Security by Design in Abu Dhabi

By Hunter R. Burkall, PSP

In what is today the center of Abu Dhabi, in the mid 1700s a local tribe leader discovered fresh water—a precious resource—and built a watchtower to protect it from intruders. Over time, a small community developed around this building, which was converted into a fort. That fort, Qasr al-Hosn, became the spiritual center of the present-day emirate.

It is fitting that the now-powerful emirate arose through what began as an exercise in security planning. Two hundred and fifty years later, that process is repeating itself on a much grander scale.

Abu Dhabi, the largest of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is the site of an ancient civilization that sprang out of the arid landscape in the 1970s to become one of the world’s fastest developing places. The city of Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital, was originally planned for an estimated maximum population of 600,000. That number topped 2.5 million in 2013, according to the Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre.

Planners have developed the city using modern design principles, often enlisting experts in urban planning and architectural design from around the world. 

Another important characteristic of the capital is community safety. Since the very first stone was set to create Qasr al-Hosn, Abu Dhabi City has had a long history of low crime rates. It was recognized as the Middle East’s safest city by the Mercer Quality of Living Index in 2011. This can be attributed, in part, to the design of safe and secure communities.

The most recent display of this commitment comes in the form of a new planning policy document, The Abu Dhabi Safety and Security Planning Manual (SSPM). Initiated by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council in April 2011, the SSPM is the first of its kind in the Middle East, and establishes a system for approaching crime prevention and counterterrorism in the earliest stages of a project’s life: during planning and design.

PLAN 2030

Despite its low crime rates, Abu Dhabi is not hermetically sealed from troublemakers and has experienced a rise in criminal activity over the past decade. In response, the city has implemented different types of community safety initiatives to prevent crime from progressing into a more significant problem. This includes the SSPM, which originated from Abu Dhabi’s Urban Structure Framework Plan, otherwise known as Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, or Plan 2030. 

Published in 2007 to establish a 25-year program for evolving the urban environment, Plan 2030 acknowledges the importance of creating safe and secure communities and calls for the development of “a set of guidelines for crime prevention through building and landscaping design.” Sitting at the forefront of this responsibility is the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC), the government body accountable for regulating property development across the county of Abu Dhabi, as well as for commissioning both Plan 2030 and the SSPM.



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