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Blueprints, Bullets and Bushes
September 2009

An Integrated (or Unique) Approach to Crime Prevention and Facility Design

By Michael A. Jones, MS

Inside a shopping mall, critical participants in America’s economic system (consumers) are gunned down by a mentally disturbed person. At a major university located far from urban crime and disorder, an unstable individual guns down 32 of his peers, including college students and faculty. At a church, worshippers are murdered by a former member of the congregation – again a person with mental instability. A sniper takes a bizarre pilgrimage across the country randomly picking victims in publicly accessible venues. Across the world, we continue to witness horrific acts that are played out in public spaces and facilities. Unfortunately, it is not just the media awakening to report what has been going on all along; it is a true increase in bizarre violent crimes. Overlay this with the everpresent specter of terrorism (both international and domestic) and you have a society that is clearly showing signs of fear paralysis. As a young man, I went to these places without the fear of violent crime being a constant companion.

As a family man, I must now think of “contingency plans” on what I will do with my family if such events occur while we are there! Ask yourself this question – what impact are these events having on our free and open society? The management of fear is now a topic that facility designers, operators and owners must address. It is also a key consideration for the emergency response community as well. Consequently, it is crucial for the disciplines of architecture, engineering, facility operations and emergency response to work hand in hand to manage the fear that has been planted in the minds of our citizens by this ever-increasing type of violent criminal behavior.

In order to address this need, let’s first clearly define our problem. We live in a day to day world. We love and relish our routines, our favorite places and we all live by our particular rhythm of life. That life can be the market, the office, the school, the hospital or any one of a number of different types of facilities that we interface with daily. We have our established comfort zones and always try to stay within them; but, our comfort zones have been penetrated by the unthinkable. A predator is now in our comfort zone, or even worse, a predator MAY be in our comfort zone. Most of us know what to do when faced with a predator – get away. However, what do we do when there MAY be a predator in our comfort zone? How do we deal with that MAYBE? Current reviews of behavior have shown that we cope with this issue in a variety of ways, including withdrawing and staying away, going to different places, altering the time we spend, decreasing the number of visits, going alone and leaving the family behind etc. All of these responses may address an individual concern, but at what cost. Collectively, this is a retreat from our society and has given ground to the bad guys to put them in a position of power. Additionally, these coping strategies decrease the vitality of the economic engine upon which our society depends. Hence, it is clear our problem is the increasing number of threats to the safety and wellbeing of our citizens in public spaces and facilities. These threats are not cyclical and will not “go away” with time. They are not sociological phenomenons that will disappear in ten years. When the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he simply stated because “that is where the money is”. When faced with the type of bizarre criminal who terrorizes our open spaces, one can only surmise that he/she does so “because it is where the people are”. The unfortunate conclusion is that the “public predator” is now a part of our landscape whether we acknowledge it or not. Just as the landscaper has to deal with unwanted vegetation, the engineer with the lay of the land, the building manager with the climate, everyone must deal with the “public predator” and the many forms he/she may take. Failure to consider this fact will most definitely lead to a variety of unpleasant consequences. Acceptance of the fact that this problem must be reckoned with at all stages in the life of a public space or facility is the first step in managing the “public predator”.

With the acknowledgement that this fact exists, can it be dealt with? The answer is an emphatic “yes”! Unfortunately, the standard approach is reliance on the more restrictive and ominous prevention measures–such as more police, more guards, more cameras, more restrictions on individual liberty and a variety of knee-jerk responses that do little but say “look, we did something”. All one needs to do is look around any government facility in the Post 9/11 era and see the results of the traditional, reactionary based approach to safety planning. Barriers, bollards, fences, jersey walls, barbed wire, guard posts, turnstiles, etc… are all a visible reminder that the openness and freedoms that we once fully enjoyed are now slowly being eroded in the name of security. Until 9/11, a citizen could walk into his/her state capitol without having to identify themselves, go through screening and otherwise be impeded by representatives of government. I, for one, mourn the passing of such times. Our country was founded upon the principles of open and accessible government and the security measures imposed today provide a chilling effect on that freedom. Does it have to be this way? Must we accept the fact that our bucolic way of life is gone forever? We certainly must accept the fact that things have changed because change is the only thing that is truly constant. However, it is how we respond to this change that will set us apart from the past and make a blueprint for the future.

What can we do to make this situation better without undesirable consequences? How do we make our publicly accessible areas safer, yet protected from this ever-possible “public predator”?

To get started, we need a collaboration like no other. For years, the professional disciplines engaged in facility design rarely crossed paths with the disciplines of emergency response. Facilities were designed and built, and then, emergency response dealt with the problems that occurred in and around the facility. The old adage of two ships passing in the night is still very appropriate to this situation. Therefore, we need to stop those ships and transfer some crewmembers from ship to ship so that the synergies created by the merging of the various skill sets of architects, engineers, law enforcement, fire and rescue, landscape architects, facility operators, facility support and facility occupants can lead to a facility meeting today’s challenges. Let the collaboration begin!

Currently, there is a unique approach to this collaboration known as “Integrated Site Security and Design” (ISSD). This approach promotes the incorporation of design features and community policing techniques with the proven principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). The measures necessary to create effective physical security are integrated with environmental design principles, all while maintaining the functional and aesthetic quality of the facility. ISSD also brings to the process the knowledge and experience of the professionals who will be responsible for the facility “from cradle to grave”. The concept behind this is timely communication between the people who are responsible for the design and the folks responsible for the management/protection of the facility. Imagine, if you will, what safety provisions can be made if the designer is aware of the crime patterns in the area where a facility will be sited. What impact would knowledge about the “public predator” modus operandi have on a facility director establishing operational protocols for the facility? What if the first responder community could be considered when the flow of pedestrian/vehicular traffic in and around the facility is determined? Could the response to incidents be enhanced for all? Consider the lock-out of first responders at Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall and whether such collaboration would have made a difference. In reality, police officers do not think like architects, architects do not think like engineers, engineers do not think like facility managers. However, working together, in the pre-design or retrofit stages of a project, can go a very long way in recognizing and addressing the impact of the “public predator” and other aspects of crime and disorder that challenge our way of life. The unique perspectives brought to the design table by this variety of disciplines can make the facility function better and safer.

So, how does ISSD work? Integrated Site Security and Design is the first site and security planning process to be created that specifically correlates CPTED principles (both operational and behavioral aspects of prevention) with physical security and site design considerations. Traditional physical security strives to protect assets and prevent crime by using human, physical, and psychological forces. Guards, physical security barriers, electronic sensor/surveillance devices, and other security measures are utilized to establish a defensive posture around a protected asset. However, these traditional practices, which have been proven effective in the short term, may, in many cases, produce long term financial and social costs. CPTED is a method that uses a behaviorally-based understanding of how criminals operate to create places that provide for a minimum opportunity for crime to occur. The core principles of CPTED -natural surveillances, natural access control, and territoriality are achieved by utilizing the inherent characteristics of the built environment. ISSD creates the opportunity to positively affect the built environment by merging the tools of physical security with those of CPTED and community policing, maximizing the strengths of each method while lessening their limitations. A key aspect of ISSD is to ensure that the security requirements of the facility are clearly established at the programming stage of the project through the joint participation of all stakeholders in the development of a vulnerability and risk assessment. ISSD then merges the risk profile with the operational requirements to create a site and security program that is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and cost effective. Throughout the ISSD process, communication among diverse stakeholders is paramount and constant.

Why should we consider this approach to the design of our public spaces and facilities? The obvious answer to this question is that it addresses the challenges of the “public predator”, crime, and disorder. However, the easiest answer is that it makes economic sense. Safety and a sense of comfort help keep the consumer-driven economic engine running. If our public feels safe, then they will do what they do best – visit our facilities and engage in commerce. If they feel unsafe, they will not spend and will seek out safer places. Additionally, it is the “right” thing to do. There exists a moral obligation to ensure the safety of the people who live, work, and otherwise engage with our facilities. All of us are a part of the community and it is only natural to make our facilities the safest they can be. ISSD can be cost-effective given the potential savings of future retrofits, the increased opportunities to create multi-purpose site facilities, and enhanced effectiveness of security features. Premises liability is a growing area of litigation, including significant litigation for failing to provide due diligence in establishing safety measures. The insurance industry is beginning to recognize the fact that if there is a significant improvement in a facility’s risk profile (if the ISSD approach is used), opportunities for lower insurance costs (reduced risk profile) for the owner and operator of the facility may be possible. Above all, the people who come to the facility will recognize a safe place and the feeling of safety translates into an overall sense of community well-being and the reduction of fear. This sense of safety can be recognized as you observe the people in a public space or facility and see where comfort exists or where fear is apparent. It may not be possible to quantify the sense of well-being, but “you know it when you see it”.

The challenge is that the “public predator” and his partners of crime and disorder are here to stay. We can continue to let them manage us or we can be proactive and work together in a collaborative approach to develop new and innovative ways to reduce the impact of the bad and increase the sense of comfort that those who utilize our facilities deserve. Tragedy should not cause us to close the windows and doors of our freedoms. We are the country, with immeasureable talent, that put the first man on the moon. We do not give up, nor do we give in. Let our indominable American spirit ensure that we work together to make our public spaces and facilities “Safer by Design”.

About The Author

Mr. Michael A. Jones, MS, an internationally respected law enforcement leader, is the Director of the Site Security Consulting Group at the firm of William H. Gordon Associates Inc in Chantilly, Va. Mr. Jones recently retired from the Virginia Capitol Police as Interim Chief of Police after serving 30 years as a police officer with the Virginia Capitol Police, the Virginia Commonwealth University Police and the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office. He currently serves as a member of the adjunct faculty cadre for Virginia Commonwealth University School of Government and Public Affairs and the National Criminal Justice Command College of the University of Virginia, as well as a member of the Critical Incident Analysis Group (CIAG) at the University of Virginia. Mr. Jones can be reached at

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