The Architect's Blog

The Effectiveness of Traditional Security Architecture



Tenant Improvement Architecture offers a look into so many different worlds.  One such world is the world of security architecture.  With the recent attacks on Jewish Centers in Kansas it might be a good time to discuss our approach to this aspect of our business.

Most security architecture is either about keeping bad guys out or keeping them in.  I find security that protects people much more interesting than prison architecture – so I’d like to focus on that.

Before 9-11-2001, the firm I was working for had been asked to revise the security checkpoints at a major Southern California Airport. We were told that the reason for this was that an FAA agent was able to get a gun past security at many airports. Before this redesign could be completed, the attacks of 9-11 took place.  This event changed the way security checkpoints were to be designed from then on.  No longer were the authorities trying to  keep guns and bombs from getting through. They were now concerned with keeping out people wanting to instill fear through terror – a much more difficult task. In addition to looking for the obvious, they started looking for items that had previously seemed relatively harmless – box-cutters, tennis shoes & shampoo.  The threats weren’t becoming more elaborate, they were becoming simpler, yet more sophisticated.

Immediately after 9-11 the debate on how to eliminate threats focused on the use of technology.  Since then, we have had enough “behind the scenes” experience to realize that technology alone can’t prevent a breach from happening.  For this reason, when we design architectural components as part of a security protocol, we prefer to incorporate design elements that have been effective for centuries.  Components like being able to gain a high vantage point so that a potential threat can be seen at a distance, face to face contact, which provides an opportunity to detect malicious intent, barriers to regulate access, sufficient and well placed lighting, a visual presence of authority and, should things get out of control, a place of defense and shelter.

While it is difficult to stop someone intent on doing harm, it is my experience that a combination of technology, planning, and effectively designed security facilities, goes a long way to reducing a facility’s potential as a target of malicious behavior.  And while not every project we work on is subject to terror attack, some of the same design elements that can limit large scale malfeasants, is also effective on a smaller scale.

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