we get robust perimeter protection due to various restricting factors (e.g., site location, requirements for public accessibility, cost-benefit justification, etc.). In the absence of perimeter barriers, early and reliable detection of an approaching threat at the first protective layer is critical in implementing an effective lockdown plan. In most situations, there are no officers posted outside so other measures can often be used to improve early detection and speed the lockdown process.  An intrusion-resistant façade  is only valuable if entrances are secured when an outdoor attack is detected. 

Some considerations:

  • Hazard or threat identification
  • Entrances
  • Windows
  • Surveillance
  • Intrusion detection and access control
  • Lighting
  • Perimeter control
  • Pedestrian traffic control

When it comes to security, one thing is clear, information is the key.  The information reviewed during the design process all the way to the information captured in real time as a security threat unfolds is what will help drive a positive or negative outcome of any threat.

Why DigiBuild?

DigiBuild is a blockchain-enabled construction project management platform. Our customers manage workflows such as procurement, budgets, schedules, contracts, and payments. DigiBuild allows for collaboration across 50+ disparate construction stakeholders – all on a single platform.

We are the first to merge our construction management expertise with blockchain technology to create the world’s most revolutionary technology bringing risk management and visibility to your projects.

Through verifiable collaboration, we eliminate risk, disputes, save time and create a healthier and happier global construction industry. 

Robert Salvador

About The Author

Rob Salvador is the visionary driving force behind DigiBuild, an experienced builder, project manager and construction technologist. Since the age of 10, Rob has witnessed what it was like, firsthand for his Dad struggling to run his construction company. He eventually started his own construction company and those experiences and the lack of change over that time span led to his mission of creating a better way to operate construction projects and the construction community. Rob’s passion and previous cryptocurrency startup experiences are what led to him becoming a blockchain expert. In 2017 he had his ‘aha moment’ and the idea of 'how to' apply blockchain to construction took form and DigiBuild was born.

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