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by Senior Editor

How To Design Green AND Secure Buildings

Mar 05, 20095 mins
Access ControlCritical InfrastructureDisaster Recovery

The secure and the environmentally-friendly almost always conflict when designing a building. But experts at an "intelligent building" seminar demonstrated how security features can actually help make a structure green

Put a security guy in a room with an environmentalist and ask them to design a building. Wait five minutes and you’ll hear fists pounding tables, chairs hitting walls and a steady flow of profanity.

The problem? Green features are often seen as a vulnerability to the security professional while security features are often considered ugly and wasteful to the designer who wants to make a structure green.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, according to a group of experts who gathered in Woburn, Mass., Wednesday for a seminar on intelligent building design. A main focus of the event — hosted by integrated building management systems vendor TAC — was to demonstrate how the secure and the green can exist in the same space and even compliment one another.

In the current economic climate, marrying the two can also be a cost saver, said Mo Hess, TAC’s global segment manager for security. [See: Cost-Cutting Through Green IT Security: Real or Myth?]

“Security performs a lot of the functionality that building automation does to control energy consumption, such as turning lights off and on, controlling thermostats and notifying you when a door or window has been left open,” he said. “The same technology used for access control and security can also be used to measure and conserve energy.”

Environmentally-friendly access control

For example, he said, surveillance cameras installed to monitor who is coming in and out of a room can also be used to measure light levels and notify building managers if a light is burning too brightly or if something has been left on. Access control can be used to keep tabs on energy consumption just as easily as it can be used to limit an employee’s access to certain IT systems and corridors, Hess said.

To drive home the point, seminar organizers began the track of security presentations with an overview of new buildings planned for the University of Massachusetts’ Amherst campus. The university’s $640 million capital improvement plan for new research buildings and other structures are full of green features. But when pressed by attendees, UMass facilities planner Thomas Huf admitted the plans were lacking in terms of security controls.

“We don’t have a central security design at this point,” Huf said.

Two representatives from Applied Risk Management (ARM) then got up and described how the designs could be tweaked with security in mind. [See: Protecting Joe’s Office]

Turning conflicts into solutions

ARM Senior Technical Consultant Roger Rueda listed examples of where the security guys and conservationists tend to clash. Security pros lean toward the brightest lighting possible. Conservationists see overly bright illumination as light pollution. Rueda said there’s a middle ground to be had. For example, at night when there are fewer cars in the parking lot and fewer people coming and going, large sections of the parking lot can be blocked off so everyone is parking in a smaller area. That reduces the amount of lighting needed to monitor the parking lot because instead of illuminating the entire area, only a small section has to be watched. That allows the security folks to do their jobs while saving energy and reducing light pollution.

A building’s air flow is another source of conflict between security and conservation. Green designers prefer an open air flow security planners see as an opportunity for air contamination. Rueda pointed to a middle road where the open airflow can be had while thermal imaging cameras can be used to detect possible contamination.

On the structural side, conservationists tend to prefer minimal environmental disruption and open spaces while the security folks want more protective barriers. A solution, Rueda said, is to make use of such things as trombe walls — slabs of concrete that can be used as both a security barrier and a heating source.

“Trombe walls are useful because they provide blast protection but also absorb heat during the day, which can then be used to heat a building at little or no cost,” Rueda said.

Work security in earlySecurity Experts ID Top 25 Programming Errors]

In the IT security world, experts often emphasize the importance of working security into the software writing process. Bolting it on later with additional software and hardware is a money-waster that tends to happen only after someone has attacked the company network. [See:

Likewise, ARM President and CEO Dan O’Neill said security has to be a consideration at the very beginning of the green building design process. Security can be bolted on later, but usually that happens after the bomb blast or hurricane has done the damage.

“Security should be brought in as soon as possible, even in the master planning phase,” O’Neill said, adding that UMass has enlisted his company’s help in the process. “Sometimes the goals of sustainability and security conflict, but if people work together there are ways to use one to optimize the other.”

But a symbiotic relationship between the green and the secure can only happen if the two sides meet early in the design phase, he said.

“If you wait until the end of the design process, you will never be able to secure the building as well as you could have,” he said.