Five keys to protecting government facilities

by American City & County Contributor
Dec 23, 2015

By Stephen  Plotner

Providing safe and secure facilities is a task that is shared across many disciplines in the industry. Architects and engineers choose designs that promote safety and security in buildings, contractors carry out the designs, and facility managers and building owners ensure that the features continue to work properly or are updated throughout the building’s lifecycle.

Designing, implementing, maintaining and upgrading safe and secure elements is depicted in two ways in a facility: one is through protecting against natural or man-made threats, and the other is by implementing safety controls to mitigate danger, risk or injury. The former takes the form of installing bullet-proof glass or film in windows, or creating emergency communication systems throughout a building. The latter refers to fire alarm systems or emergency shut-off valves. Together, these elements work to bring comprehensive protection to building occupants.

Visual Aids

Security mirrors and CCTV domes that are positioned correctly can alert facility managers to threats or danger. Dome cameras can be used after an incident occurs, to aid in identifying or locating a person or object. Mirrors can also be helpful in facilities that house moveable equipment or machinery to ensure that occupants steer clear of traffic when they are coming around corners.

Security for Windows

Solar and safety window films protect building occupants from high impact objects. The film helps to keep glass shards from flying loose and injuring people. These films can be used to protect against natural events, like a hail storm or other severe weather; or can be helpful against break-ins, vandalism or acts of terror.

Enhanced Protection in Hazardous Areas

Facilities where hazardous materials may be present, such as flammable or highly explosive gas, fumes or dust, may include the use of explosion proof motors, warning beacons or lighting relay panels. In times of an emergency, these items will continue to work or provide warning for the area that needs attention.

Safety Shut Offs

Emergency or automatic safety shut offs for water and gas are helpful aids in case of an earthquake, a leak or plumbing problem. Those in earthquake-prone parts of the country will want to shut off gas when an emergency occurs. If, for example, a water leak occurs, shutting off the water source prevents further water damage or flooding. When a natural gas water heater goes out, it is best to shut off the gas source for health and safety reasons and to prevent the risk of explosion. 

Fire Safety

Many new facilities or existing building upgrades include improved fire safety measures, to suppress or control the heat and smoke from a fire. Elements such as positive pressure stairwells, smoke removal ventilation, fire-rated door louvers, and fire suppression valves and fittings can help keep building occupants safe during emergency, while also minimizing the amount of damage to the facility.

Ensuring the safety and security of those in buildings is becoming an increasingly important issue for those involved in all aspects of facility planning, construction and maintenance. By adding these elements to the design, or upgrading existing elements to include enhanced safety and security features will help to offer maximum protection to building occupants.

Stephen Plotner is the principal cost engineer at RSMeans from The Gordian Group. Prior to joining RSMeans in 1996, Plotner had over 20 years of experience in construction and facilities maintenance. He can be reached at

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