San Diego architecture and security systems design: integrating structure and technology for safer spaces

By Paul Benton

In past


, we have discussed San Diego architecture issues pertaining to earthquake safety; and this month, we want to examine the role architects play in another, equally important safety measure --

security systems design

and implementation. Successfully integrating security features into a new or existing architectural design takes careful planning and meticulous attention to detail. However, the best architects are those who consider such efforts as a natural extension of the project, and maintain a “big picture” perspective to find the right security solutions for each and every structure.

Designing personal security into a workplace or a residence can be done with layers of protection. The first and easiest are monitoring systems with cameras, communication devices and connection to a remote monitoring service. High-resolution cameras are now quite affordable, and the enhancements for night viewing and detail recognition have come along way in the last few years. I recommend that clients view this kind of security system as a chain of communication: from the camera, through the wires, through the onsite controllers, to the remote monitoring service, and then to a response team. This chain can be highly effective in the event of an emergency. However, if any link in this chain is broken, the security is lost. When relying purely on a technology-based security system, it is therefore imperative to make sure that all components are constantly maintained and checked regularly to see that everything is working well.

Such high maintenance is often easier in the workplace than at home, in part because employees are generally expected to be awake, alert, and spread out throughout the building at any given time. In addition, a workplace has established routines, and things like maintenance can be assigned and checked on a calendar. The opposite is often the case in a residence, where there is a great desire to relax and withdraw from the hassle of dealing with others. Home is a place where we yearn for innate security, informality and trust, and resist the idea that constant vigilance might be necessary. But the unfortunate truth is that home invasion and burglaries are both real and present threats in our society. Therefore, it is crucial for every home to be equipped with the right blend of technological and structural security elements for optimal safety. In residential buildings, this means that security should not interfere with one’s daily routine. On the contrary, the more complex or inconvenient the system, the less likely it is to be used properly by residents. While businesses may have more intricate security systems in place, homeowners should choose simple services that can be used and maintained easily by all members of the family – even children – for consistent protection.

The second layer of a personal security system is the escape or containment option. For a residence or workplace, this usually requires a protected corridor that leads to a safe room. The protection and support of a safe room can be quite elaborate, but we have to remember that it will also rely on notification to the outside, and rescue as soon as possible. In my experience, I prefer that the safe room is a functioning part of the building that happens to also be the place to go when the alarm goes off. Ideally, there are no clues to this other use in the normal daily routine; but when the safe room is needed, you enter it and the doors and windows slam shut, the automatic message goes out to the monitoring service, and the other protections spring to life. Immediately, the building is checked for intruders and for others who may be caught outside of the safe room. As with a basic security alarm system, communication is ultimately the key to maintaining protection and receiving help as soon as possible.

There are so many other design elements that apply to personal security, and these all come in varying degrees based on different project requirements. Even bulletproof glass comes in a wide range of strengths, and monitoring services offer different levels of assistance. It is easy to get involved in the technical matters, and the challenge I enjoy is coming up with a balanced design that works best for the users, and provides a sense that help is always ready when needed. To learn more about

secure building strategies

, contact

Alcorn & Benton Architects

online at