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  • Brian Van Brunt

Lessons from CPTED

This summer, our DPrep Safety team attended a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) refresher course related to houses of worship. One of the exercises during the training was the development of six recommendations related to CPTED principles. We thought sharing our list might be helpful. Houses of worship have a unique challenge balancing the faith-based principles of being open and welcoming with providing reasonable safety and security measures for their congregants and CPTED principals can help. And while these are written for houses of worship, the concepts apply to all types of spaces.

  1. Establish a safety and security committee that is tasked with developing a layered safety and security plan for the house of worship. This should be a continual process that is based on an assessment of resources and a prioritization of goals to improve security and safety. A first step of this committee is conducting a threat, vulnerability and risk assessment (TVRA) that takes into consideration CPTED principles. Often, there are people in the congregation who have prior military or law enforcement experience who may be helpful in this space.

  2. Develop and teach an all-hazard plan that addresses the full range of incidents that may occur, including active attackers, evacuation, hazmat spills, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, power outages, flood, suspicious packages/bombs, medical emergencies, theft, and crime prevention. One way to ensure this information reaches the community is with wall flip charts that have easy to understand and access reference information on how to respond to various emergencies. While these kinds of trainings are frequently offered in schools and colleges, it is less common to offer these in a house of worship community. An additional benefit of having this all-hazard approach to training is the house of worship is often a location for evacuation during a community crisis and having the safety and security committee prepared for these hazards improves readiness and response time.

  3. Improve line of site and natural surveillance to deter bad actors seeking to gain access to cause harm. One way to do this is keeping shrubs, bushes and other vegetation trimmed and maintained under two feet and trees free of limbs that hang lower than six feet from the ground to allow a clear line of site. Related to this is ensuring adequate lighting to reduce blind spots.

  4. Control points of entry by keeping them locked and limited. Having a reduced number of entries to a building increases the security and safety posture for the building. This means keeping the entryways to the minimum, not propping doors open, and limiting access to things used to prop doors like wedges, rocks, and concrete. A single point of entry is ideal whenever possible. When multiple entries are required for fire codes or evacuations, ensure the doors open only from the inside, preventing access from the outside.

  5. Make use of territorial reinforcement. This means defining the boundaries of the house of worship, signaling to visitors with clear marking and signage that you are now on the grounds of the house of worship. Contributing to this territorial reinforcement is ensuring the sidewalks, landscaping and signage are maintained in good working order. Territorial reinforcement can be done while respecting an open stance that welcomes those into the space (rather than seeing the church as a hardened facility like a prison).

  6. Keep activities in a high visibility area to improve monitoring. This is particularly important when considering playground placement and the location of daycare and children’s ministries. There is also a balance between traditional TVRAs and the line of site visibility theory in CPTED. In other words, having activates in high visibility areas gives more opportunity for monitoring, but puts potential targets in an easier to access location. Think carefully about how and where you will have these activities.


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