Crime Prevention through Design – Inside the Building

In Part I, we learned that environmental design is a design approach that considers all elements of the environment in which a building exists. That includes paths of travel to and from the building, secure access and many other elements both inside and outside its walls. So, we discussed crime prevention on the exterior of the building in Part I. This post will explore environmental design inside buildings. 

Interior Wayfinding

Wayfinding is a fancy industry term that means exactly what it sounds like. Wayfinding is the design process that makes it easy for building users to navigate and enjoy the building and all it offers (i.e. find their way). Strategies can include signage, directional flooring, focal points, and eye-catching design elements. Interior designers have a lot of influence over where building users walk, turn, sit, stand, wait, rest, etc. You have done it many times without noticing, but you have navigated a new building using wayfinding cues that indirectly “told” you what to do. For example, many restaurants and hotels have a hostess or reception desk. It is placed near the front door and is often placed in the direction that complements the path of entry but visually stops you. It is a natural stopping point, since most building users do not have the “authority” to move past this point. Even if you did walk past the desk, you would not know which table or hotel room was yours.

A similar situation happens in an office building. There may be a reception desk, but even if not, there is a lobby of some sort that offers signage and maybe maps that can guide you and give you the “authority” to move on through the rest of the building. This signage is generally easy to find and read. Some offices use strategies like varying ceiling heights, colorful walls or columns that offer a landmark for new building users.

Homes are strategically designed so that main entrances often open into a foyer or a living room. This is smart, because visitors will enter into a somewhat public space from which they can ask directions to the bathroom or kitchen. So this serves as a stopping point, much like a reception desk or lobby. Having these stopping points is highly important in terms of preventing crime. Criminals cannot be very effective if they don’t know where to go or if they must stop in a public, highly visible space to figure it out.

Just like we talked about in Part I, buildings do not have to be locked metal boxes to be secure. Interiors can be beautifully designed and comfortable while also being highly secure.

Secure Entrances

Lobbies and reception areas are great at controlling the flow of the law abiding public. Not all entrances are open to the public, of course. These entrances can have a range of security measures put in place. To prevent almost all illegal entry, card swipes, keypads, biometric readers, etc. can control entry to a building or rooms inside a building. Most commercial buildings have one or more secured entrances, and it is most likely not readily visible to most. It is often on a nondescript side of the building and is generally a boring metal door. For restaurants, banks, and similar buildings, this may be an employee entrance near employee parking. This is strategic, since an outsider would have to go to extra trouble to figure out how to access that door in an attempt to break in or steal something.

Preventing Crime in Schools

I mentioned earlier that I think about my mom’s school building when I think of crime prevention. There are several security measures her school takes to prevent crime that I appreciate. The front entry doors are lockable and have an intercom system that allows someone outside to communicate with the secretary to request entry. Each classroom also has an exit door to the outdoor school grounds. Those doors are only accessible by key and are for emergency exit in the case of an active shooter or intruder. The glass in the doors and windows is reinforced. I do wish that all schools could have bullet proof glass in their doors and windows, but most school budgets couldn’t carry that cost. A lot of schools do have reinforced, shatter resistant glass, which is the next best thing.

Schools are a unique building type for a lot of reasons, but specifically because they are full of a lot of young students at any given time. Students spend a lot of their waking hours inside a school building, and there are a lot of ways a student could choose to cause trouble. It could be vandalism in bathrooms and on lockers, bullying, and even as extreme as causing a school shooting. It is so unfortunate that this extreme crime has affected the students of this country to the extent that it has. It has given schools and their administrators a wake up call as to their current security plans and any vulnerabilities. 

Schools can prevent vandalism by using vandal resistant toilet partitions in bathrooms. Some schools have put limitations on types of backpacks and installed metal detectors at entrances. These can be good measures to find weapons. Of course, ideally, schools and communities would give students the support they needed to discourage students from wanting to bring a weapon to school in the first place. There are ways to prevent bullying like avoiding alcoves and small spaces where students can be out of sight from a teacher or administrator. Each school and community will have unique needs and issues that environmental design can address. Schools, their designers, and their administrators have the unique obligation to provide safe learning environments for our next generation.

Getting the Most Out of Environmental Design

Environmental design is a vital tool that affects our daily lives, whether we know it or not. The safety measures put in place by designers can only be effective if the building users are educated on their intent. Operations policies and emergency plans should be broadcast to all building users in an accessible way that allows everyone involved to play a part in preventing crime. 

Building owners and facilities managers can use resources like security audits and case studies to find vulnerabilities in their physical building as well as their planned approaches for when crime actually happens. Being prepared and educated can give all building users a peace of mind while also helping to reduce the magnitude of a crime, should one happen.

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