Your Building’s Worst Security Problems

05/04/2009 | By Michael Fickes

Experts say that most office-building crimes occur in the parking garage, restrooms, stairwells, and back-of-house corridors

Think about the minor and major incidents and crimes that have occurred in your building. Where did they happen?

Chances are good that the trouble arose in the parking garage, restrooms, stairwells, and back-of-house corridors. “Heinous crimes can occur in these places, so pay particular attention to them,” says Jon Lusher, an expert in CPTED and a principal and executive vice president at IPC Intl. Corp., a security consultancy in Bannockburn, IL.

CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) concepts can help make these areas more secure.


Parking garages tend to make people uncomfortable. The odor of oil hangs in the air. The lights are dim. You hear distant footsteps and cars passing. You’re by yourself, cut off from others. It’s disquieting.

If a building tenant/occupant works late, and he/she is alone in the building after dark, the restrooms can feel equally uncomfortable. Office stairwells are usually dark, inhospitable, and closed off from public view. Finally, the back corridors on the lower floor that lead out to the loading dock are usually deserted and dark. At certain times of the day, those areas may give rise to a sense of foreboding.

“Such feelings relate to one of CPTED’s primary goals,” says Lusher. “The idea is that, if you feel uncomfortable in an area of a building, a vandal or criminal will feel comfortable. He/she will like the isolation and the darkness, and he/she will know that those things make [tenants/occupants] feel uncomfortable and perhaps even a little fearful.”

Effective CPTED design reverses those feelings, making tenants/occupants feel safe, secure, and comfortable, continues Lusher. On the other hand, criminals will feel ill at ease, as if it would be too easy for someone to see a crime being committed. Such feelings often cause criminals to look for other targets.

Lights, Cameras, Signs, and Soap

A few general rules: If it’s dark, light it up. Vandals, thieves, and other criminals avoid light. If solid doors cut off sightlines, install doors with glass windows. If walls, corners, and stairs cut off sightlines, install cameras. (The only place where cameras won’t work, of course, is restrooms.)

To make a parking lot feel safer, scrub the floor, get rid of the musty smell via better ventilation, and brightly light the floors. “Good maintenance gives a sense of guardianship – that someone regularly looks after the space,” Lusher says. “Good guys like clean spaces; bad guys don’t.”

If the garage is a major problem, install cameras and emergency call boxes. Put up signs that point the way to the call boxes and announce the use of cameras.

You should also look into a video-analytics system. Video-analytics chips sit inside the cameras or the digital recording devices and analyze the video. These systems can set off an alarm about a number of problem behaviors, including people in areas they shouldn’t be after hours, people fighting, people converging, and other activities that could mean a robbery. Analytics systems alarm on programmed activities and signal security to check the alarm monitor to determine if the alarm requires a response. If so, he or she can dispatch a security officer and call the police.

If common-area restrooms are attracting trouble, check the maintenance and lighting first. Are the restrooms consistently clean and brightly lit? If more precautions seem necessary, you can lock the doors and require a key to get in.

Like garages, stairwells are often poorly maintained and poorly lit, so make sure you clean them and light them. If the fire code permits, consider installing doors with windows that allow tenants/occupants to see into the stairwells. If windows are forbidden, you can install cameras, emergency call stations, and signs.

Post “Authorized Personnel Only” signs to tell people that you don’t want them to go into the back corridors of the building. Post the signs on doorways leading from the front common areas of the building, and post them by the loading dock out back, too. If an intruder thinks that there are lots of authorized personnel behind a door, chances are good that he/she won’t go through that door. Again, lights, cameras, and signs at the loading dock should help keep trouble at bay.

Michael Fickes is a freelance writer and owner of Fickes & Co. Inc., a Baltimore publishing firm with experience in the security industry.

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