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Low-Cost Security Measures for Government Buildings

by Morgan Sears / December 7, 2023

For most of my professional career, I worked as a school resource officer to ensure the safety and security of schools. This experience provided me with the foundation to become a security assessment professional. In my role as a security assessor, I work with government agencies to evaluate building security and identify improvement strategies. 

Every day, many government employees wake up, have a cup of coffee, endure stressful commutes, and walk into offices without giving a thought to a potential security incident that could occur at work. However, in light of growing anti-government sentiment that is sweeping the nation, it’s important for government employees to remember that they should not become complacent with the everyday routine. 

The Virginia Beach Municipal Building shooting provides an example of workplace grievances that can lead to violence in government buildings. That leads us to ask: What can government agencies do to ensure the security of its buildings and the safety of its occupants?

While conducting security assessments, I often identify vulnerabilities that could be improved with low-cost security enhancements. In this blog, I will discuss simple security measures government agencies can implement to improve security within their buildings.

Exterior Security

Exterior security can be enhanced by applying the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach that uses urban and architectural design and the management of built and natural environments for crime prevention. By implementing CPTED practices, exterior security of government buildings can be greatly improved on a low budget. Below are some tips for achieving this.

  • Keep landscaping such as bushes and tree canopies cut back so that sightlines are not obstructed from both inside and outside the building. Bushes should be no taller than three feet high, and tree canopies should be no lower than eight feet from the ground.
  • Perform routine cleaning and repairs to keep the building exterior and grounds well maintained. This encourages the use of the space for its intended purpose. Damaged property, trash, or graffiti should be removed immediately.
  • Inspect exterior building, parking lot, and pedestrian walkway lighting routinely. Ensure that dusk-to-dawn lights are operable to help protect employee and visitor safety. This is especially important during the end of the year when dusk typically occurs before the close of a typical business day.
  • Provide clear signage to provide wayfinding and directives regarding expectations for behavior on the site. Proper signage directs visitors to the main entrance and public areas of the building, identifies restricted areas, and provides a sense of ownership.

Interior Security

Applying CPTED practices and ensuring medical emergency preparedness can greatly enhance safety and security on the building interior. Below are a few examples.

  • Provide signage for wayfinding throughout the building. Designate private areas of the building and spaces intended for employees only. Improving signage on the interior of the building reduces the likelihood of visitors wandering into restricted areas. Additionally, all offices and hallways should have clear directional signs depicting the path of egress in the event of an emergency.
  • Conduct regular maintenance checks on all interior signage to ensure proper illumination, such as exit signs that provide guidance on where to vacate the building in an emergency.
  • Ensure that items such as fire extinguishers, AED packs, and medical kits such as Stop the Bleed are kept in stock and up to date. Thoroughly train employees on using each device. Be sure to provide instructions to new hires if their start date does not align with a training opportunity. 

Policies and Procedures

Policies define a course of action to be followed. Procedures provide step-by-step instructions for how, when, and where policies will be implemented. Developing comprehensive policies and procedures is a critical component of government building security. Below are a few policies and procedures to consider.

  • Develop a key control policy for all employees who require access through a locked door, whether with a key card or a physical key. A key control policy ensures employee accountability and helps prevent building access by unauthorized individuals. Be sure to deactivate key cards for all employees who are terminating employment. Collect their access cards and physical keys immediately upon completion of their employment.
  • Develop policies for conducting emergency drills and evacuations. Fire and active shooter drills should be practiced at least yearly. Information packets should be provided to all current employees (including employees who work a hybrid schedule) and new hires. Be sure to designate a reunification area in the policies. A building manager or “floor warden” should be assigned responsibility for all employees involved in the drills.
  • Collaborate with local first responders on procedures in the event of an emergency to ensure police, fire, and rescue response is rapid and efficient. Provide updated floor plans to first responders so they can become familiar with the building layout. Providing access keys or key codes to first responders to gain access to the building and significantly reduce response time

Need Help with Funding?

I’ve presented some examples of a few low-cost ways to improve security in your government building. However, your agency may lack the funds for even these minor improvements. Your building may also require larger-scale security measures that do not fall within the budget.

There are grants, such as the FEMA preparedness grants, available to help connect local, state, and federal governments to a wide range of resources that can help.

I hope the examples I’ve provided have given you an understanding of some relatively simple measures you can take to boost security in your government building. By working together, we can continue to have safety at the forefront of everyone’s daily routine.

Tags: Workplace Security

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Morgan Sears

Morgan Sears

Morgan is a planner and data analyst with Fentress, Inc. She has a Master’s Degree in Sociology with a concentration in Criminal Justice. She enjoys baseball, running and spending time with her husband and son.