Putting security at the heart of design

A quick internet search will show a vast number of articles and research currently available on smart cities.  This is no surprise given the rate of technology advancement coupled with the current trend of urbanisation. In 2020, the United Nations reported that urban areas are already home to 55 per cent of the world’s population, and that figure is expected to grow to 68 per cent by 2050. Ninty per cent of the urban growth expected by 2050 will occur in less developed regions which means some urban areas are yet to be built. This provides opportunity for future spaces to be designed with security embedded from the outset.

Space planning

Often, security is thought about at a building level, but if considered during the masterplan phase it can reduce the need for some security measures at an individual building level, while contributing to the overall planning process.

The types of users need to be considered. If only authorised users can access a building, then access should be placed away from areas that are open to the public. For example, a smart operations centre should not be placed next to a shopping mall. This will put more stress on the vehicle access control function and make detecting hostile reconnaissance more difficult.

Early planning creates opportunity to group similar types of users together to form a wider security zone. An example of this is Wall Street in New York. After the 9/11 attacks streets around the Stock Exchange were closed off. This led to the creation of a pedestrian zone, and instead of just planting standard bollards to achieve this Rogers Marvel designed a new kind of bollard which offered a place for people to sit.

Obviously, these prevent vehicles entering the area, but also increases activity support in the area which is a key component of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Although there is a question why vehicle controls were not introduced earlier considering in 1920 a horse and cart detonated on Wall Street which is an early form of a vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) highlighting this risk exists.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

Crime prevention can be split into situational and social theories, CPTED is a prominent situational crime prevention approach. It offers a low cost but effective method that combines security concepts with the urban environment.

Natural Surveillance focuses on promoting good sightlines to ensure areas can be easily observed by security, or members of the public (such as those sitting on the bollards) which helps deter crime. Clear sight lines increase the probability of observing illegal activity, it can also increase the psychological effect on potential offenders if they feel they can be easily observed. In addition, areas can be activated to increase natural surveillance through activity support. Examples of this are seating areas or playgrounds.

Controlling access

Natural Access Control focuses on denying access to a potential target, but focus should also be placed on creating natural paths of access. Landscaping can be used to create natural access points through the city which allows security technology to be focused in these areas. It also draws attention more easily to those wishing to avoid detection and attempting to use other access points. Consideration is also needed for when events are held in certain areas, a clear route should be available from the transportation hub to the event destination preventing large crowds from interfering with the daily lives of others.

Territorial Reinforcement seeks to create a clear delineation between public and private space. It creates a sense of ownership for legitimate users who will take pride in their space, it also increases the probability that they will notice those individuals who should not be in that space.

Maintenance is often to linked to ‘broken window theory’ and relates to territorial reinforcement. If an area is poorly maintained it leads individuals to think no one cares what happens there, and more importantly it’s not monitored or even patrolled by authorities.

While areas that are well maintained demonstrate that the space is used, and the users care about what happens there.


Spaces need to be adaptable for two main reasons. Firstly the use of the space may change which changes its security requirements. An example of this is when an event is put on in an area, suddenly an increased number of people may occupy the space creating a crowded place. This may create the need to create a temporary vehicle exclusion zone, and pedestrian access points as people need a ticket to enter the area. Although there are now surface mounted security solutions, prior planning can make the adaption of this space easier ensuring there are no gaps in the security zone.

Secondly there may be an elevated threat to the city or a particular building which requires an increased level of security. If space was planned correctly then this can happen with little impact to the surrounding area and users. The previous United States embassy in London was as example of this: security measures were installed in the public space due to an insufficient plot size. Additional bollards were also installed in the road meaning during a heightened threat level, the public streets would have been closed to the public. Prior planning could have allowed sufficient space around the plot to incorporate security features which were more unobtrusive and added to the security of the public realm.

The above considerations highlight that if security is considered at an early stage, it can be easily integrated to the overall design which contributes to the overall urban fabric. While a lot of focus is on making cities smarter, physical security planning cannot be neglected which is critical for creating safe and secure spaces.

Brett Taylor, a security specialist in security planning, writing on behalf of The Security Institute.
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