Safety by Design

A concept that first became popular many years ago is making a strong comeback at colleges and universities in recent years. Crime prevention through environmental design, commonly known as CPTED, is a field of knowledge that should be applied to every campus undertaking new construction or a renovation project. While some try to misapply CPTED as a singular approach to address all security needs, its powerful concepts can make a huge difference when properly combined within a comprehensive safety and security strategy. Unfortunately, many higher education facilities are still being built with inherent problems because no one on the planning team is familiar with the powerful, research-based concepts of CPTED. I routinely advise clients that they should insist that architectural firms that wish to bid on their construction projects have personnel on staff trained in CPTED or agree to have at least one architect working on the project trained, if they are awarded the contract.

What Is CPTED?

Keeping in mind that CPTED expert Timothy Crowe filled an entire textbook, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, with information on the topic, I will try to do my best to describe it here in 800 words or less. CPTED focuses on the built environment, with a view as to how space is used. CPTED assumes that there are two types of users of space: normal, those who have legitimate purpose and intent; and abnormal, users who do not act according to our laws, policies and social norms. CPTED helps to make the normal user feel at ease and welcome while making the abnormal user feel very nervous about engaging in inappropriate behavior. There are three main tenants of CPTED.

Access control — Directing people in and out of areas through the use of a specified pathway or direction. Most often, landscaping features, such as a garden, are used to cause people to move where you want them to move. Someone who walks through the garden would stand out and would quickly draw unwanted attention.

Natural surveillance — Using activities or design features to maximize real or perceived visibility. A common example would be the alignment of parking spaces in a parking lot to make it easy for people in buildings with windows to see between rows of cars because the rows are oriented to the windows.

Territorial reinforcement — Using design features to express clear ownership of areas. Colorful murals are a common example of territorial reinforcement. People who take pride in a facility tend to work to maintain and protect it.

Does CPTED Have Limitations?

Reliance on only a few safety strategies is a recipe for failure. The biggest problem occurs when CPTED is used in a vacuum. As long as CPTED is kept in perspective as a piece of the larger picture and is supported by other measures, it is a viable and powerful concept. Though CPTED is supposed to be a comprehensive and inclusive approach, there is a tendency for some to attempt to use it as a total solution.

What About Severe Weather and Terrorism Concerns?

A similar problem occurs when CPTED concepts that are designed to correct common problems create other risks when implemented. For example, many CPTED experts commonly recommend the increased use of glass in buildings to increase natural light and to enhance natural surveillance. If not balanced properly with other safety concerns, this can create severe vulnerabilities to acts of terrorism or severe weather. I have seen some campus facilities with no safe shelter areas for severe weather incidents because occupants are in close proximity to glass windows. If glass is not properly treated by protective laminates, flying glass will be a significant hazard if an accidental or intentionally created explosion occurs near the facility. This can result from common scenarios, such as an accidental explosion at a clandestine drug lab in a house or residence hall or from a natural gas explosion on or near campus. Consulting with area emergency management, fire service and campus police personnel before plans are finalized can help to avert these types of problems.

When combined with other safety strategies, CPTED can be an awesome tool to help create welcome and safe learning environments. A search of the Internet can reveal many good articles on the topic to help provide a working grasp of the concepts of CPTED. Attending sessions at conferences or seminars dedicated to CPTED will be even more helpful. For those who have a hand in campus construction, CPTED should be a key consideration for every project.

Michael Dorn is an internationally recognized campus safety expert who has authored and co-authored numerous books on the topic. He is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. He can be reached at .

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at