Safer Schools through Environmental Design. ERIC
by Schneider, Tod
In recent years, growing awareness about how the physical environment
affects human behavior has been integrated into a knowledge-base known
as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).
Although CPTED's crime-prevention principles have been applied successfully
throughout the world in various community settings, most educational facilities
were not designed with this knowledge in mind. Now that safety has become
a high priority in our nation's schools, CPTED offers school planners,
board members, and administrators principles that can guide them in creating
a safe school environment.
By conducting a CPTED analysis, school officials can pinpoint specific
environmental changes that will foster desired behavior rather than inadvertently
encouraging unwanted behavior. This Digest describes CPTED's key elements
and describes how to conduct an analysis.
WHAT SETS CPTED APART FROM CONVENTIONAL SECURITY MEASURES?
Conventional security measures emphasize behavior that is prohibited,
and such measures are largely fear-based. For example, a school that settles
for implementing only conventional security measures such as security guards
and metal detectors may succeed at becoming more secure, but it might fail
to address the underlying problem (such as bullying) and simultaneously
reinforce fear or adversely affect the school atmosphere.
In contrast, CPTED focuses on behavior that is desired. A comprehensive
CPTED analysis attempts to identify central problems and craft changes
in the physical and social environment that will reinforce positive behavior.
Posted rules and theme-oriented artwork to reinforce prosocial curriculum,
greater use of windows to enhance visibility and reduce isolation, student
art displays to build a sense of pride, altered seating arrangements to
encourage supportive group interactions, or changes in scheduling the use
of space to avoid conflict are all potential CPTED measures that could
WHAT ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS OF CPTED?
Core elements of CPTED include the following:
1. Natural surveillance -- Keeping an eye on the whole environment without
taking extraordinary measures to do so. Typical obstacles to natural surveillance
include solid walls and lack of windows that provide visibility to areas
of the school building that have experienced a high incidence of problem
behaviors. Pruning shrubbery is one step that can be taken to improve natural
surveillance of school grounds.
2. Natural access control -- Determining who can or cannot enter a facility.
Obstacles to access control include unsupervised, unlocked entrances to
the building. Converting several secondary doors into locked, alarmed,
emergency exits is one way to improve access control.
3. Territoriality -- Establishing recognized authority and control over
the environment, along with cultivating a sense of belonging. Poor border
definition can impede territoriality. Jointly controlled park land adjacent
to a school would be an example of poor border definition. School uniforms
offer one approach to both establishing a sense of belonging and making
it easy to distinguish between students and non-students.
HOW DO CPTED CONCEPTS APPLY TO THE SCHOOL SETTING?
CPTED concepts have been successfully applied in a wide variety of environments,
including streets, parks, museums, government buildings, houses, and commercial
complexes. The approach is particularly applicable to schools, where outdated
facilities are common. Most schools in the United States were built thirty
to sixty years ago, and many were constructed in the early 1900s. Security
issues were almost nonexistent at the time, and technology was dramatically
different. As a result, the buildings are generally dysfunctional in today's
more security-conscious environment.
Although school shootings are rare occurrences, other forms of violent
or antisocial behavior such as bullying, harassment, and vandalism are
quite common. A CPTED analysis of a school evaluates crime rates, office-referral
data, school cohesiveness and stability, as well as core design shortcomings
of the physical environment, such as blind hallways, uncontrolled entries,
or abandoned areas that attract problem behavior.
Each school, district, and community should institute measures appropriate
for their own circumstances. A design for an inner-city, high-crime neighborhood
is often inappropriate for a rural, low-crime neighborhood. There is not
a single solution that will fit all schools, but there are many good models
that schools can draw on.
When schools fail to integrate CPTED concepts into expansion or reconstruction
plans, an important opportunity is lost. Rectifying this oversight after
the fact can be expensive and politically uncomfortable. Applying CPTED
concepts from the beginning usually has minimal impact on costs, and the
result is a safer school that can focus on its mission of teaching and
HOW IS CPTED INTEGRATED INTO SCHOOL PLANNING?
Particularly as schools deteriorate with age, major repairs or replacement
become necessary. If CPTED analysis is applied at the same time that other
construction work is planned, the cost is often negligible.
By far the most economical approach is to design new facilities with
CPTED principles in mind. CPTED measures usually will not increase costs,
and may in fact reduce them.
In some cases, such as following a serious threat or a school shootings,
security issues become paramount. There may be strong support for conventional
security measures, such as metal detectors or video cameras. If a more
balanced, comprehensive approach is promoted, CPTED analysis will usually
be more productive, especially in the long run.
In most school districts, building new facilities is not an option,
so retrofitting of existing buildings must be done. The costs of modifying
aspects of existing buildings can be minor or major, depending on the nature
of the alteration.
HOW IS A CPTED ANALYSIS CONDUCTED?
For at least three reasons, it is preferable for CPTED analyses to be
conducted by professionals who specialize in the field:
1. They are accustomed to looking for CPTED-related weaknesses and risk
2. As outsiders, they can look at the school with fresh eyes, whereas
school staff may be so accustomed to their environment that they no longer
notice its idiosyncrasies or dysfunctional elements.
3. Unlike school staff, CPTED analysts clearly do not stand to personally
benefit from the recommended improvements being implemented, and are not
beholden to local politics or hidden agendas. As a result, their recommendations
may appear more objective when presented to the public.
In cases where bringing in a consultant is not an option, in-house staff
can conduct their own analysis by studying misbehavior on campus and analyzing
why it occurs. Whoever conducts the inspection should be armed with site
maps and CPTED organizational guides.
A CPTED analysis may include crime mapping and statistical reports from
local police, juvenile justice facilities, and medical centers to help
identify patterns related to problem behavior, such as types of problems
that are prevalent and time and location of occurrence. Students, staff,
parents, and neighbors can be surveyed to obtain their perceptions of problem
areas. If bullying were an identified problem, for example, responses might
include: (1) instituting a bullying-prevention curriculum to change the
social ecology within the school, and (2) altering the environment to expose
or eliminate isolated locations where incidents occur. This might involve
removing thick brush, installing convex mirrors, or moving the staff lunch
area to improve natural surveillance.
About one-third of school-related homicides occur inside the school,
another third occur on school grounds, and the remainder occur off campus.
As a result, all three elements of the environment bear examination.
An on-the-ground inspection should consider the school's surroundings
and their inherent risks or benefits. In some communities the routes to
and from school are extremely hazardous, exposing children to gang activity,
traffic hazards, negative messages on billboards or advertisements, toxic
chemicals, drug dealers, or bullies. Conversely, many neighborhoods offer
resources and protective factors for students, including field-trip locations,
mentors, evacuation sites, safe havens, and caring adults to whom students
can turn for help.
Analysis of the surrounding neighborhood may lead to the establishment
of Safe Route programs, with adults recruited to wear identifying vests
and stand along the designated route during certain hours; campaigns to
replace alcohol and cigarette billboards with more productive messages;
or neighborhood cleanups, as just a few examples.
Analysis of the school setting itself should include an examination
of the school property, from the borders inward. Hazards should be identified,
including locations where students can be isolated and victimized. Inadequate
or poorly thought out playground equipment may not be able to meet the
level of demand during recess. This may contribute to conflict, or it could
promote cooperation, depending on how effectively the site is staffed,
how well supervisors are trained, and how uniformly students are instructed
in desired behavior.
School grounds and parking lots are prime locations for school violence.
"Dead" walls, solid walls that block vision, should be candidates for possible
installation of windows or mirrors to establish natural surveillance and
to eliminate hiding places for illicit activity.
The physical plant itself bears careful study. If the site has multiple
buildings, access control is extremely challenging. Ideally, these buildings
should be enclosed, forcing visitors to enter through controlled-entry
points where access can be denied if necessary. The alternative is for
each building to establish its own screening and control measures. Students,
staff, and custodians are the local experts on vandalism and other problems
within the school. They can help pinpoint locations requiring particular
attention when remedies are being formulated.
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