The Greening of Security

Physical Security
The Greening of Security
 

A standard joke among baby boomers is that 60 is the new 40. Environmentally speaking, it could also be said that green is the new gold, given how highly everyone values “going green” these days. And the gold standard when it comes to building green is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). But what happens when security issues and LEED collide?

That was the question security consultant Charlie Howell faced when he worked on a new city hall building for the City of Rancho Cordova, California. Howell, CEO and owner of Camino, California, security and design firm Security Concepts and Planning LLC, told the general contractor he’d have to remove some trees along the outside of the building because they were blocking the surveillance camera view. However, the general contractor objected, because the trees were needed to earn the building LEED points. The year was 2003, and it was Howell’s first experience with LEED. Thus he was initiated into the world of green buildings. 

Only a few years later, LEED is being adopted by city zoning boards and architects across the United States. That makes it even more likely that security professionals will encounter projects where they have to accommodate green design and sustainable building components, which seek to minimize the impact on the environment. In most cases, some type of acceptable workaround can be found in which the sustainability and security elements work together. In some situations, green features can even enhance a building’s security.

LEEDing the Way

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) first established LEED certification in 1998 as a way to provide guidelines for environmentally sustainable construction. LEED’s independent, third-party certification hinges on accumulating enough “points” or credits to become certified.

Some cities mandate that certain buildings achieve LEED certification. Other localities provide tax credits to developers who build to the LEED standard, offering them an incentive in lieu of making certification mandatory.

In new building construction, LEED covers the following areas: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. By implementing various features builders can earn points toward certification. For example, light pollution reduction and innovative wastewater technologies are both worth one point on the LEED scale. There are four LEED certification levels, based on the number of points earned. Platinum is the highest and requires 52 to 69 points on new construction projects.

There are currently 1,422 LEED-certified projects and 10,762 registered projects, according to USGBC spokesperson Ashley Katz. Registered projects are somewhere “in the pipeline” from conceptualization to construction.

Even project planners who are not able to, or choose not to, seek formal LEED certification often attempt to incorporate some green features. The Pentagon has taken that approach with the Pentagon Memorial, says Walter Nielsen, of PENREN, the long-term Pentagon Renovation Program at the Department of Defense. The memorial could not be LEED certified, says Nielsen, because the LEED rating system applies only to enclosed buildings. But “the project team is following the LEED rating criteria where feasible.”

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.

Lighting. Another potential conflict between security and sustainability comes in the realm of lighting.

Outdoor Lighting. Buildings can gain LEED credits by decreasing nighttime light, glare, and overall light “pollution,” which is defined as light that illuminates areas beyond the property. Parking lot lights are often a cause of light pollution. However, many security officials worry that reducing light in parking lots to meet LEED guidelines could make the areas more vulnerable to crime.

At the green conference, Snider says, he found that while some security professionals expressed concern about this issue, those who had “worked on some projects said, ‘You know, we solved that problem real easily.’”

Snider does not see the outside lighting situation as one where either security or sustainability needs to be the loser. Rather, it is a question of having both the security and sustainability folks understand the project’s goals and work together to achieve everyone’s objectives. 

“If the green guys have got the lighting engineer out there dimming down lighting levels and pointing them in certain directions, and then the security guy comes in and says, ‘I need [the lights] to go this way,’ and they don’t talk, then you’ve just either compromised your security or compromised your green building goal,” Snider says.

At the Pentagon, the lighting fixtures do not eliminate light pollution, says Nielsen, but they do minimize it. Rather than using conventional lighting fixtures with a globe at the top, the Pentagon uses fixtures that are hooded and facing downward. Many other LEED certified structures have taken that same approach. Judicious use of the right types of fixtures satisfies security needs while limiting light pollution, says Nielsen.

A problem with low lighting is that surveillance cameras have less light to work with. Many nighttime surveillance applications present that challenge, but where it might have been solved in the past by use of artificial light, the LEED goals will reduce that option.

Improvements in low-light camera technology have helped. Howell deals with the issue by attaching an infrared illuminator to camera lenses. Although the illuminators do not give off light to the naked eye, Howell says, they allow the camera to see things in almost “perfect light.”

Another workaround for reducing light pollution without compromising security is to segregate employee parking lots from visitor sites that are closed at night, says Peart. The lights over the visitor lot can be turned down overnight, and a motion sensor can be installed to activate the lights if someone enters that lot after dark.

It should also be noted that outdoor light pollution doesn’t just come from outside lights; it can also come from lights left on inside the building at night. Having drapes for building windows and requiring that they be closed at the end of the day can mitigate that issue.

Indoor Lighting. LEED awards credits for controlling lighting by using dimmers, having occupancy sensors tied to the lighting system, or by other means. Motion sensors and lighting controls can also be hooked into the main HVAC control system so that when the building occupants have all gone home, the sensor alerts the system to lower the air conditioning or heating power as well as the lights. 

Companies that are known for their security systems are trying to reach out to the green market to help achieve some of the objectives. Reston, Virginia-based ObjectVideo, Inc. has exhibited its occupancy sensors to green designers as a way to gauge its potential in that market.

The sensors use video technology that can identify when there are people in rooms and to count how many. While the impetus for developing the technology has been security, it could be used to tell the building to adjust light and climate control for environmental purposes.

“This has created a whole new wave of opportunities for us,” says ObjectVideo’s Global Marketing Director Ed Troha. However, he adds that most buildings don’t yet have building management systems capable of reading such occupancy sensor data.

Howell sometimes uses an occupancy sensor to tell lights when to turn on and off; he also sometimes uses an infrared illuminator for inside cameras, as he does outside, to allow the camera to work even with little or no light. Some green buildings don’t use either method; they simply turn out the lights at night. But that could create a security vulnerability, Howell says, if someone enters the facility after hours without authorization. If lights are triggered in addition to alarms, that’s best.

​Foliage. Trees are used extensively in green design for shade on concrete parking lots and to keep asphalt heat from radiating back into the atmosphere, says Snider. However, trees can sometimes cause a problem for security and block views. In addition, security may want to use some specific vegetation as a deterrent, but green design emphasizes that plants be native to the area. This may or may not cause a conflict, depending on the region.

In the Southwest, for example, putting cacti around the building would be a good natural security barrier. It would also meet green standards, because the plants are native to the area and do not require additional watering or unusual care. However, in other environments, landscapers concerned with security might want to establish a perimeter with some sturdier plants or bushes that are not native and would require extra irrigation or specialized care, going against the green ideal, says Snider.

Conflicts can also arise between crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles and green design as far as height suggestions of plants and trees, says Howell.  “The whole CPTED principle is allowing the person to feel safe in their environment, secure in their environment,” by having clear lines of sight, he explains.

A case in point is the example involving trees at the city hall building mentioned at the beginning of this article. The green design called for trees, but they had a low canopy that blocked the line of sight, as well as the effectiveness of some of the lighting.

Howell solved the problem by cutting some of the lower branches to raise the canopy so that people and surveillance cameras both had unobstructed views and more light could get through below the trees. However, if too much of a canopy is cut on certain trees, you’ll lose the shade and, thus, lose the LEED point, according to Howell.

Moreover, he says, oftentimes for security, “it’s even better just to do a flat concrete sidewalk with bollards and flat hardscapes. And, of course, with LEED, there are more greenscapes and softscapes. There’s a clash.”

Perimeter areas. When the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) building in Manhattan was retrofitted recently, the designers established a perimeter by creating a “bermed up” earth mass covered with grass, rather than simply ringing the building with bollards and other uninviting structures. But it’s still secure, says Susan Kaplan, director of sustainability for the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) in New York City, which spearheaded the project. They’ve tested the berms, she says, and “any truck or car would be stopped. It wouldn’t be able to get through.”

BPCA claims construction of the first green residential building in the United States, the Solaire, which was completed in 2000. BPCA now has four completed green buildings, and five more are under construction.

The team also uses innovative seating structures as another alternative to bollards. The seats have been crash tested to ensure that they are powerful enough to serve as a security feature. “It’s a way to make it really just look like it’s a nice place to be, rather than a jail,” says Kaplan.

Another example of maintaining an area’s aesthetics while securing the perimeter is visible around the Museum of Jewish Heritage at the south end of Battery Park City, says Kaplan. Instead of placing bollards at that location, BPCA installed long rectangular fountains to serve the same purpose.

Features Adding Security

Generally, with green design, the question from security’s perspective is whether sustainability measures will increase the property’s risk profile. But there are several areas where the green features actually contribute to enhanced security.

Drainage. Traditional buildings tend to have ample concrete, which impedes natural drainage when it rains. Green design calls for more permeable ground cover, such as the grass berms mentioned earlier. That can provide extra natural drainage in the case of a storm and decrease the chance of flooding, which makes the building more secure.

Setback. The concept of setting a building a good distance back from the road is one that green advocates embrace. That’s a green feature that enhances security, because setbacks reduce a facility’s vulnerability to car bombs. For that reason, a specified setback is a requirement for some federal facilities.

The recently completed Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. United States Courthouse in Miami, Florida, for example, includes a large setback. It was a security necessity, and it provides green “opportunities, whether that’s creating public spaces or doing sustainable design areas,” says Frank Giblin, director of the General Services Administration (GSA) Urban Development/Good Neighbor Program.

Such softscape areas can provide groundwater recharge and better drainage, a green side effect that’s especially useful in a setting like Miami. In the case of the courthouse, a large grassy area was created that included a grass sculpture by Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The way to approach a project like this, says Giblin, is not to ask whether sustainability or security is the driving force, but rather, to consider “when you’re doing security, can you do it in a sustainable way?”

Independent power. Power is critical to the running of security systems. Green buildings often get power from their own self-refreshing power generators, which makes the building less vulnerable to problems with the public power grid.

In a power outage or blackout, a typical building may have a backup generator, but such generators will often last only a certain number of hours. In sustainable buildings, however, it is unlikely that power will actually be lost since the building is already running off its own generators, says Howell. That makes it less likely that security systems will fail in a blackout or disaster that affects the power grid.

Camouflage. Another security advantage of sustainable design involves green roofs that include grassy areas and trees or other plant life. An ancillary benefit of this approach is that it can often serve as a camouflage of the building from above and off to the sides. The Pentagon’s Remote Delivery Facility, mentioned earlier, incorporates a large green roof that has the effect of blending the building into its surroundings.  “It’s almost like stealth. When you look at it from the air, it looks like a park, because it’s landscaped and has a promenade. Even when you’re in the Pentagon looking out the window at it, you see a park. You don’t see a building, so it kind of blends in,” says Nielsen.

That type of camouflage could be a very important tool for embassies or bases outside of the United States, says Snider. And in addition to securing the building, it serves an environmental function.

Window laminates. Certain blast-resistant windows can have the side benefit of improving energy efficiency. According to a statement by the Federal Energy Management program, the Pentagon’s new windows are blast-resistant and are 50 percent more energy efficient than the original ones. Several vendors also claim energy-efficient window laminates.

Building envelope. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy prepared an energy efficiency and security checklist that states that the building envelope presents multiple ways to enhance both security and energy efficiency. Creating an airtight barrier can keep chemical and biological agents out while also providing a weather-tight seal that facilitates lower energy use for heating and cooling the building. Additionally, wall insulation can reduce heating needs while providing a secondary barrier from harm.

Filtration. Air filtration is another measure favored by both green designers and security practitioners. The green advocates want to remove pollutants. For security, filters can help to protect against an airborne terrorist attack. “[I]f something is released outside and you have good filters, less of it’s going to get into the building,” says Persily. 

The push for green building design and sustainability components is likely to continue into the future. Security professionals will do best if they become familiar with its features and find ways to adjust to them or to use them to further security’s objectives. Howell advises security professionals to work on sustainable building projects as early as possible and to embrace the requirements as just another design challenge.


Laura Spadanuta is an assistant editor at Security Management.