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September 4, 2023


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Early engagement: Why the Security Overlay to RIBA Plan of Work is a ‘game changer’ for security industry

Simon Whitehouse, Managing Director at SGW Consulting, covers the new security overlay from The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Simon explains why the overlay, designed to integrate security into the building design process, is a ‘game-changer’ for the security industry and what its impact may be on the wider consultancy and built environment landscape.

IFSEC Insider long-read: Key takeaways:

  • An overview of the impact from the Security Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work, published in February 2023
  • Why the new guidance will require security consultancies in the built environment to expand their capabilities 
  • Why the relationship between security design and sustainability can be a positive one 
  • There will be challenges in transitioning to the new security overlay

Simon Whitehouse, Managing Director at SGW

Fundamentally changing attitudes to security in design

Security has often been an afterthought tacked onto the end of the building design process just before completion, leading to ineffective, overly complex, and often visually unappealing security measures.

Security consultants have regularly been appointed too late in the architectural design process to have any ability to influence plot selection, access and circulation, critical asset placement and the architectural intended use of space. The new Security Overlay aims to guide the design team in taking an alternative and suitably informed approach.

The guidance provides a blueprint for undertaking rigorous security risk assessments before the design brief has even been drafted. This allows the identified risks to inform design decisions from the beginning of the process proactively.

For clients, this fundamental shift brings significant advantages. Integrating security considerations early on helps get safety and security outcomes perfectly aligned with their organisational goals, risk appetite, security posture and operational needs without requiring expensive retrofits later.

As an embedded member of a new build or refurbishment project’s design team, a security consultant is crucial in defining security requirements for different project phases:

  • The base build phase involves designing the fundamental structure and systems of the building. During this phase, a security consultant focuses on establishing the foundational security measures to support the building’s overall security strategy.
  • The shell and core phase involves designing the building’s structural elements, façade, and core systems. The security consultant ensures the building’s basic security features are integrated into these elements.
  • The fit-out phase involves designing the interior spaces of the building, including partitions, finishes, and furniture. The security consultant ensures that the interior design supports previously established security measures.

Major upskilling required across security consultancies

So, what does this new guidance mean for security consultancies like SGW? In short, we will need to expand our capabilities across several key areas significantly.

A security consultant working in the built environment requires technical, interpersonal, and strategic skills to integrate security measures into architectural designs effectively. These skills must also align with other built environment design team members to ensure seamless collaboration and the successful implementation of security solutions.

Using 2D CAD (Computer-Aided Design), BIM (Building Information Modeling), modelling, and visualisation tools have become increasingly important in modern physical security consultancy within the built environment.

2D CAD software allows security consultants to create detailed security layout plans, incorporating security elements like access points, surveillance camera locations, and physical barriers.

CAD drawings facilitate collaboration with architects and other team members by clearly representing security features within the overall design. CAD drawings are essential documentation for the design and construction phases, ensuring that security measures are implemented as intended.

BIM offers a 3D digital representation of the entire building, enabling security consultants to integrate security measures seamlessly into the architectural and engineering design. BIM software can detect clashes between security elements and other building systems early in the design process, preventing costly conflicts during construction.

BIM’s visualisations allow stakeholders to understand better the placement and impact of security measures within the building’s context.

Driving sustainability and excellent design outcomes

Some assume that prioritising security must inevitably compromise sustainability, design, or cost. However, with the right expertise involved from the very start, security can enhance the overall design by making it practical and efficient.

RIBA-SecurityOverlayCover-23SGW collaborates with architects and clients from day one. We find that thoughtfully integrated security improves sustainability, reduces environmental impact, and delivers excellent design outcomes. It also prevents those otherwise seemingly inevitable surprises on the cost to retrofit bespoke and adapted security solutions.

For example, BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is a widely recognised sustainability assessment framework used to evaluate and certify the environmental performance of buildings and communities.

While BREEAM primarily focuses on environmental sustainability, it also acknowledges the importance of security in creating a sustainable society. Security is considered within the broader context of safety, health, and well-being.

The new Security Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work references that a Security Needs Assessment (SNA) might be undertaken as part of the BREEAM process. The SNA is a visual audit of a site and its surroundings to help identify threats and their associated risks.

It may be undertaken as part of a High-Level Security Risk Assessment at RIBA Stage 0 – Strategic Definition or later. This assessment can support the planning application and encourages validation of area crime statistics with a Police Designing Out Crime Officer (DOCO) and an understanding of the context and possible impact of development on the local surrounding community.

It is possible to increase a building’s BREEAM score by incorporating the SABRE (Security Assurance by Building Research Establishment) assessment, a security certification scheme developed by BRE Global. SABRE focuses on assessing and certifying the security and resilience of built assets.

The RIBA Security Overlay provides the blueprint needed to achieve these results more widely and successfully across the industry.

Security measures and sustainability can intersect effectively, resulting in solutions that enhance safety and security and contribute to environmental and social well-being. Here are some examples:

  • Designing landscapes with open sightlines and clear visibility helps improve natural surveillance, making it easier for people to observe and monitor their surroundings. Well-designed landscaping can also enhance biodiversity, support local ecosystems, and improve the overall aesthetic appeal of a space.
  • A green building envelope, including green roofs and walls, not only provides insulation and energy savings but also acts as a physical barrier that can deter unauthorised access and enhance the security of a building.
  • Permeable pavements, which allow water to seep through, can help manage stormwater runoff and prevent flooding. They can also enhance security by reducing the risk of slippery surfaces and providing better traction during wet weather, using texturing to define access and circulation routes, which enhance the overall wayfinding strategy of the development.
  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles emphasise designing spaces to deter criminal activity. Elements like clear signage, proper lighting, and effective wayfinding enhance security and create a welcoming environment.

The transition

While shifting to a new security overlay model, there can be various hurdles, including resistance to change from entrenched processes, scepticism, and misconceptions about the impact on design creativity.

The Appendix A overlay, which forms part of the new guidance document, presents a clear and concise aide memoir for architects, design team members and project stakeholders on what to expect from a security consultant regarding outputs and deliverables between design stages RIBA Stage 0 (Strategic Definition) to RIBA Stage 7 (Use).


Appendix A: Security Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work (Click on the image to enlarge)


SGW is committed to realising the full potential of this integrated security model.

As Richard Roberts, our Principal Consultant, says, “The RIBA Security Overlay provides an excellent framework for how consultancies like ours can deliver tremendous value to clients and projects while enabling design excellence. The Security Overlay ensures the security approach enhances site operations – protecting critical assets and personnel while not negatively impacting on business as usual.”

A construction project management firm engaged by the client to prepare a strategic project delivery programme and terms of reference for each consultant now has a clear set of desired outcomes, outputs, and deliverables as a benchmark against which to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) and scope of work.

The overlay emphasises the importance of early engagement by a security professional and how security by design can positively influence the evolving design and development of the project.

To ensure that SGW is aligned with other specialist disciplines working across the RIBA work stages, the practice has invested in the Autodesk Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Software Collection.

The Security Overlay guidance is a game changer, pointing the way forward for our industry. At SGW, we are excited to play our part in making this vision a reality. The opportunities for adding value by rethinking security have never been more significant.

Read the Security Overlay guidance from RIBA, here >>

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