Green Haven

Sustainability is sexy. Everybody loves the idea of creating a clean, green world and passing that world on to future generations. People recycle competitively, monitor energy usage dashboards, and approach LEED certification with gusto. Security, on the other hand, is reactive. Most individuals don’t really consider it until an event brings safety to the
forefront. Yet both must co-exist on today’s college campuses even though they may be at odds.

That’s right; security and sustainability often don’t work and play well with each other. Components like interior and exterior lighting, HVAC, windows, and landscaping often demand different approaches. Luckily a number of compromises can be found.

Light a Candle Against the Darkness

Exterior lighting provides a perfect example. “With respect to security, the more outdoor lighting a building has the better,” says Daniel O’Neill, senior vice president risk management, TSG Solutions, in the book Security Design for Sustainable Buildings and Campuses. Obviously criminals prefer the cover of darkness to hide their activities, so a secure location — such as a parking lot — is a well-lit one, without shadows or blind spots. Sustainability, however, demands that light pollution be limited and energy conserved. Can a compromise be found?

“When it comes to outdoor light, bigger is not necessarily better,” says Joseph Banks, project architect, Svigals + Partners. “Dim lights that brighten when tripped by a motion detector are actually safer because they avoid blind spots and alert security personnel that someone is presently in the lot.” Motion sensors have their downside, though. Windblown tree branches and moving animals can accidentally activate the sensor. “An infrared trigger would fix that problem,” says Banks. “But the system would have to be well tuned to work optimally.”

Another option is variable intensity LEDs. These take the ambient light into account and power up or down accordingly. “For instance, if the moon is shining brightly the lighting automatically dims,” says O’Neill. “But when clouds cover the moon, the lights brighten.”

Smart Technology

Cutting-edge innovations in video analytics may integrate sustainability and security. This technology can detect and track people and other objects of interest, like cars, while ignoring branches and animals. These smart cameras can also control lighting. “The price of this technology has come down significantly,” says O’Neill. “Ten years ago they were out of reach for most consumers, but today they are more affordable.”

Another way technology can help green a campus is with license plate recognition cameras. “They are saving universities a ton by reducing the implementation of expensive stickers which can cost some $200,000 per year on the deployment, [and] manpower to track and upgrade the parking stickers,” says Eric Rittenhouse, Global Education Commercial Leader – Higher Education for Stanley Security Solutions. “The license plate recognition technology allows us to mount the cameras on campus police cars and review status of all cars parked on campus. I have a white paper from a campus in Texas who has already proved their savings. So no more printing stickers; license plates becomes the stickers or cards. This also saves on manpower, as foot patrols are no longer needed. Also at choke points the cameras can be mounted high above and still read the plates, which means the police don’t have to drive around the lots.”

Lighten Up

Indoor lighting can be just as problematic as outdoor when it comes to balancing security and sustainability. Security demands that hallways be well-lit, even when the building is empty. According to O’Neill’s book, “Safety codes vary from state to state, but there must be a minimum of lighting along egress pathways at all times.” The book also states that certain buildings should limit their ground- and lower-floor windows to protect against illegal entry and provide blast protection.

Daylighting, that big earner of LEED points, is a hallmark of the green movement. What better way to save energy than bringing sunlight indoors? It reduces energy costs, boosts morale, and creates a dynamic interior. And it’s also at complete odds with security.

Architects are finding ways to incorporate the two. “Ground-floor windows can be a bad idea if you need a hardened target,” says Banks, “but the best security comes from lots of eyes on the street, and windows provide that.”

Jeff Ziebarth, AIA, LEED-AP, higher education global market leader, Perkins + Will, has his own take. “Buildings need to be transparent,” he says. “Perhaps dorm buildings shouldn’t have bedrooms on the bottom floor, but ground-floor windows in other buildings could actually enhance security because people can keep an eye on inappropriate activities.”

Schools want to foster an environment of inquiry and openness. Architecturally that translates to interior windows, but modern safety protocol bans transoms by the door. “The result is oppressive, dark corridors,” says Banks. Blinds or translucent panels prove a good compromise. “You don’t want to overreact to events,” he continues, and points to the 1970 Kent State University shootings as an example. “After that incident, the school created a campus that was basically a series of corridors where no group could gather. It was completely non-functional for education.”

A balance to the interior lighting problem can be found with controls. This intelligent technology senses the right amount of light needed or when someone is in the room. Lighting can also be integrated with access-control card systems. This program will recognize an occupant and light the way to his or her room.

There is a catch, however. “Controls aren’t perfect. They can be complicated and require a lot of fussy maintenance,” says Banks. Much like controlled outside lights, indoor lighting controls demand a thorough knowledge of the system and the ability to service it.

Out With the Bad Air, In With the Good

HVAC and building envelopes also present security/sustainability discord, but most commonly for sensitive government buildings. There may be places on campus, however — labs for instance — that demand the same protocols. In these cases, “security calls for windows to be sealed to prevent air contamination and physical intrusion while sustainability calls for operable windows,” according to O’Neill’s book.

Fortunately his book presents a solution as well. “Primary air intakes installed high up on a building provide fresher air and also provide natural protection in the event of an exterior chemical/biological attack,” quotes O’Neill in his book. “As with lighting, both security and sustainability for HVAC can be maximized through the use of intelligent controls.”

Planting a Safe Landscape

Landscaping is another area where sustainability and security intersect. Sustainability calls for minimal disruption to the environment and landscaping that cools and shades buildings. Security, on the other hand, demands landscaping that directs foot traffic, does not block security cameras or visible access, and does not provide convenient hiding places for individuals with unsavory intent.

O’Neill’s book outlines three solutions to these problems. The first is variable grading, where the building’s structure is designed to accommodate the natural contours of the land. “By erecting a building with the natural landscape, not only is the environment preserved, but hills can actually provide blast mitigation and prevent vehicles from being able to ram the building,” he says.

Vegetation can also be used strategically. “For example, high-canopy trees can shad the building without blocking sightlines,” O’Neill writes. A timeless strategy is using plants with thorns to deter pedestrian intrusions.

In the end, thoughtful design that is as wide-eyed about security as it is about sustainability will prove the most effective solution. “There is value to being thoughtful in the early stages of design. It’s hard to address things like security once you are too deep into the project,” says Ziebarth. “A sustainable approach to security takes the whole project into account, not just the cameras and locks.”

Hopefully experts will take the intersection of the two disciplines to heart. “We need evidence-based research in security so we can approach the topic rationally,” says Banks. “I believe it is coming. I wouldn’t be surprised if a LEED checklist in the future included security.” 

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