Securing your Church Facilities: Physical Security Design

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Designing a new, renovated, or expanded facility is an exciting and complex undertaking. Among the myriad of variables to consider is “how will your facility and its physical security systems protect your people and assets”? Knowing how to design a secure facility from the outset will help the church protect its resources and avoid costly facility modifications in the future.

We live in a new era of increased threats due to workplace violence, hate crimes, kidnapping, theft, vandalism and the like, but the church’s role has largely remained unchanged. One of the biggest challenges any church faces is to create an oasis that reflects peace and love within a wilderness of fear and despair facing many in our society. Building such an oasis requires a comprehensive system of goals, design criteria, policies, and follow-up responses to create a safe and inviting environment.

Process Overview
Security system design is a process that includes definition of objectives, the initial design, the evaluation of the design, and usually a refinement of the design. To set the objectives a designer begins by gathering information and developing a characterization of church operations, people flows, and conditions such as a comprehensive description of the church, modes of operation, and the physical protection requirements. The designer proceeds to define threats to the facility; considering factors such as potential adversaries, such as vagrants etc. Next, the designer should identify targets such as physical assets (religious artifacts), electronic data (church records), and people (especially children).

The designer now understands the objectives of the system – what to protect and from whom to protect it. The next step is to design the new system or identify deficiencies in the existing system if it already exists. After the system is designed it must be analyzed and evaluated to ensure that it meets the physical protection objectives. This evaluation must allow for features working together to assure protection instead of regarding each feature separately. Due to the complexity of protection systems, an evaluation usually requires a description of security features coupled with church procedures and site/building plans. All of these items combine to create fruitful planning sessions where multiple scenarios can be discussed. If any vulnerabilities are found, the initial system must be redesigned to correct the deficiencies and a reevaluation conducted.

The process starts with determining the objectives, then designing a system to meet the objectives and ends with an evaluation of how well the system performs compared to the objectives. Characterization of facility operations and conditions requires developing a thorough description of the facility itself. This description should include things such as location of the site boundaries, church location on the site including all support buildings, building interior floor plans and all access points.

A description of the processes within the facility is also required. This includes detailing time and location of all worship services, meetings, group activities, and when the building is open to the general public. When addressing existing environments the identification of any existing physical protection features should be included. In addition to a review of all documentation, a tour of the site and interviews with church personnel are necessary. This provides an understanding of the physical protection requirements for the church as well as an appreciation for the operational and safety constraints, which must be considered. Note that good record keeping of your physical protection features is important, even knowing who to call to repair door locks or broken windows.

At this point the church design team can establish the level of security needed, whether it should be discrete or prominent. An understanding of the cost and quality of the systems and components should be determined. Each church facility and congregation is unique, so the process should be followed each time a need is identified.

Survey and Risk Assessment
A security survey is a critical on-site examination and analysis to ascertain the present security status, to identify deficiencies or excesses, to determine the protection needed, and to make recommendations to improve the overall security. Crime prevention, or lessening the potential for crime, begins with a major in-depth security analysis of the Church. A survey of the interior and exterior will point out security deficiencies and potential for intrusion or the probability that a crime will occur at that spot.

After the survey, an appraisal and recommendation for action should be immediately undertaken. A timetable for implementing the recommendations should be originated and strictly followed. It is possible the site survey is beyond the ability of most church managements. If it is, you are advised to obtain the services of a qualified security professional.

The next step in the process, if designing a new system is to determine how best to combine such elements as fences, barriers, sensors, procedures, communication devices and security into a physical protection system that can achieve the protection objectives. The resulting system design should meet these objectives within the operational, safety, legal, and economic constraints of the facility. Certain guidelines should be observed during the system design. A system performs better if detection is as far from the target as possible and delays are near the target. Detection can be in the form of a motion sensor or a camera. Delays are things like fences or doors that delay an intruder. In addition, there is a close association between detection and assessment. A “delayed egress” type of emergency exit door allows anyone to exit the building, but only after an alarm is sounded and a short period of time passes. The time delay is limited by safety codes, and the alarm should alert staff to that area immediately.

The designer should be aware that detection without assessment is not detection. Video surveillance without active monitoring and human response is a prime example. A church has unique challenges in that it needs to be an open environment and friendly to visitors. Another unique aspect for many churches is the protection of children. It is common themes such as these that pose design challenges. For example, exterior playgrounds usually need protection in the form of a fence or other physical barrier restricting public access. The design and operation of these areas must ensure children don’t wander off and strangers don’t gain access to them.

One general security technique is to identify circles of protection on the plans and ensure that the entire perimeter of the circle is adequately protected. This will include the evaluation of fences, landscaping, site lighting, gates, doors and access devices, windows, and any crawl spaces. Often, these circles of protection are concentric, and the security level grows higher the more internal a person travels into the facility. For example, a fence may define the perimeter of the site, with gated or open access points in a few locations. A chapel may be near one of these entrances, welcoming visitors during normal daylight hours. These areas are part of the low-security circle. Reception areas and education wings may have medium-security needs, welcoming visitors with proper identification and a reason for being there. Staff offices, accounting, and childcare may fall into high-security areas. Once a visitor reaches the entry point to a high-security area, he usually must validate himself and find no possible way for entering undetected. Economies of scale and efficiencies in design can be achieved by placing these circles of protection logically within the facilities and site where they are most suitable. Just as you would not let your children play near a busy street, you would not want to store valuables near public access points.

Analysis and evaluation of the security system design begins with a review and thorough understanding of the protection objectives the designed system must meet. This can be done simply by checking for required features of the system such as intrusion detection, entry control, access delay, response communications and a response force. Only when all of those features work together to assure adequate levels of protection will the security system design yield high performance results.

The outcome of this phase of the design and analysis process is a system vulnerability assessment. Analysis of the system design will either find that the design effectively achieved the protection objectives or it will identify weaknesses. If the protection objectives are achieved then the process is completed. Periodic analysis is required to ensure that the original protection objectives remain valid and that the protection system continues to meet them. If the system is found to be ineffective, vulnerabilities in the system should be identified. This leads to redesign or upgrade of the initial protection system to correct its vulnerable parts.

This article introduces the use of a systematic and measurable approach (process) to the design and implementation of a physical security system. The process stresses the use of integrated systems combining people, procedures and equipment to meet the protection objectives.

In the next installment of this series we’ll address electronic security systems and their relationship to overall facility protection.