K-12 Insights: Designing for Safer Schools: Implementing CPTED in School Design

The safety and security of students have become a major topic of conversation in recent years. There are many aspects to keeping children safe within the school environment including health and wellness protocols, site circulation / drop off, and physical safety.

TowerPinkster is dedicated to ensuring our designs are not only engaging for students and staff but also provide as safe an environment as possible. We do this by implementing the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, also known as CPTED. TowerPinkster is proud to have CPTED trained professionals on staff.


CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach to preventing criminal behavior through environmental design. Its success often relies upon the ability to influence offender decisions that often can deter criminal acts. CPTED can be applied to both new and existing schools and is based on the following four concepts:
• Natural surveillance
• Natural access control
• Territoriality reinforcement
• Management

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, communities that implemented CPTED principles reported a decrease in school violence as well as “positive impacts on residents’ stress, community pride, and physical health.”

The term CPTED was originally coined by criminologist C. Ray Jeffery. A similar approach, termed defensible space, was developed around the same time by architect Oscar Newman. Jeffery’s book, “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” came out in 1971. Newman’s book, “Defensible Space: – Crime Prevention through Urban Design” came out in 1972. The information continues to evolve, and the National Institute of Crime Prevention promotes course work and certifications for various courses of study, including “CPTED and Schools”.

Coldwater 45
Coldwater Lakeland Elementary 4/5 Building
Byron Center Cafe
Byron Center High School Cafeteria




Site design can have a great impact on the safety of students. Everything from landscape choices to pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns fall within CPTED’s site design guidelines.

Natural Access Control
• Location of entrances, fencing, landscaping and lighting can discourage criminal behavior.

Natural Surveillance
• Criminals do not want to be seen, hence most crime occurs at night. Strategically locate entrances and
activities to maximize observation and discourage activity.

Territorial Reinforcement
• Clearly define the edge of the school grounds through use of fencing, landscape, signage, etc. so that public and private space does not easily blend together.
• Isolate student drop off / pick up, busing and deliveries with clear visibility of each function.
• Fence in play areas and provide clear public observation of these spaces.

• Provide clear vision between 2 feet above the ground and 6 feet. This will take away potential hiding spaces.
• Remove graffiti immediately
• Fix broken windows, etc. so that the building appears less penetrable.
• Quality and location of exterior lighting can have a major impact on nighttime visibility and security


We believe schools should be safe without feeling like a fortress. When integrated into the design of a building, safety elements will generally go unnoticed by most students and staff.

Access Control
• Ensure office staff has visibility of the parking lot, main entrance, and corridors.
• Secure vestibules for controlling visitor access.
• “Target hardening” using security film/glass, without creating a “prison-like” feel.
• Create a second means of egress from the administrative offices. This also allows first responders a safe way into the building.

Design Elements
• Construct smaller schools when possible (to help build positive relationships with students).
• Avoid niches, blank corners, windowless rooms, lack of direct visibility.
• “Zone” the building into separate areas to isolate intruders from students.
• Provide corridor “observation” of toilet rooms.
• Install classroom door barricade systems that can be quickly installed.
• Design classrooms with student “safe zones” which cannot be seen from the corridor.

Technology Security
• Security cameras
• Door access controls
• Paging and alert systems

Discover More

Contact one of our K-12 Directors if you would like to discover ways to help your students achieve success. You can explore our K-12 experience here.