Security Solutions

Rick Bartholomew, Lynne Richards, Byoungho Jin, Jong-Moon Chung

It's time to consider safety alternatives for open-access commercial environments.


In the October 2003 issue of Interiors & Sources, ASID president Linda Elliott Smith observed in the article "Interior Design and the Public's Welfare:" "The protection of the public's safety has mainly involved attention to fire safety and structural integrity. To broaden this area of responsibility, interior designers need to explore design approaches and solutions that offer occupants further protection from many other types of hazards . . . Such designs will need to take into account possible threats to security."

Nowhere is security design more challenging than in open-accessed commercial environments. Criminals and terrorists are attracted to the vulnerability of retail centers, restaurants, hotels and tourist sites, as witnessed by the frequent terrorist targeting of these facilities in Israel, Great Britain, Russia, Indonesia and elsewhere.

However, despite the proven vulnerability of such facilities, and warnings from the U.S. FBI that Al Qaeda operatives may plan attacks on these so-called "soft targets," intensified attention to security in open-accessed businesses within the U.S. appears to be minimal. Managers have been reluctant to improve upon existing security measures (such as foot patrols and video cameras), in the belief that:

* customers patronize these businesses in pursuit of pleasant, entertaining experiences,
* security installations undermine the pleasurable aspects of any business environment;
* and the loss of a pleasant ambience will result in lost patronage and profits.

Concerning workplace security management, the National Safety Council published a series of questions useful in assessing the vulnerability of an environment to violence (Lack, 1997, p. 375):

* Are all people required to pass through a screening area and identify themselves by photo identification?
* Are all exterior doors to the facility secured from entry?
* Can all visitors and guests be required to have an appointment?
* Can all visitors be escorted at all times?
* Can all deliveries go to a single location?
* Can all telephone closets be secured at all times?
* Can all exterior windows be secured?
*Can all containers near the building [be] secured?

When applied to commercial environments open to the public (such as shopping centers, restaurants and tourist sites), the answer to most of these questions is "no," indicating the ease with which violence can occur. These facilities, in which the very nature of the business involves unplanned and ongoing entry and egress, indeed are "soft targets."

Security Design Options

Following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK, members
of the National Safety Council observed:

Terrorism . . . hit home in the Oklahoma City bombing of the Federal Building and previously with the [first bombing of the] World Trade Center in New York. Both incidents are beyond the mind-set of the general public and the designers of U.S. facilities . . . [However], it will take many more incidents before the business public is willing to change the general design approaches that exist today.
(Lack, 1997, p. 160).

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 created that predicted willingness to consider safer design alternatives. Now, it is the responsibility of the design community to respond to this new openness, by providing cutting-edge information, education and service to society concerning security design options.

Security analyst Paul Viollis maintains that, "Negative behavior—from theft to terrorism—migrates to the path of least resistance" (2002, p. 25). Reducing the likelihood of violence via design, then, is a matter of increasing "resistance" by:

* increasing the effort that the perpetrator must expend (in other words, by "hardening" the target);
* increasing the risks to the perpetrator;
* and reducing the rewards to the perpetrator by removing
the inducement. All of these approaches to security can be implemented through the strategic use of environmental design.

Security materials and technology are changing rapidly, fueled by the immediacy of "homeland security," and augmented by a special provision in the U.S. patent law that allows expedited processing of anti-terrorism innovations. Many of these new materials and products can easily enhance the protection of persons within commercial facilities, without altering the open access or pleasantness of the environment (as feared by many business owners).

For example, builders now can construct safer facilities by using concrete impregnated with stainless steel fibers, or spraying masonry with a polyurethane coating, both of which prevent structural fragmentation and injury during a bomb blast (Dolan, et. al, 2001; "Crossover Finding . . .", 2002). Other unobtrusive materials and devices for improving the safety and security of commercial environments, which do not undermine the desired ambience or inconvenience the public, include shatter-resistant glazes on windows and display areas; window catchers that prevent glazed glass, itself, from becoming a projectile; biometric facial imaging software used in conjunction with surveillance cameras (which can be camouflaged within decorative or functional fixtures); trash cans reinforced to withstand the blast of package bombs; shrapnel-absorbing interior materials; mechanical smoke inhalation devices; wider emergency stairwells; interior walls covered with flame-retardant composite materials (such as gypsum) to slow the spread of fire; and strategically located HVAC systems to deter tampering (Barstow, 2001; Dell'Isola, 2002; Department of Health & Human Services, 2002; Gair, 2002; Hutchinson, 2002; Kharif, 2003).

Other innovative approaches to security are now under development, such as the use of photocatalytic intake filters for HVAC systems that convert hazardous biological agents into carbon dioxide and water through the destruction of chemical bonds (Goswami, 2003). NASA is determining ways in which that agency's biological and chemical sensors can provide rapid on-site analyses to security personnel in nonmilitary settings, while FAA researchers have developed portals that emit puffs of air to dislodge and sense chemical explosive residues on passersby (Falcioni, 2003; Hutchinson, 2002). Each of these technologies has potential for incorporation into the interior designs of shopping malls, restaurants, hotel lobbies and tourist attractions.

Commercial business owners and managers, lacking adequate understanding of the numerous alternatives available for protecting their open-to-the-public facilities from violence and terrorism, persist in the belief that enhanced security undermines business profitability. In nations where acts of terrorism are a daily concern, however, there is evidence to suggest that customers gravitate to those businesses believed to be the most secure, suggesting that improved security actually can be a value-added attraction. Members of the design community can encourage businesspersons into ethically responsible decisions concerning safety and security, by themselves staying informed about emerging security technology and by devising ways in which that technology can be creatively and unobtrusively incorporated into commercial facilities. Convincing businesspersons that enhanced security and business profitability are not juxtaposed is the very first step toward realizing commercial environments that are safer for us all.

  • Rick Bartholomew, IIDA and his co-authors are faculty at Oklahoma State University, and members of a unique interdisciplinary team dedicated to designing and testing innovative security design alternatives for open-accessed commercial environments. Bartholomew is an experienced commercial fixture and facility designer, Richards is a textile designer and a scholar of environmental behavior, Jin is a teacher and researcher of merchandising, and Chung specializes in computer and electrical engineering.