Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Planning for safety

A planning strategy facilitating neighbourhood participation in providing security to the area is the need of the times.

A view of the out door from the kitchen is better for security.
CHANGING LIFESTYLES, tighter work schedules, smaller nuclear families, and newer security failures, have all turned the spotlight on safety issues in planning residential buildings.
Unlike in the olden days, modern houses are secluded and insecure. Though many houses have a security person, it is not affordable by all. Hence the planning strategy has to be redefined to make the neighbourhood houses participate more in providing better security to the locality.
The door opening and windows can be planned in such a way that they are visible to the adjoining houses, of course, without compromising on privacy. Bigger forecourts, front outdoor seating area and combined play area can facilitate increased community participation. A well-knit neighbourhood will prove a much difficult target for criminals.
High compound walls give protection against trespassers, but the residents remain cut off from the neighbourhood. So, a high compound wall with well-balanced openings will provide security as well as openness.
Lighting the exterior of the building helps in better monitoring and also acts as a deterrent for thieves.
The main entrance area is the first entry point. The better its protection, the better the image of a well-projected house it gives. The current trend is to have a grille enclosure with a grille gate. Even with a two-door arrangement, an inner wooden door and an external metal door, good aesthetics can be achieved by having a metal Spanish door, rather than a grille door. Also the main entrance area could have a window so that the door need not be opened if one were to look who is at the door. Also, the couriers and milk packets can be received through the window.
But the latches on the door must be so positioned as not to provide an access from outside through the window. Alternatively a well-designed hatch could be provided for improved safety. This hatch could be neatly tucked in the wall or even the door and would be an opening similar to the bank teller counters.
Every point of entry is a fragile access point, and the terrace door must be of metal.
The French doors are easy targets as they have a weak protection system most often. Hence extra care has to be taken while designing them, particularly with respect to balconies and terraces. The garage could have a grille door as well.
Electronic surveillance cameras and closed circuit televisions are now affordable and can easily be set up. Circuit TV in the kitchen and bedrooms could help to keep the entrance always under check. But as personal supervision could also help, windows and openings in the master bedroom should lead one's eyes to the entrance.
Safety planning against sudden disasters such as fire breakouts and physical accidents can be achieved by good design and clean execution of work. Trivial accidents such as tripping and falling inside toilets could be prevented by providing non-slip tiles for toilet floors. Accidental fall from the terrace can be prevented by having a minimum of 3' 0" high-parapet wall. The overhead tank could also be provided with parapet walls for additional safety.
Fire safety is also becoming an important issue with more enclosed spaces being built and heavy interior furnishing with wood, upholstery and screws.
For those who can afford it, a fire alarm system and even a sprinkler system could be deployed for maximum safety. Electronic circuit breakers could also be put in use to enable power supply to be cut in case of short circuits.
(The author is Chief Architect, Murali Architects, Chennai.)

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