August 21, 2017

Design Challenges of Public Safety Buildings

Our public safety agencies and their staff (firefighters, police, EMTs, etc.) play a fundamental role in the life and wellbeing of our communities. Having facilities that contribute to the safe, productive and efficient performance of their jobs is essential. A few of the many challenges those agencies, their architects and their builders face are presented below.

Three key features of good buildings

For centuries, architects have agreed that for a building to be “architecture” it must not only be beautiful, but also practical and well-built.

While beauty can be subjective, public facility designs are scrutinized by the public, and must often go through planning reviews to receive approval according to the community’s aesthetic standards and expectations. A building that is striking and beautiful in a dense metropolitan location will probably be “ugly” in a rural setting. It is important, therefore, to consider materials that allow architects flexibility when designing.

A public service facility must deal with emergencies a great deal of the time. Therefore, their staff must not be hampered by complicated floor plans or bottlenecks. In addition, these buildings must be safe, secure, durable and resilient.

A firefighter running to the apparatus bay should not fear slippery floors or being hit on the face by a swinging door. The old-fashioned fire station poles are now part of the nostalgic past. Wide stairs are much safer, and do not increase response time.

A police station must be designed to safeguard the safety of its staff and visitors against unruly, drunken or violent law breakers. Some rooms will probably need to be designed to protect occupants from armed intruders, or from angry vandals. But bullet proof glass is not the answer to every problem. Using common sense in the design process is key.

These buildings must have long-lasting, easy to maintain materials and finishes, to assure their communities that the funds they are given are used responsibly. Sometimes it is easy to fall to the temptation to use systems that are initially cheaper, without taking into account their actual life cycle cost.

Finally, during an emergency or natural disaster, these buildings should be able to continue to function, not only for their main purpose, but perhaps also as relief and assistance havens.  The design itself, and the materials selected, should take earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and floods into consideration.

Police (and other emergency personnel) are humans too

It has long been known that occupant comfort has an effect on productivity, health and absenteeism. Studies have proven that good quality natural lighting, access to windows and views of trees and skies, the ability to control the temperature of your work space, and the benign chemical composition of materials, all are increase our wellbeing and efficiency, and improve our attitude.

A room that is quiet, unaffected by noise from the outside or from adjacent spaces, will clearly allow us to concentrate better on our task, and may be essential for confidential activities, such as interviewing a witness at a police station, or comforting a victim of a fire.

If daylighting improves the performance on elementary school students in Math and English tests, it certainly can affect the quality of the office work we all do.

And exterior walls that keep the interior at a comfortable temperature despite extreme conditions outdoors, and free of air leaks, moisture problems and vermin will certainly contribute to our enjoyment of the work place. This is no less true of those in public service professions.

Ease and speed of construction

While these are obviously desirable conditions in any project, they become particularly critical in addition and renovation projects.

A police station being expanded, or renovated, must remain functional to the greatest extent possible. While the staff will almost certainly have to adapt to the inconvenience of working in an active construction site, this should take as little time as possible.

Similarly, a fire station being expanded or remodeled to, for example, convert old, huge bunk rooms designed when all firefighters were male to also accommodate women, will suffer disruptions to their routines for a while.

Therefore, designing the project with an eye to minimizing these problems, and selecting materials, systems and methods that will reduce the construction time is an excellent idea.

A wall system such as Bautex’s will go a long way towards helping achieve many of these goals. Their blocks are light weight and easy to install by one person, perhaps even a relatively unskilled, less expensive laborer. They are made of durable, resilient materials, resistant to moisture, strong winds, fire and vermin. They have excellent thermal properties, and reduce the total construction time greatly. They may even contribute to achieving LEED™ certification!

Contact us to learn more about the latest design trends in public safety building construction. Our team of design professionals is eager to introduce you to the many benefits of our leading-edge wall systems. We look forward to helping designers and contractors complete projects faster to ensure that police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency personnel have the facilities they need and deserve to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies.