School districts across the United States are continuously looking for ways to enrich the lives of their students through education.

Whether through curriculum, socialization, or experiences, administrators want to provide opportunities to students and families in safe and secure environments. District officials agree that they would build new state-of-the-art facilities to provide those environments in an ideal world. However, building new facilities is not often an option due to budgeting or feasibility concerns, so changes or updates must be made to existing buildings to meet the challenges K-12 schools face today.

Whether designing a new facility or making additions or renovations to an existing structure, it is of the utmost importance to take a proactive approach to ensure safety for the students, administration, and the community. Crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED, is a strategy utilized to accomplish this. CPTED is a multidisciplinary approach focusing on using architectural design to deter criminal behavior. Architects certified in CPTED consider five strategies when designing spaces: natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement, activity support, and maintenance.

We know that well-lit areas are not conducive for burglars. By strategically adding extra lighting around the perimeter of a building, a prospective burglar is less likely to break into a facility as there is a higher likelihood of someone witnessing them doing so. Criminals do not like to be seen or recognized, so by eliminating situations where they can hide or easily escape, the facility’s security is maintained. This can be achieved through landscaping too. Thorny rose bushes can be planted near ground-level windows and hedged so that the view from the window is not covered and a comfortable place for an intruder to hide is not available. When the line of sight is obscure, an organization can utilize closed-circuit television to let people know they are being monitored. The last thing a criminal wants to see when entering a building is their face on a surveillance monitor. Through surveillance and not providing comfortable areas to hide, potential offenders should feel like they are being watched, and there are no accessible escape routes.

Criminals like to feel like they are in control and have a plan. If we can eliminate situations where they feel in control, criminals will not feel like they have the upper hand when approaching a facility. We can do this by controlling the environment we create for those accessing the facility. No one wants to see barbed wire around a school—not only is that unwelcoming, but it also poses a danger. We can utilize barriers through landscaping or maze entrances that a bad guy would have to navigate, cutting off their straight-line access to the facility. Strategically placing curbing and sidewalks can help direct automobile and foot traffic too.

Typically, educational facilities are considered entities that belong to communities since so many people use them. The fact remains that the buildings and grounds do belong to someone. Someone is responsible for what happens within the building and grounds and needs to take ownership of what happens on the premises. For this reason, CPTED-certified architects consider the principle of territorial reinforcement. A clear distinction needs to be made between public and private property. Where do the school boundaries begin and end? Intruders should have a hard time being able to blend in. Security signage should be visible at all entrances. A badging or keycard system will help employees feel as though they have ownership over “their space” and will put the intruders on the defensive. Panic buttons or alarms that call for help are often installed in the reception areas as they typically have the most open line of sight to entrances.

We know that special events and activities occur at schools, and with those come crowds. Having designated areas used when groups are present is essential so that criminals can be easily spotted out of place. Architects design multipurpose spaces such as atriums that can double as cafeterias and concession areas to coral crowds when they are not in the gymnasium for the basketball game they are attending. It becomes easier to “see something and say something” when a criminal can be spotted out of place in the science wing jiggling door handles when the rest of the crowd is in the common areas.

Innately people like to take pride in their spaces. No one enjoys looking at or working in an environment that doesn’t feel maintained. If given a choice, students and staff would rather be in a new building because it looks and feels better. When new facilities are not an option to build, and renovations or additions to an existing structure occur, it is vital to look at the big picture of what needs attention in addition to the areas being worked on. If a current part of a facility has defects that aren’t addressed during the project, a criminal could still be enticed to vandalize a building. A kickball that cracked a window during recess may look like a window that a criminal has already damaged. Even if the window is still structurally and functionally sound (not broken all the way through), it must be fixed. A well-maintained area gives the impression that people care about what happens and therefore are aware of what takes place in the space.

Making buildings harder to enter forcibly or target hardening is also implemented through architects’ designs to impede criminals. Utilizing deadbolts or protective window films does not allow for “smash and go” burglaries to take place. A CPTED-certified architect ensures that the materials used for the structure are hard or sturdy materials that work in harmony with the aesthetics of the design.
These may all seem like obvious things to consider when looking at the security of a facility. However, without implementing them, we ultimately invite intruders into our space and allow them to carry out their agenda. This is what CPTED does—essentially, it changes how people behave in a place. All architects want to create welcoming environments that foster a sense of community. However, CPTED-certified architects design spaces that minimize the opportunities for criminal behavior to occur.

EAPC is proud to have the first architect in the region to be CPTED Certified, Sean Sugden, on staff. Sean completed the National Institute of Crime Prevention’s course on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and holds the designation necessary to deliver comprehensive CPTED programs and assessments to public and private sector groups.

Due to the increase of safety concerns in our schools and even other project types, I desired further understanding of how to prevent crime beginning with the design process. The CPTED Professional Designation Program provided the in-depth training and tools to actively apply design practices proven to prevent and mitigate crime across all interior and exterior building types and spaces.”
– Sean Sugden, Partner and K12 Design Principal, EAPC Architects and Engineers

For more information about how to design out crime in your facility, contact EAPC: | 701.461.7222

Check out our brochure on CPTED.