Crime prevention and community risk reduction

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a largely unheard of concept for the fire service. However, it is a concept that the fire service should fully embrace. In recent years the fire department concept of Community Risk Reduction (CRR) has prevailed.

This is the concept of reducing risk of all types, not just fire, within a community. CPTED ties directly into the goals and objectives of a CRR programme and benefits the community, first responders, and designers explains Aaron Johnson, Chief Fire Strategist, The Code Coach.

CPTED is the concept of crime prevention and neighbourhood safety accomplished through natural elements and structural design. CPTED utilises four strategies that contribute to “the proper design and effective use of the built environment that can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime and an improvement in the quality of life” within a community. The CPTED strategies are natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement, and maintenance.

Natural Surveillance

This utilises the placement of physical features, activities, and people in a way that maximises visibility. This is accomplished through landscape design, lighting, and elimination of ambush points. These elements all promote more eyes on the street, and within the buildings where necessary.

Natural Access Control

This means controlling access to a site by its inherent design. This is accomplished through strategic design of streets, sidewalks, building entrances, and landscaping. These design elements can ensure that entrances are visible and clearly defined, well lighted, and take full advantage of natural surveillance.

Territorial Reinforcement

This strategy appeals to peoples’ sense of ownership. This is the use of physical attributes that express ownership such as, fencing, pavement design, walking paths, signage, landscaping, and public art. Territorial reinforcement encompasses the principles of natural surveillance and access control.


This allows for continued use of the space, and is a critical component of CPTED. If the other strategies of CPTED are utilised, but never maintained, then CPTED will fail. Maintenance serves as an expression of territorial reinforcement by showing property ownership, it prevents reduced visibility from overgrown landscape, and obstructed or inoperative lighting.

Community risk reduction (CRR)

The principles and concepts of Community Risk Reduction (CRR) are outlined in, NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development. CRR is defined in this document as: “A process to identify and prioritise local risks, followed by the integrated and strategic investment of resources to reduce their occurrence and impact.” The resources referenced in this definition include education, prevention, mitigation, emergency response, and economic incentives. CPTED easily falls in line with these categories.

The start of any CRR programme begins with a community risk assessment (CRA). The CRA is necessary to properly identify targets of opportunity for programme development and overall CRR. The CRA should be conducted, minimally, every five years. An annual review of the community’s loss statistics should be conducted to best identify emerging trends that may provide direction, or redirection, of CRR efforts. The Community Risk Assessment evaluates nine profiles to create an effective CRR plan. These profiles are:

  • Demographic
  • Geographic
  • Building stock
  • Public safety response agencies
  • Community service organisations
  • Hazards
  • Economic
  • Past loss/event history
  • Critical infrastructure systems

CPTED and understanding its principles and practices can contribute to the overall safety, health, and well-being of a community. CPTED principles can be applied to each of these community risk assessment profiles to reduce loss, as part of the CRR programme.

CPTED in fire codes and standards

There are three NFPA documents that address the concepts of CPTED in their guidance. These documents are NFPA 730, NFPA 1600, and NFPA 909.

NFPA 730, Guide for Premises Security has a chapter entitled, “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design”.

This chapter provides some general requirements for the application of CPTED principles and states that these principles should be applied when specifically referenced in the occupancy specific sections of the document. This chapter, and the specific occupancy types, divide CPTED requirements into the following sections:

  • Crime and loss prevention
  • Human behaviour
  • Lighting
  • Landscaping
  • Aesthetics

There are seven specific occupancy types and chapters that contain CPTED requirements and reference back to Chapter 8.

  • Educational Facilities, Colleges, and Universities
  • Lodging
  • Multi-Dwelling Unit Buildings
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping Centres
  • Retail Establishments
  • Office Buildings

These chapters each contain a varied amount of CPTED guidance. Some just refer back to Chapter 8, others have more specific guidance. Chapters 14, 15, 17, and 18 provide specific guidance for crime prevention in residential and retail properties. Guidance for protection of these properties includes historical crime data, open and frequent interaction with law enforcement and the community, and keeping only small amounts of cash on hand. Lighting should be adequate and clearly illuminate corridors, stairwells, elevators, and access routes to common areas. The primary entrance, public parking lots, and surrounding outside areas should be lit to prevent crime incidents outside of the establishment. Aesthetic components should not be installed in a way that would block visibility from the street to the inside of the building.

Signs, posters, and product displays should not obscure windows.

Landscaping should be trimmed and well maintained. The CPTED “2′-6′ rule” for landscaping recommends that plants be no more than 2′ high and tree canopies to be no lower than 6′. Thorny bushes or briars, and thick patches of shrubbery can be used as an intrusion deterrent.

NFPA 1600, Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management, states that, “The entity shall develop a strategy to prevent an incident that threatens life, property, operations, information, and the environment.”

Dene of the strategies that this document recommends is crime prevention through environmental design in regards to site layout, landscape design, and exterior lighting.

NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, requires that arson prevention be included in property protection goals and objectives. This document states, “The strongest deterrent to fire setters is good security.” One of the primary suggested elements of a sound security programme is crime prevention through environmental design.

Implementing CPTED into CRR

While we are assessing our communities for our CRR, community risk reduction programmes, all-hazards focused, not just fire, how can we implement CPTED principles and recommendations into our CRR planning?

Understanding CPTED principles and strategies can be advantageous to the community and the fire service in a multitude of ways. Reduced crime means lower number of emergency responses. More eyes on the street and people out, means faster response when emergencies do occur.

CPTED as part of a CRR strategy contributes to the safety of fire department personnel and first responders. Maintenance of property, natural surveillance, access control, can eliminate ambush points and make areas and structures safer for first responders.

CPTED should also be applied for fire protection and emergency management planning and building design. A holistic approach to building design and occupant safety is not complete without taking into account the risks, and perceived risks, of crime or potential threats. Applying CPTED principles can completely change, in the best way, the fire protection design and emergency response plan.

How can we make this happen? This is best accomplished through bringing together our community leaders, planning departments, police and fire departments, and private sector interests. When these groups have an understanding of CPTED and CRR principles then they can work together for a safe and healthy community and improved quality of life.

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