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What to Consider When Securing a Historic Building

Jan. 21, 2020

Preserving a historic building while still providing safety and security to the users can be achieved, but it won’t happen on its own. It must be planned. Learn what to consider and how to implement security into your space.

Good stewardship is the key in providing security which protects people while preserving the historic value of structures. Where operational requirements and statues come into conflict, it’s important to find solutions that are acceptable and that all stakeholders can buy into.

Ultimately, preserving a historic building while still providing safety and security to the users can be achieved, but it won’t happen on its own. It must be planned.

When it comes to securing historic buildings, guaranteeing public safety and maintaining the cultural heritage of these treasures, there are several security considerations to be made.

Risks Involved

Think about the risks posed to the occupants or people using the space if security upgrades aren’t made.

At the onset of securing any space—especially if the building or occupied space has significant historical value due to its age or being one-of-a-kind—ask questions related to risk, including:

  • What risks or hazards are the occupants exposed to?
  • Are they naturally occurring or man-made?
  • Are they likely to happen?
  • Or if unlikely, would they be catastrophic in the unlikely event they did occur?

Operational Strategies

In lieu of implementing restrictive security measures, think about what operational strategies can be employed. Consider the structure’s criticality to the overall function of the organization/agency and the public.

For example, the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore are historic structures and are critical to our national identity. Making modifications to them for the sake of security would be detrimental to their intrinsic value and would have an impact on both the National Park Service and visitors.


Security Red Flags in Existing Healthcare Facilities

Structure Placement

Another consideration in criticality is if the structure should be replaced or relocated. In my example here, you could in theory move them but they probably wouldn’t have the same sentimental impact.

By definition, historic buildings are existing structures; therefore, there are fewer opportunities to implement the more rigid security standards that we normally incorporate for newer buildings.

Outside Barrier Ideas

Parking and barrier strategies can be implemented so that the building itself doesn’t need to be touched while maintaining the historic integrity.

The placement or use of ornamental fencing for the surrounding property is a common strategy. Additionally, controlling the parking near a building by using drop-arm gates or pop-up bollards is another effective solution because the building façade doesn’t get touched. Other solutions establishing a boundary line include crash-rated planters, bollards and flower beds. The more integrated the approach the better.

Constraints and Opportunities

Constraints that must be dealt with include:

  • The lack of a clearly defined or controlled perimeter
  • Insufficient stand-off distances from parking lots and roadways to the space where people gather
  • Multistoried structures with glass facades
  • Buildings with numerous doors and windows

On the flip-side, for each constraint there’s an opportunity. For example, by creating a controlled perimeter and establishing adequate standoff, costs are kept down because “hardening” doesn’t need to be designed into the structure. Additionally, placing fragmentation retention film on the interior of skylights and windows keeps the aesthetic qualities of the façade intact, while offering protection for those occupants inside.

Other design features can involve structural isolation of new additions and the use of low occupancy spaces; such as, placing storage spaces, hallways, bathrooms or stairwells within the required stand-off space.

Another idea is to have separate buildings entirely structurally independent from an existing structure by adding a causeway/breezeway so the entire building appears to be one, but structurally they are separate. In other words, what happens to one portion of the building will not affect the entire building.

[Read also: Making Displacement Ventilation Work in a Historic Building]

Mitigation Banking

Mitigation banking is the delay or postponement of mitigation, in other words you “bank it.” Mitigation banking is usually used as a last resort, after other alternatives have been explored. All stakeholders must agree to and support these strategies. Additionally they must be decided on in advance in order to reduce project impact and subsequently costs.

Examples of mitigation banking include:

  • Demolition of one property where rehabilitation is not feasible for a similar property that can be preserved, rehabilitated or restored
  • Relocating historical property to another off-site location
  • Saving the historic external physical attributes but not the internal content/context
  • Converting or encapsulating important features in a way that’s reversible

Ultimately, both public safety and historic preservation are equally important. Preserving the historical importance of a site while providing effective mitigation strategies which protect the user is possible. We have to find a way.

About the Author:

Doug Haines, CEO/owner of Haines Security Solutions, is a career security professional. He has over 45 years of experience in conducting physical security vulnerability assessments and risk analysis. He’s been teaching these concepts to architects, engineers, planners, facility managers, security professionals and others involved in developing mitigation strategies and building design planning since 2006.

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