A design standard intended to improve home security could actually put care home residents at risk in an emergency. Our columnist describes how he helped to amend it

Secured by Design (SBD) was started successfully in 1998 by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) as a regional crime reduction project and began its UK roll-out the following year. Its aim is to "design out crime" through the implementation of detailed crime prevention and security standards and is delivered via a 300 strong team of Architectural Liaison Officers (ALO’s) and Crime Prevention Design Advisors (CPDA’s) attached to local police forces.

The scheme reflects the government's key planning objective of creating secure, quality places to live and work and ACPO’s research suggests that the initiative can reduce burglary and car crime by up to 50% and criminal damage by up to 25%. Other evidence indicates that the fear of crime among residents living in SBD housing is significantly reduced. Since its inception, thousands of burglaries have therefore been thwarted thanks to architects, builders, homeowners and landlords adopting its specifications and advice.

There's a catch

For residential buildings, these specifications cover the design, manufacture and installation of doors, locks, windows and external barriers (fencing, gates etc.) as well as ancillary items like smoke and burglar alarms, methods for marking personal property etc. However, as with any broad-based scheme, circumstances always emerge which fall outside its scope. For SBD that exception has been Extra Care developments and specifically the relationship of the individual flats to common areas. Essentially the problem is that the measures that are so effective in keeping out intruders are even more effective in keeping out care workers who may need to enter a flat in an emergency. There are other logistical problems – for example, the difficulties in specifying a door wide enough for easy wheelchair access which also has suitable door ironmongery upon it to meet both the residents’ restricted mobility and strength and also the SBD standard itself. The key concern, though, remains that residents may be put at risk by the very thing intended to keep them safe.

This failing, however, is not because of SBD ignoring the special circumstances of Extra Care developments – general specifications for sheltered accommodation covering lighting, entrance doors, site access, car parking, footpaths, fire exits etc. were last laid down in 2004 – but because those specifications have not gone far enough. Essentially, no allowance has yet been made for the fact that the layout and functionality of Extra Care developments differ radically from that of a typical flat or house.

Changing the standard

With SBD compliance now almost universally mandatory in the social housing sector, the situation obviously needed to be remedied. We therefore teamed up with Housing 21 (who provide extra care housing nationally) and contractor, Denne Construction, to find appropriate solutions. We looked at three key areas where care homes differ fundamentally from regular housing and have made recommendations accordingly:

Progressive privacy

The main feature of the progressive privacy solution is the creation of three different zones within a development, each with varying degrees of access. First there is the public zone, which usually contains the day centre and other facilities for use by the general public. Second, the semi private zone, which is the area between the public zone and the resident’s flat. This area contains the residents’ communal lounges and facilities reserved for their use as well as the circulation corridors serving the flats. The third and final zone is the resident’s private flat.

Residents have access to all zones, while the public only have access to the public zone during normal hours. Out of hours, public access even to this area is controlled. In addition, visitors’ access to other zones is controlled either by the residents themselves or by staff/carers through audio/visual door entry systems. The front door to the resident’s flat has a standard doorbell unless the resident’s needs dictate an alternative arrangement. Staff and residents have key fobs to allow easy access through the zones. All visitors go through the door entry system and can be viewed through the camera and spoken to. The residents can view their visitors on a preselected TV channel on their own television for the door entry rather than viewing them on a small-scale door entry TV screen.

This means that although the progressive privacy zones unavoidably impacts on the design of the building, the security fixtures for gaining entrance to the individual rooms or flats can be modified to ensure staff can enter in an emergency without compromising the residents’ overall security. A further, smaller secured lobby area be can be added to the main lobby if, for example, the scheme’s location or the vulnerable nature of the residents requires it.

The progressive privacy zones are then further secured by the implementation of monitoring technology as detailed below.

Door control and door entry

We are recommending the introduction of four key measures:

1. A two-stage audio and visual door entry system to all flats, as highlighted above, with an override control in the manager’s office

2. The door entry camera is linked to the resident’s television set rather than a small wall unit to provide the resident with a much clearer image of their visitors

3. The CCTV system monitoring the main public entrance area and foyer saves to a PC hard drive, which is controlled and monitored, from the manager’s office

4. Fire officers do not like traditional keys (they can easily get stuck) and would prefer thumb turns introduced on the inside face of the flat entrance door. However, this is contrary to the Secure By Design requirement and we are therefore recommending a split spindle key operated lock, which satisfies both parties. This allows staff to get access in an emergency and residents to get out without panicking to find the key, as they are able to leave the key safely in the door.

Relaxing the requirements for front doors

In traditional social housing flats, the resident’s front door is often the first and only barrier to intruders and this is sensibly, and necessarily, reflected in the current standards laid down by SBD for front doors (Pas23/24). But, as we have seen, the obvious need for wheelchair and emergency access within an Extra Care Home means the standard is inappropriate. However, as a series of door control points have to be negotiated to get to individual front doors, the mandatory requirement for a Pas23-1 and Pas24-1 front door can be safely relaxed without compromising residents’ security.

This work, carried out in close consultation with the SBD, is now with the organisation for consideration as the foundation for a new design standard specifically for the sector.