The Greening of Security

By Laura Spadanuta

 Starting with Security

A major component of balancing security with sustainable building design is to involve the building security consultant on the project from its inception. Security consultants recommend early involvement with any type of project, but it becomes even more important on buildings going for LEED ratings because every point counts. A building may not be able to make adjustments for security later and still keep its LEED rating. 

Involving security from the start results in integrated building design, says Andy Persily, a vice president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The process, also known as integrated site security design, among other names, entails having security meet with the architects, engineers, contractors, and even occupants right at the beginning of the project.

Although integrated building design is not a new concept by any means, “There’s a new push of late because…people are realizing that technical solutions can only get you so far. You’ve got to address the design and construction process to really make it all work,” Persily says, explaining: “You can have the latest HVAC system or the latest security widget, but you’ve got to build it into the process or it might not be properly implemented in the building.… Band-aids don’t always work very well.”

Despite the advantages of addressing security needs early on, it is far from a universal practice. Howell notes that “probably 40 percent of my designs I’m brought in at the eleventh-and-a-half hour, and they say, ‘Okay, we need security here. Figure it out.’”

At that point, the building’s features are essentially locked down, and any workaround will take more creativity and effort.

Striking a Balance

Whenever security gets the chance for input, whether initially or later on, the security team must confront the issue of how to adapt to the green features. There are some approaches green building design emphasizes that might seem counterintuitive to a security professional. In these cases, consultants and designers have to figure out a way to strike the right balance without trading too much security for sustainability, and vice versa.

Windows. Windows figure prominently in green design. LEED applies points for building designs that take advantage of natural light to generate a high percentage of light inside the facility, with the goal of decreasing energy use.

LEED specifies points for providing 90 percent of occupied space with a direct line of sight to “vision glazing.” Additionally, green designs often incorporate operable windows that can be opened to allow natural ventilation in the building and reduce reliance on air conditioning. 

However, the number and placement of windows can cause security concerns. That was a hot topic of discussion at a recent conference on green buildings and security, says Joe Snider, president of Building Green Generations, Inc., a green design firm based in Delray Beach, Florida.

Snider, who was a presenter at the conference, says that windows represent an example of an area where working with the architect on building planning is essential at the earliest possible time, because it is unlikely that windows will be removed or moved once the building is constructed.

There are several security considerations regarding windows. One is that they present more entry and exit points. Another is that they may make it more difficult to keep out harmful chemicals or biological agents in a disaster or attack.

“If it’s a high-security military facility, they’re in the middle of a very tense environment. You probably don’t want to open windows,” says Persily. “Physical security has to trump sustainability.”

Even if the windows don’t open, increasing their numbers can create security issues. For example, if the facility is a possible target of a car-bomb attack, security has to take into consideration that broken glass from windows can be a major cause of casualties.

More windows may also make it easier for would-be criminals, spies, or assailants to surveil the building. Snider points out that companies with secure areas, such as laboratories, might not want anyone to have a view into them.

One way for security professionals and designers to deal with the window issue is to place most windows in low-risk areas and few in high-risk parts of the facility. If there is an internal courtyard, it would likely be less vulnerable to an outside blast than the other parts of the building, so it makes sense to place a lot of windows facing into that courtyard to still get a daylight effect, says Will Peart of William H. Gordon Associates Inc., an engineering and architectural firm headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia.

Additionally, if it makes environmental sense to put most windows on certain sides of the building because of the orientation to sunlight on those sides, the security team should ensure that areas requiring greater security are placed on the opposite side. For example, in Florida, Snider says, the windows might be placed on the north side of the building where there is less direct sunlight so that the air conditioning load can be reduced. Therefore, any areas of the building that house functions that are more of a security risk should be designed on the south side, where there will be fewer windows.

Sometimes designers go with green window placement to the detriment of security, says Howell. He was recently working on a county building that featured several windows in a cash-handling portion of the building where payments are accepted. He wanted a solid wall, but instead, windows were selected to gain LEED points and increase the amount of natural light.

The windows compromised the cash-handling area’s security in Howell’s view, because glass provides thieves an easy way to break in. In that case, he says, you are essentially hoping that if there is a break-in, your glass-break or motion sensors will provide early detection. But in larger building areas, the motion detectors and sensors are not always at or near every single window and this method of placement can lead to a delayed response.

It is possible to achieve LEED certification without any windows at all, through extensive point accumulation in other areas. The Pentagon’s Remote Delivery Facility, which is a completely secured building with no windows, was able to gain the LEED certification due to its other components, such as a large green roof.



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