Canadian Security Magazine

Building the next generation

By Andrew Wareing   


The construction of the next generation of buildings that line North America’s urban and downtown financial and commercial districts are taking on a new paradigm, one emphasizing the need to incorporate measures to combat the latest in terrorist and criminal threats.

“Physical security was always an afterthought, even as close as two
years ago, when the design of new buildings was taking place,” says
Paul Carson, national manager, security operations with Brookfield LePage
Johnson Controls . “Now, it has been thrust into the forefront, not the
least cause of which was 9/11.”

“I think there’s a lot more of it going on,” says David Ray,  senior
practice leader, security and investigations for Grant, Thornton LLP.
“Starting right from initial design stage, a lot of architects are
looking at what they have to improve in building design. Before, we
never had to be concerned about an airplane crashing into a building in
the past but this is a concern out there that has been identified.

“A lot of (concern) is terrorism-based but there is also workplace
violence issues, disgruntled former workers and ex-spouses,” he adds.
“Society seems to be changing out there. We’re on notice of the
increased risks and we have to make sure the counter-measures are in

The design of any building starts from the ground up and that also includes the security.

“The first thing is to determine what the threat is,” says Barbara A.
Nadel, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. “Threat and
vulnerability assessment is the first step to determine what assets
need to be protected. For example, in the case of a financial
centre/high rise, they could be a potential target for groups that want
to impact the financial security of Canada and the global markets.”

The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the destruction of the Alfred
P. Murrah building proved to be a tragic but valuable lesson in the design
of critical asset structures in multiple areas, not just in the area of
buffer space between the street and building but also in the materials

Carson says there are 16 key best practices or “specs” that all
architects learn in the construction of any building but there is an
effort in the profession to incorporate a 17th spec that deals with the
security needs of a building. Not surprising, he says the first
principal of any new construction starts with three words: setback,
setback and setback.

Nadel says, in the U.S., the construction of any new federal building
requires a minimum stand-off of no less than 50 feet. “Often in an
urban centre, or in a city where there is a little more land available,
they try to use things like public art, landscaping, trees and
fountains, to make it a pleasant space between the street and building.
I will add that, with street furniture, it has to be engineered for
security. There is a way to engineer them either with materials or
restraints or anchoring them below grade and the use of certain types
of trees, there are very creative ways to enhance that standoff

She says, with that increase in space, the designer wants to make sure
they don’t give a potential terrorist or other person intent on
violence a direct path to drive a car from the street to the front
door. “It’s important to make it difficult for someone to accelerate a
vehicle there.”

The building itself needs to have multiple levels of security built into it.

“You have to look at a building like an onion skin,” says Ray. “Your
first level of defence is the outer shell and the lobby itself. It may
be something built into it so you’re vetting people before they come
in. We have some clients who have gone to a lane system where people
can use their cards but its not like a cattle turnstile thing. They can
walk through but, if their identification card doesn’t work properly,
it sets an alarm with the security people who are there and can call
them back. That’s the first level and, as you work your way up the
building, different tenants are going to want different levels of

Different applications are going to necessitate the use of different
materials. As Carson points out, a building façade of concrete is not
going to face the same threats of frontal attack as a front made of
wood frame and drywall or as problematic as a façade of glass. “If you
want to build a building cheap, use a lot of glass. That’s a rule in
architecture. Unfortunately, glass becomes shrapnel in a blast event
and it does some pretty ugly things to people so organizations are
looking at things like the use of glazing.”

Front reception is an area that also needs close attention because they
are the one’s at the front line, says Ray. While encasing one’s
reception area in bullet proof glass may not be the chosen option — or
aesthetically pleasing — there are other possibilities including panic
buttons in the event of emergency.

The best security is invisible because that is the security that people
have a harder time circumventing.  “If you can meet the requirements
around aesthetics but have security chugging around in the background,
that’s perfect,” says Carson.

Carson adds that crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED)
is also increasingly becoming a part of the design process. “There is a
move afoot”¦of trying to make users of the space owners of the space. In
terms of surveillance, it means that, if you can see unencumbered
through a space, people will tend to challenge what is there and that
might include people who aren”˜t normally supposed to be there. More
staff are being encouraged to either walk up and confront that person
or to call security. Its no longer, ”˜okay, keep your head down and
work.’ It’s an ownership issue at the building level which had
previously been unheard of.”

He adds a note about underground parking. “The way to protect
underground parking is not build it. The way many have been doing, with
guards doing inspections with hand-held parabolic mirrors, is
laughable. It’s security for the masses. ”˜In the absence of doing
nothing, let’s appear to be doing something.’ What it  does is nothing
but add to budget because you have someone out there. The best the
guard will likely be able to do is tell you is that you have an oil

Nadel says owners, increasingly faced with higher demands by insurance
companies for increased security, are calling for architects to
integrate security principals into their buildings. It’s incumbent on
architects to learn more about what methods and technology are

Security professionals also have to have more of a voice in the design
process and that means learning to communicate the best options for
security of the building that make the best budgetary sense up front
and in the long term.

“Security managers have to have a voice,” says Carson. “If they are
being bullied all the time into making bad decisions, they are being
ineffective in their job.”

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