Security and building design: A decade of change and adaptation


Nadel: 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.