"This facility was built without much thought given to security" is a common critique offered by security and public safety officials who are responsible for protecting sports venues and other high-occupancy facilities. This refrain often begins when issues such as interrupted sightlines, poor lighting, inadequate standoff distance and crowd circulation challenges reveal themselves once a new or renovated venue begins operations.

Overcoming these challenges with the right balance of technology, staffing and policies can take years, and the achievable compromises can detract from the venue's original design theme. The higher cost for these late-stage mitigation measures can also be beyond the budget of most security departments. This can lead to postponing the commitment of funds for the required upgrades, often until an actual safety or security failure increases the urgency.

Security investments are not necessarily more costly than other post-construction building system upgrades, but much of the expense can be attributed to not thoroughly considering security in the facility's initial design.

A place at the table
It is in the earliest stages of the design process for new construction or expansion projects that sports venue planners and operations leaders can achieve the most enduring and cost-effective impact on the venue's safety and security. Essential to this end is granting the venue's security director a seat at the table and a role in informing the design process. A league's security advisor (new construction) or a venue's security director (expansion projects) can offer options that achieve security program objectives, while supporting overall design requirements and aesthetic theme.


In the traditional design/bid/build process, there are typically six major phases that follow the selection of an architect: programming, schematic design, design development, final design, general contractor selection and construction. An experienced security director familiar with what to expect can influence these design phases before the architect even begins them. These pre-design and early design phases afford the best opportunity to shape safety and security investments.

Pre-design: Assessment
Conducting criticality, threat and vulnerability assessments and risk analyses is already part of most security programs. Typically, these assessments involve a multidisciplinary team that produces a record of observed vulnerabilities, paired with actionable recommendations to reduce the risks they pose.

Among assessment deliverables is a Design Basis Threat. The DBT is the highest-consequence but most-probable threat to the protected asset. It is a statement of what a security program is defending against. The DBT can influence security procedures, staffing models and electronic and non-electronic security design options. An assessment final report captures the team's findings and recommendations. These final assessment reports serve as important, auditable documentation to support design recommendations.

To an enterprise's legal counsel or risk manager, these accumulating assessment reports may also represent "foreseeability," a discoverable record of the organization's understanding of its exposure to specific risks — from human threats to natural hazards. Of course, it is not reasonable to expect an organization to possess the resources to implement all mitigation recommendations at once, but it is expected that applicable recommendations will be appropriately accounted for in future design projects.

Predesign: Procurement
At this point, the project has not yet been awarded to an architect, and a sports venue security director is already able to provide a credible and proportional context that measurably contributes to developing design requirements. In fact, he or she may even have the opportunity to be involved in the selection of an architect. Many organizations include their security director in the review process for critical contracts.

However, organizations that programmatically include security department representation in drafting procurement documents for large design projects tend to be the exception. The goal of the RFQ (request for qualifications) process is to evaluate the experience and qualifications of prospective architects. Excluding the security director from this evaluation often means that the mention of security design in the RFQ is a cursory reference at best.

Involving the security director in drafting the RFQ scope statement and evaluation criteria can help ensure that all proposals submitted to the organization account for security design in their teaming arrangements and in their project experience documentation.

The RFQ need not include granular detail concerning security design. It is sufficient to signal architect/engineer teams that the organization takes security seriously and expects it to be considered in the design. Ideally, the result of proportionally addressing security design in the RFQ is that all firms submitting proposals will bring the requisite security design experience and interest to the project.

Once a sport venue's selection committee awards the project to an architect, the design process finally begins in earnest. In this initial programming phase, the architect compiles a formal list of the owner's requirements for the design. Typically, this will involve a series of meetings and focus groups between the architect and a broad cross section of venue and organization stakeholders.

To many attendees, these engagements are no different than any other series of meetings they must endure in their careers. To the alert security director, however, this is a critical opportunity to significantly influence the design of the facility with the least cost impact. As with most meetings, the outcome will tend to favor those who arrive prepared.

A security director who can contribute to the programming discussions by clearly articulating the venue's security requirements will have a lasting influence on how the security program operates within the venue once construction is complete. Standoff distance, adequate lighting, security force, emergency-service response times and evacuation procedures are just some of the critical security and life-safety program components that are impacted by a facility's overall design.

This period is also the time to explain the requirements for any electronic security and life-safety systems. Specific device numbers, placement and manufacturers are acceptable but not essential at this point. Instead, the security director should clearly define what the systems and device types are intended to achieve, and in which general areas of the facility these systems should acheive it.

Schematic design phase
This phase begins with the architect developing drawings and a narrative that documents how the design will meet the owner's list of requirements as they were defined during programming. An itemized project budget will also be developed, as well as a preliminary list of service and equipment providers.

At this point, the security director's involvement is usually less direct; liaison with the architect is via owner's representative. Also at this point, changes to the design concept become more challenging. Throughout the remaining design phases, any one change can complicate other portions of the design, which impacts the overall design and project cost.

Changes are common and to be expected, but the more thorough the security team was during the preceding stages, the less likely late-stage changes become.

Unfortunately, in this and later phases, the security team (and other departments) may also find that the list of requirements they thoroughly advocated for in the programming phase cannot all be supported by the available budget. Should this issue present itself, the goal should be to change a "no" into a "not right now." For eample, if the 150 surveillance cameras planned are too costly, negotiate for 50, but also the conduit for the remaining 100. This makes system expansion after construction easier as funding becomes available.

Remaining design phases
The change process is no less formal in the successive design phases, but is much costlier. It is harder and harder for a security director to influence the design without major impacts to the project. As construction begins, change costs may be fully prohibitive.

Fortunately, the security director's early involvement will help ensure that security considerations have a major influence on final design decisions and increase the likelihood of successfully implementing security program goals in the final design. The purpose of all this early involvement, and security director input, is so that many years after the venue is in operation, stakeholders and guests perceive that the facility was built with security in mind.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Making safety and security part of the facility design discussion" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.