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Designing Lobbies for Good Security

The lobby is the primary point where visitors and other members of the public enter your facility. As such, it is one of the most critical areas to design properly from a security standpoint. Having a poorly designed lobby makes it difficult to properly control access into the building, requiring that additional security measures be provided at the interior of the building. A poorly designed lobby can also increase operational costs by requiring that additional staff be provided to overcome the security weaknesses created by the lobby.

 

Many lobbies are designed primarily with aesthetics and convenience in mind, with little or no thought given to security. Often times this is because the architect and owner lacked an understanding of basic security concepts, or failed to consider security at all during the architectural planning process.

 

It is our opinion that a lobby can be designed to look good while at the same time providing excellent security. Within this article, we will provide some guidelines that can help you to successfully plan your building lobby.

 

Basic Concepts

 

Before getting into specifics, let's talk about some basic concepts when designing a lobby for good security.

 

At the exterior of the building, you typically have an unsecured, public area, such as a public street or parking lot. Usually, any member of the general public can freely enter this area without permission. We refer to this area as the "Public Zone". On the interior of the building, you typically have a secured private area, which may contain offices, production facilities, and other spaces related to your business. Usually only employees and invited guests may enter this area. We refer to this area as the "Private Zone".

 

The building lobby acts as a "portal" or "conduit" between the Public Zone and the Private Zone. The lobby also provides an area where members of the public can transact business with the company without entering the Private Zone. Because of this, we refer to the lobby area as the "Semi-Public Zone". One security layer exists at the point between the Public Zone and the Semi-Public Zone, and a second security layer exists at the point between the Semi-Public Zone and the Private Zone. This concept is illustrated in the drawing below. (To learn more about security layers, see Concentric Circles of Protection.)

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During normal working hours, the exterior doors of the lobby are typically left unlocked. This allows people to enter the lobby (Semi-Public Zone) to interact with the receptionist. In cases where the person has legitimate business with the company, he or she will be signed-in as a visitor, and allowed to proceed into the Private Zone. Depending on company policy, the visitor may or may not need to be escorted by an employee while in the Private Zone.

 

If a person arrives, but does not have legitimate business with the company, he or she will be turned away by the receptionist and denied access to the Private Zone.  Physical barriers should be provided should be provided that prevent people from passing between the Semi-Public Zone and Private Zone without permission. These barriers should be designed in such a way that they make it difficult for an unwanted guest to force his way past the receptionist or to sneak past the receptionist unnoticed.

 

In cases where the lobby is also used as an entrance by employees, a system needs to be provided that allows authorized employees to pass through the barrier into the Private Zone, while at the same time keeping unauthorized people out.

 

Problems in Lobby Design

 

While the basic concepts for lobby security are simple, many problems can occur that prevent these concepts from being successfully implemented in an actual building. The drawing below shows some common security weaknesses that often exist in commercial building lobbies.

 

 

  1. There is no physical barrier between the Semi-Public Zone and the Private Zone. There is complete reliance on the receptionist to control access into the building and to prevent an intruder from entering.
  2. The receptionist is facing perpendicular to the flow of traffic, making it difficult to observe who is entering the building. Because of its location, visitors are not intuitively drawn to the receptionist's desk.
  3. An entrance to a 2nd Floor stairway is located ahead of the receptionist's desk. Intruders can use the stairs to gain access to the Private Zone on the floor above without checking in with the receptionist.
  4. The building elevators are located ahead of the receptionist's desk. Intruders can enter the elevators to gain access to the Private Zones on upper floors without checking in with the receptionist.
  5. A door to a private office is located ahead of the receptionist's desk. Intruders can sneak through the office to gain access to the Private Zone without checking in with the receptionist.
  6. Restrooms are located in the Private Zone. This requires that delivery drivers and waiting guests enter the Private Zone in order to use the restroom.
  7. A frequently-used customer service counter is located in the Private Zone. Customers who wish to visit the service counter must be signed in as visitors, creating considerable additional work for the receptionist

 

Example of Well-Designed Lobby

 

The drawing below shows an example of a lobby that has been well-designed from a security standpoint.

 

 

  1. A  barrier wall has been provided that provides physical separation between the Semi-Public Zone and the Private Zone.
  2. A card reader controlled door has been provided to control access between the Semi-Public Zone and the Private Zone. (This could also be a card reader controlled gate, revolving door, or turnstile.)
  3. The receptionist's desk is facing towards the lobby allowing incoming traffic to be observed. Because of its location, visitors are intuitively drawn to the receptionist's desk.
  4. The building elevators are located behind the barrier wall in the Private Zone
  5. The stairs to the 2nd Floor are located behind the barrier wall in the Private Zone..
  6. A small restroom has been provided for visitors in the Semi-Public Zone, eliminating the need for them to enter the Private Zone in order to use a restroom.
  7. A small conference room has been provided in the Semi-Public Zone. This permits employees to come to the lobby to have short meetings with guests without requiring that the guest sign-in as a visitor or enter the Private Zone.
  8. A customer service counter has been provided in the Semi-Public Zone. This permits customers to be served without requiring that they sign-in as visitors or enter the Private Zone.

Additional Suggestions for Lobby Security

 

  • When possible, the lobby should not be used as a primary employee entrance point. If practical, provide a separate entrance point for employees and discourage them from entering through the lobby. Reducing traffic through the lobby makes it easier for the receptionist to observe activity and reduces the chances of an intruder "tailgating" in behind an employee.
  • The receptionist's primary duty should be to manage the lobby and to greet incoming guests. Don't give the receptionist other duties that distract from this primary function or prevent continuous observation of the building lobby..
  • If at all possible, deliveries should be routed to the loading dock or mail room and not be received at the receptionist's desk.

 

If you have questions about any of the information presented in this article, or need help in designing a new lobby or fixing an existing one, please contact us .

 

 

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