Safe and Sound

Should designers be thinking more about security?

Society is evolving at a great rate across the globe. The advance of social media, recent changes to established political regimes around the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and the role of the masses in affecting step change, has been more evident in recent years.

These advances and adjustments are causing rapid societal behaviour shifts which mean that many environments where we live, work and visit are now facing a different and more diverse set of threats to our wellbeing.

Most of the recent regional unrest started in city environments and this, along with the increasing perception of external influences on society, has made the development of safe and secure urban ecosystems much more challenging, sophisticated and important.

It is apparent that gradually the focus of security is shifting from a narrow and isolated building or plot level approach into one that takes into account the wider space that surrounds the built environment. Emphasis is now given at district, city or even regional levels which can significantly enhance safety and security at an individual building level and lead to the realisation of huge cost and operational efficiencies.

High profile national emergencies have also necessitated a fresh approach to safety and security. The need for security and emergency planning for catastrophes remains a primary interest. Natural disasters such as tsunami, flooding, conflagration, stampede and pandemics are all very real, and only effective planning, training and management can minimise their impacts on the often fragile communities they devastate. It’s very easy for governments and authorities to become complacent especially when such threats happen so infrequently.

Cities such as Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Muscat and Riyadh are experiencing or planning rapid population growth over the next few decades, as their economies diversify away from petrochemicals to other activities such as tourism, manufacturing, research and development and finance.

But this growth comes with its own security problems. This will require developments and buildings to consider crime prevention measures from the outset in order to reduce the impact on national reputation, the economy, and police resources.

The development of safety and security solutions is largely based on human behaviour and interaction with the environment. This means that as designers we can make the greatest impacts when we work together with architects, urban planners and their teams in envisioning how their virtual environments should react and respond to these threats.

An integrated approach to safety and security at the earliest stages of a project can reap huge aesthetic and financial benefits, reducing the impact and constraints on the built environment to give much more flexibility to designers and planners.

Andrew Kelly is an associate with Buro Happold Safe and Secure and is based in the Abu Dhabi office.