Safety Through Design: Effective Security Measures

by Sean Sportun

Fun Fact: No retail business exists without a security threat of some kind, and no building housing a retail business is without its own security risks. Crime victimization is the one commonality consistent amongst retailers, large and small.

A welcoming retail establishment must be many things to enhance the opportunity of being profitable.

The property must be functional and efficient, achieve certain aesthetic standards, be properly located and accessible to the target markets served by the retailer, and provide security from interference, interruption, and attack. Most of these elements are covered at the store design stage, but all too frequently the important element of security is overlooked.

As a result, security design elements are seldom considered in the planning stages, creating needless opportunities for crime and victimization against the retailer.

A security design is much more than just placing a CCTV cameras on a floor plan. While it is true that anyone can complete that task, there are more in-depth processes in place than meet the eye. When approaching a physical security design, it’s important to know the area in which you are building or renovating. There are certain risks and threats that might need to be mitigated via a robust security design that would be identified through a thorough security risk assessment.

A security professional, if brought into the design process early on, can begin to influence design to meet security needs without necessarily using only security devices.

One concept that champions this is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is a methodology that a security professional uses to mitigate risks and threats using non-traditional methods. “Crime prevention need not amount to building isolated walled and fenced communities. On the contrary, the same design techniques that make communities more attractive and more neighborly can also prevent crime (Crowe & Fennelly, 2013, p. 22).”

Natural barriers, natural elevations that promote surveillance through intuitive landscaping and site design, and removing possible areas in which concealment could be achieved are just some of the options that can be explored during the design stage to mitigate potential risks & threats to the retail location.

A security professional who understands the philosophy CPTED, along with the factors that contribute to crime at gas-convenience stores, will help frame a future proof approach in determining effective preventative measures, recognize key intervention options and then select appropriate responses for your safety & security plan.

The benefits of applying CPTED principles:

  • CPTED is the most cost-effective way for retail and convenience store owners to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour while reducing physical risks to themselves and their staff.
  • In many cases, the benefits of CPTED can be achieved at little to no cost, especially at the design planning stage.
  • CPTED can be integrated into the shopping experience to improve profitability and sales.
  • Risks of litigation and financial liability are reduced when CPTED is used.

Once a building has been constructed, security weaknesses and risks begin to manifest themselves, but it can be far too expensive to make basic structural changes to correct them. However, a well-trained CPTED security professional will likely be able to apply strategies to achieve the desired security enhancements at a fraction of the cost.

Aside from having a time-delayed safe, cash control policies and an employee safety training program in place; a combination of the below security measures can help retail stores cut down considerably on crime, allowing business owners to rest easier:

Physical Security Options

As you develop the physical security aspect of your security plan, be sure to consider well-tested measures, like a combination of locks, cameras and alarms, in your retail store. Here’s how each of these options help:

High-Security Locks: Installing high-security locks to exterior doors can guard you from break ins, even by the most determined intruder. Locks should be commercial grade and the doorframe should be reinforced to provide additional protection.

Intrusion Alarm Systems: An intrusion alarm system is a fail-safe measure that alerts the business owner when an event in the store seems threatening. They not only scare away intruders, but they will initiate a law enforcement response.

Digital Video Recorder Security System: The clear presence of a CCTV system, complimented with signage stating surveillance equipment is in use, have been found to have a deterrent effect by increasing risk of identification to a potential offender. However, we must remember that a surveillance system is more of an investigative tool than a crime deterrent – installing a camera doesn’t equal security, but the proper placement of a camera can make your store feel and appear safer.

Having an adequate system, with a minimum hard drive memory retention of 30 days will greatly assist police in their investigation to identify an offender.

Interior Store Layout

Several characteristics of a store’s interior layout can influence its vulnerability to be victimized by crime, especially a robbery. Most important is visibility, from two perspectives.

First, employees should be able to maintain a visual of their surroundings and second, individuals outside the store, including patrolling police, should be able to see into the store. Potential offenders can be deterred by brightly lit stores in which employees and the store’s pay point area are clearly visible from the street, this can be achieved by having LED lights installed.

Having a clear unobstructed storefront can be accomplished at little to no cost by simply reducing window signage and reviewing the placement of store displays/shelving around the store to ensure they remain low-profile with height levels staying below four feet. This will allow an employee to observe the movement of customers or potential offenders while in the store; and will also give employees the opportunity to provide superior customer service.

A program called The Clear Zone can be an effective way to enhance this visibility. The program is intended to strip away the offenders’ anonymity through strategic placement accomplished by identifying a prominent window that overlooks the cash handling area and ensures promotional materials do not obstruct the view into and out of the store. With the majority of transactions, including robberies, taking place at the sales counter removing signs from the window eliminates the cover it provides for an offender.

The prominent window is then highlighted and defined through the application of the red Clear Zone decals that borders the window. The decals provide a constant reminder for employees to always keep the area clear and acts as a visual deterrent by fostering a sense of police presence and community engagement through the Crime Stoppers logo with the reflective words “Community Safety First” printed on the decal. The existence of the decal is further intended to draw and capture witness potential by getting people both inside and outside of the store to pay attention to the Clear Zone area.

Ultimately, the program strives to deter offenders from targeting the store location altogether because of the inherent risks of getting caught are perceived to be higher.

Exterior Store Environment

Once again, visibility is also a factor outside the store. Poorly lit parking lots and building lighting increase the likelihood of an offender to select and victimize your location. The use of LED lights in strategic areas on the exterior will provide adequate illumination of the property. This will provide employees to observe what is occurring outside and affords the ability of passersby to provide informal surveillance of the store’s interior and exterior.

Another equally important factor to look at is the availability of potential escape routes, which is a consideration in determining whether or not a store could be a prime crime target. For instance, poorly designed fencing and landscaping (or the absence of it) can facilitate an offender’s quick flight from the store, thereby making the store a more attractive target.

There are many effective security measures that can be implemented, however until a risk assessment on the specific location is completed a defined security design is difficult plan for. It is important to remember, a good physical security design can mitigate, if not prevent, new and unforeseen risks and threats to your retail location. Make security planning a priority.

Reference: Crowe, T. D., & Fennelly, L. J. (2013). Crime prevention through environmental design (Vol. 2). Waltham, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann. 

Sean Sportun, ICPS, is manager, Security & Loss Prevention for Circle K Stores – Central Canada. He can be reached at sean.sportun@circlek.com