This Pivot: Why we should take the after-hours security of our centre very seriously, and how we might utilise target hardening and crime prevention through environmental design to help us.
Vandal, [a] member of a Germanic people who maintained a kingdom in North Africa from ad 429 to 534 and who sacked Rome in 455. Their name has remained a synonym for wilful desecration or destruction. – Encyclopaedia Britannica
If our centre gets vandalised tonight, what happens tomorrow?
If the vandals do a thorough job we’ll be forced to close. There’ll be a lot of cleaning up to do and more than enough anger to go around!
But it doesn’t end there.
If we arrive at the supermarket and find it unexpectedly closed, it’s annoying. We’ll have to go to another market, come back later, or find something else for dinner. But we have choices.
Our parents and caregivers don’t. Most of them will be massively disrupted. Some of them will even be on their way to our centre when we find out we must close.
As we discussed in You Shouldn’t Make Money from Children!, early care and education facilities add enormous value to the local community and the economy by allowing caregivers to stay in the workforce.
If we are forced to close, many of our parents will not be able to find a substitute for their children at such short notice. Another childcare centre is not a practical option and not everyone has family and friends close by who can step up and help.
It’s hard to envisage many other sectors in which even a minor case of mindless vandalism could have a more significant effect.
So, we need to do all we can to prevent such an event.
How Big Is the Risk, Really?
Realistically, early care and education centres are never going to be big targets for burglars. Aside from electronic devices and some cash (which should be in a safe or banked every day anyway!) there’s not much inside to entice thieves to take the risk.
However, it is obvious to any onlooker that an early childhood centre will have nobody inside it in the evenings and weekends. Centres in industrial areas will often have very little activity in the surrounding neighbourhood too.
Who knows what motivates vandals but an easy target is probably one of their considerations when choosing a victim.
Police and security professionals have a term for strengthening the security of a building to make it less attractive to intruders. They call it target hardening.
Target hardening means taking steps to make the building physically resistant to intrusion. In our centre, these might include:
- ensuring all our doors and windows are fitted and secured with good locks (and knowing where all the keys are);
- securing vulnerable windows and doors with grates or bars;
- having an interior burglar alarm system (and having it well advertised on the exterior);
- erecting secure fences and walls;
- adding hard barriers and landscapes that resist vehicle intrusion;
- using hostile planting (thorny bushes like holly, gorse, blackthorn, hawthorn or firethorn) under windows and in front of other weak points to deter entry or hiding – with an obvious consideration for the safety of our children!); and
- fitting CCTV cameras to cover both the inside and outside of our building.
Don’t rule out CCTV as inevitably too high-priced. Video camera technology has advanced enormously, and today it is possible to purchase simple DIY systems that use Wi-Fi to store all the images they capture in ‘the cloud’, so our vandals cannot take the video footage with them. We can have our security cameras alert us on our smart phone if there’s an intrusion (here’s an illustration). We can even use pinhole cameras, which are nearly impossible to detect, that can be placed at eye level to capture the intruder’s face without our intruder knowing they are there, and so hiding their face.
If done carefully, we can ‘target harden’ our facility and not adversely affect the look and feel for our families. Of course, going too far with measures (such as grilles on our windows and doors and barbed wire coils) would be unattractive and would give the impression that our area is unsafe - not to mention the danger to children! It’s a balance.
Physical protection (locks, grates, gates, etc.) are the customary methods of securing a building against crime, but we can go further.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a set of principles used to discourage crime. CPTED aims to influence an offender’s decisions before they get started.
Research into criminal behaviour shows that the decision to offend or not to offend is more influenced by cues to the perceived risk of being caught than by cues to reward or ease of entry. Certainty of being caught is the main deterrence for criminals not the severity of the punishment so by raising the certainty of being captured, criminal actions will decrease. Consistent with this research, CPTED based strategies emphasise enhancing the perceived risk of detection and apprehension. - Wikipedia
Of great interest to us (and our vandals) is that the emphasis is on prevention rather than apprehension and punishment.
There are four main principles in CPTED:
- Natural surveillance
- Natural access control
- Territorial reinforcement
- Maintenance and management
People with something illegal on their minds don’t want to be seen or recognised, so they will look for locations where they can hide and easily escape. Natural surveillance means arranging for our centre to have maximum visibility both inside and out.
- Our centre windows should not be covered with artwork, notices or displays (the recommendation is no more than 10%).
- The interior and exterior of our centre should remain well-lit at night (LED lights are very inexpensive to run).
- The interior of our centre should be visible from the street or carpark.
- The street and carpark should be visible from within the centre.
- Trees and bushes should be kept away from the sides of the building (except hostile plantings) or maintained at a height that allows for a line of sight.
Our goal is to make any intruder feel conspicuous.
Natural Access Control
Natural access control means limiting the approaches to our building by defining a clear and obvious pathway for the public to follow. We make it clear where the public should be and where they should not be.
During working hours, this means we won’t have visitors drifting around the property. After hours, any onlookers know that our would-be vandals are in an area of our property that they shouldn’t be.
We can work to achieve this by:
- using paths, landscaping, fences and signage to lead visitors to one (controlled) entrance and making it a challenge for a person to be outside the ‘public’ area (and very obvious when they are);
- ensuring there is no access to the roof of our building (from the top of fences or sheds), and securing any ladders;
- locking exterior doors with deadbolts (so that intruders do not have the easy option of exiting through a main door);
- locking windows; and
- making sure exterior door hinges are not accessible from the outside.
Our goal is to make it unambiguous: this person is an intruder and not a visitor.
Territorial reinforcement is the use of physical elements to establish ownership; to create a clear demarcation between where our property ends and public space begins.
We do this by clearly marking our property lines with fences, walls or landscaping.
It’s important to choose the materials for fences and landscaping carefully so they don’t conflict with our requirements for natural surveillance and access control.
Our goal is to make it clear to our intruder that they are entering private property.
Maintenance and Management
We only need to look around to see that vandalism is most prevalent in public spaces and abandoned buildings. Territorial reinforcement (above) works to establish that our property isn’t a public space. Maintaining and managing our property well sends the message that someone notices and cares about what happens here, and that ‘someone’ has a stake in protecting it.
To incorporate the fourth principle of CPTED into our security, we should make sure that our building is as well maintained as our budget allows.
We should ensure that:
- weeds, debris, rubbish and graffiti are all removed;
- all lights and lighted signs are in working order;
- broken or cracked windows are fixed;
- damaged or broken building fittings are repaired; and
- grounds and landscaping are well maintained and tidy.
A well-maintained centre and surroundings is a matter of pride and a sign of our professionalism. It’s also a matter of security.
Our goal is to show any potential vandal that we control this property and that we have a vested interest in protecting it.
Vandalism in our centre has major consequences. Our only preventative measure should not be a simple lock on the front door.
Tip: As an additional precaution against vandalism, security shutters could be used to enclose the materials likely to do the damage (like paints) or to limit access to parts of the building.
Food for Thought…
- Vandalism has serious consequences in any early childhood centre.
- Many early childhood centres are in areas with little after-hours activity or traffic.
- We can 'target harden' our building to make it physically resistant to break-ins.
- Crime prevention through environmental design provides an additional framework for improving our security.
- We should consider applying the concepts of natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement and maintenance and management in our fight against would-be intruders.
How to Keep Your Business Secure from the Outside In
8 Tips to Keep Your Office Secure
Keep Your Business Secure
Childcare Centre Security System
Should I Use a Dummy Security Camera?
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (Youtube video)
How to Make Your Child Care Centre a Safer Place for Children (pdf)