Jan. 18, 2006
Options integrate into building design

By Dan Daley

Everything changed after 9/11, not the least of which is how security is integrated into the design of structures. If there is a bright side to the catastrophe, though, it’s that awareness of security has been sharpened to a fine point, and that technologies to help keep structures secure have proliferated in the last several years.

Some emerging security solutions are squarely architectural and start with the perimeter of a structure. Few buildings can impose the kinds of anti-vehicle barrier protection imposed on, for instance, the Mayfair neighborhood in London around the U.S. embassy in the wake of 9/11, rendering several surrounding lanes unpassable by local traffic.

That kind of situation has led to the development of barriers that can be applied at street level but which do not require substantial footer depth. A good example is the Anti-Ram Foundation bollard pad system developed by RSA Protective Technologies ( Using an ultrashallow footer below a 5-inch base supporting a 1.5-inch concrete cover, the barrier has been rated to withstand sustained contact from a 15,000-pound vehicle with an initial impact of 40 mph with a negative rebound of 56 inches (the distance the intruding vehicle is repelled backwards - critical because it further reduces blast effect), resulting in just 3 inches of damage to the supporting bollard post.

Exterior surveillance is another key component of building security. One technology rapidly being adopted is combination day/night cameras that shift their vision capabilities as ambient light changes. “One effect of this trend is that a building could conceivably use fewer cameras for the same amount of 24-hour coverage,” notes Richard Grassie, president of Techmark Security Integration, a Rockland, MA-based security consulting company and a member of the industry-based Security Architecture Council.

That, Grassie adds, is as much a function of economics as it is security. “Architects have to address the fact that on one hand, they will be asked to allow more security aspects into their designs, but that on the other hand, the costs will not be easily permitted to increase to necessarily cover that additional security. The only recourse is technology like this that can use less in the way of assets to do the work that used to take more components to accomplish.” The Dinion XF day/night security cameras from Bosch Security Systems ( are an example of how high-resolution imaging - in this case 15-bit digital video - increases the ability to assess and identify a threat at further distances, as well as to provide law enforcement with improved forensic evidence.


The trade-off between security and economics is a pervasive theme to acknowledge. Lobby traffic flow is a prime example: Commercial spaces need unimpeded movement for employees, patrons, and visitors, particularly at such crucial times of the day as rush hours, in an environment in which security must be present yet transparent. Any security devices or systems need not only perform their tasks as they move people inside, but also not act as a barrier or choke point in an emergency evacuation.

“Every building design undergoes a throughput/output assessment that’s done in conjunction with the architect,” says Grassie, with the results often dictating which types of security systems are implemented. The cutting edge is in biometric readers that scan certain individual biological characteristics, such as iris patterns or fingerprints that have been prescanned and logged into a central databank in the building’s security control center. Building occupants can also be issued magnetic or optical cards that scan for other kinds of preloaded information that can be updated constantly.

The metric the security consultant looks to establish is the cycle time - the amount of time it takes one person to pass through an automated security portal. “That, multiplied by the number of people expected to enter the building in the course of a day, and with peak periods factored into the equation, tells us what the throughput of the lobby or entrance has to be,” says Grassie.

The portals they’ll pass through will be increasingly sophisticated and automated, again to not only enhance security but also to keep a lid on security overhead costs, particularly human resources to monitor the passages. Brijot Imaging’s ( 1600 model industrial standard weapons detection portal uses millimeter wave technology to scan persons for unseen objects. It uses the same principle as a radio telescope to detect the RF “signature” emitted by carbon-based life forms and looks for the interruption of that signal within a certain frequency range that could indicate a person is carrying a concealed weapon. An audio or other signal alerts security personnel when an anomaly is detected, which also cuts down on the number of screeners who would otherwise have to constantly vet a CCTV surveillance system.

“As far as the architect is concerned, that security system is going to need wiring that runs to monitors in the lobby and to a central control room somewhere else in the building, as well as to recording and storage systems,” says Grassie. “That’s on top of how to integrate the screening system into the lobby design and make it work for both normal traffic flow patterns and for rush hours and emergency evacuations. You can’t do this without the technology anymore.”


HVAC is usually the largest of all integrated building systems aside from dedicated structural systems and it, too, has been impacted by security technology. The 2001 anthrax mailings to government buildings in Washington, D.C., underscored the threat from this direction and has led to the push to develop “immune building” technologies to prevent the spread of dangerous agents through ventilating systems.

“The most likely approach that would be used by terrorists would be to employ an aerosolizer to release the agents either into the ventilation duct or into general areas of the building,” Penn State University immune building expert Wladyslaw Kowalski wrote in a 2004 report. As a result, experts say, more and more buildings have HVAC systems equipped with sensors to detect a biological or chemical attack, as well as filters, airflow-diversion technology, and neutralizing equipment to prevent the agents from circulating throughout the building.

(Both the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol refuse to acknowledge the presence of HVAC-based defenses in congressional structures, but press reports suggest that all top U.S. government targets are being protected by systems that involve sensors, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, and ultraviolet radiation that neutralizes pathogens.)

Many solutions are already available - Medical Air Solutions ( has a particularly good website with resources for architects. Lee Hadin, CEO of Medical Air Solutions, which sells systems mainly to hospitals, estimates that the capabilities of such technology have increased “logarithmically” over the past several years.

Doug Fitzgerald, director of technology and security design at Applied Research Associates in Orlando, FL, says architects should be aware of the need to situate BMS and security control centers in survivable locations in the building with secure communications links throughout the building and to the outside. A 2005 white paper by ASIS Intl. ( concludes that too much reliance continues to be put on front desk/lobby locations. “Structural enhancements and things like positive air pressurization are now architectural concepts,” he says. “The technology is there to achieve these things, and the relative costs are actually coming down as the number of technologies to accomplish them expands. The biggest issue is getting architects more aware of security concerns and how to integrate those technologies into their designs.”

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