Security and Building Design: What Changed in This Decade

Building security design barely made the radar screen of most architects a decade ago. But as architect Barbara A. Nadel explains, the last decade brought the issue front and center

As we head into 2010, within the design and construction industry, the two hot concerns when it comes to building design are security and environmental sustainability. What a difference a decade makes, according to author and architect Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA, who specializes in building security, planning, and design.

Nadel, who heads up the firm Barbara Nadel Architect, in New York City, remembers when security and green design were mainly an afterthought. But that has all changed in a post-9/11 world.

Nadel, who also served as editor-in-chief of Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, spoke with CSO about how building architecture has evolved tremendously in the last decade, and why security is now a paramount concern before ground is even broken.

CSO: How did you first become interested in security with regard to building design and architecture?Barbara Nadel: I formed my architectural firm in 1992. Before that, I had been working mainly in healthcare and institutional design. During the 90's, there was need for healthcare planning in the prison system and through that, I got into correctional facility planning and design. I've been very active with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for many years. I was 2001 AIA National vice president, during the events of 9/11. After 9/11, I realized there was no single security resource for the design and construction industry, especially for architects, engineers, facility managers, consultants, and building owners seeking guidance on security design in the post-9/11 world. Terrorism and crime had been around for a long time, but after 9/11, things changed.

With that in mind, I put together a group of national experts in various fields, and wrote Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design.

The book has been read around the world and has done very well. Had people in the security and design industries been seeking this kind of security and design knowledge for a while? Or was it really the concerns of a post-9/11 world that prompted the popularity of the book?

There were several benchmark events before 9/11, impacting U.S. facilities at home and abroad. Most of them occurred at government-owned buildings.

The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, was the first incident of a truck bomb used to destroy a building. In 1996, the destruction of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, involved the truck bombing of a U.S. military installation. The 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya underscored the need to provide secure facilities for Foreign Service personnel serving overseas.

Within the U.S., the first World Trade Center bombing occurred in 1993, in an underground parking garage. The Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building happened in 1995; both incidents involved vehicle bombings of iconic buildings.

After these events, those responsible for security within government facilities where people live and work became more acutely aware of increased security needs. But commercial building owners weren't necessarily as concerned. It wasn't quite on their radar screen. The events of 9/11 changed this approach, as many private building owners started to realize their people, buildings, and assets could be at risk. The threat of terrorism put a different spin on what could happen to public and private facilities, in the U.S., and worldwide.

Terrorism around the world, as we have seen in different places, from London, the Middle East, to Mumbai, has made many governments sensitive to protecting their populations, infrastructure, and communities. Security is not an isolated issue. Every free, democratic country in the world is concerned about terrorism, and how to protect their assets. This can typically include critical infrastructure, such as roads and energy sources, and high-rise buildings, especially if there are global companies as tenants or owners. Governments and private companies must protect their people and property. It's a global issue.

So, back to the initial question: People want this kind of information now because many are struggling to figure out, "What do we do? We can call upon law enforcement, gather intelligence, and deploy operational and military personnel, but how do we protect our buildings?" The challenge is that we don't want to build fortress cities; we don't want to build bunkers. We want beautiful buildings and vibrant cities that will attract tourism and send the message that it is safe to visit, live and work in these urban centers and suburban places. But we also now must have a level of protection that signals, "We aren't going to make it easy for terrorism and crime to disrupt our way of life."

You're in the beginning stages of developing a second edition of the book. What's changed with security and the design industry since the book was first published in 2004?

I have heard from a number of the book's contributors that many security approaches have been refined and improved in various areas. The second edition of the book will include some new topics as well. From engineering, technology, and code perspectives, there have been more innovations and ongoing research. Design-wise, many high performance and sustainable materials, such as blast-resistant-glazing and curtain walls, have come on the market.

There have been many lessons learned after 9/11. In New York City, the building code was amended because of the events at the World Trade Center. Before 9/11, getting people out of a burning high-rise building was a major concern reflected in the codes. After 9/11, avoiding what is known as progressive collapse, whether from a bomb, explosion, or other cause, became a critical structural engineering issue. Thus rapid and safe evacuation of high-rise building occupants to the outdoors during an emergency is now a concern for owners and tenants. In new high-rises, stairwells need to be designed wide enough and photoluminescent exit signs and strips might now be in stairways so people can see in the event of loss of power.

Building security planning and design often means considering worst case scenarios and how the design can anticipate and respond to specific threats. For example, if the power is out, or a water supply on one side of the building is not available, providing redundancy on another side of the building can ideally allow continuity of service. These approaches relate not just to terrorism, but to natural disasters as well, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

A comprehensive security plan addresses design, technology, and operations. While each element can stand alone, building owners derive greater benefits, both financially and in the long run, by considering all three together, at the earliest stages of any design and construction project. Balancing these concerns during conceptual planning provides opportunities to review capital and operational long-term costs and potential savings through life cycle cost analysis. For example, installing new technology may reduce the need for outsourced security guard services, while new design or renovations to harden building exteriors and provide greater visibility inside and outside might produce operational efficiencies among security personnel.

Another area being studied is security at public venues, such as sports facilities. There has been a lot of work on how to protect stadiums, arenas, and other open spaces that might attract thousands of people for an event, like the Olympics or the Super Bowl, but which also might also be terrorism targets.

These are just a few examples of how the thinking around security and architecture has evolved. I have no doubt we will see more innovative design solutions, security-related materials, and exciting new technology in the next decade.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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