Plugging the Security Gap

By Campbell, David; Retford, Mike | Corrections Forum, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Plugging the Security Gap


Campbell, David, Retford, Mike, Corrections Forum


When a reporter asked how he felt, an orbiting astronaut replied, "How would you feel if you were stuck up here on top of 20,000 parts-each one supplied by the lowest bidder?" In many ways, corrections design poses a similar challenge. How do you obtain an optimum result at the best price without jeopardizing safety and security? For corrections, one answer is by integrating security into the design process.

Everything has its place, particularly in the corrections field. Yet how, where, and when different corrections elements are designed and placed varies greatly from state to state, region to region, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, warden to warden, and project to project; what works best in one prison may not work at all in another. That is the nature of corrections.

However, as corrections professionals and users we must find unifying principles and guidelines, the overriding truths that help every corrections project. Here is one such truth that is often overlooked or ignored: security expertise must be incorporated in the design phase to optimize a facility's design and its ultimate utility. The unfortunate reality, however, is that security experts are often not brought onto a project until well after design has begun-or in some cases, even after design has been completed. And that is a mistake.

"If there are any negatives to incorporating security into design, I can't imagine what they would be," explains George Hardinger, warden for the Carroll County Detention Center. "In fact, not incorporating security into design is unthinkable. And that's because the design stage is your golden opportunity to shape what you want according to operational necessity, budget, and jurisdictional preferences. security drives facility design, or at least it should. And as you're planning and moving forward in design, you want to make your facility as efficient and safe as possible. Why wouldn't you incorporate the one key element that helps you most in terms of operational safety and security? But incorporating security expertise in the design process is not just about optimizing safety and security. It's also about cost.

"It is always much, much more expensive and less efficient to incorporate security measures after design has begun or is completed. That's not an opinion, that's a fact. Correctional facilities are unlike most other facilities because of the unusual demands imposed on them. For example, walls in correctional facilities are always reinforced. So if you want to add fiber optic cable for a security system, you can't just pick up a hammer and start pounding away. It won't work; it's not supposed to work. And late additions can sometimes compromise the integrity of an initial design. Changes and retrofits are far more difficult in correctional facilities than in other facilities.

"By incorporating security into design, you greatly reduce the need for later additions and alterations. And that saves money. The problem is that some people still think of prisons as iron bars and stone walls. Well, nothing is further from the truth today. Prisons are centers of advanced technology. And when you consider the rate of change in corrections technology, it's absolutely critical to incorporate flexibility into the design. And that means integrating security expertise into design as early as possible. You've got to know what your options are to take greatest advantage of them. Incorporating security into design brings that specialized perspective to the table."

Working Together

It's important to remember that this should not devolve into a conflict between designers and security specialists. Designers do not actively seek to exclude security expertise; that's just how it's traditionally been done.

"When designing facilities, architects always want to be as efficient as possible," explains DMJM H&N security specialist Bob Durham. However, he continues, "they try to tuck security equipment underneath consoles or even in the actual control room itself. …

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