By Debbie Adams
Municipal buildings, even in the calmest communities like Vinton, can pose security challenges since they are open to the public and a wide array of visitors, and often have more than one entry point.
Cognizant of workplace violence incidents in the state and across the nation, Vinton in recent months has enhanced security measures at the Vinton Municipal Building, and, also at the Public Works facility and the Vinton War Memorial.
At their meeting on August 22, 2019, Vinton Town Council approved a resolution appropriating funds of up to $100,000 for security improvements, as an “emergency purchase.”
Council had been briefed in prior meetings on the plans by the safety committee, including Human Resources/Risk Management Director Donna Collins, Assistant Director of Public Works, William “Bo’ Herndon, and Police Chief Tom Foster.
Town Manager, Barry Thompson indicated that the security improvements were a team effort. The safety committee analyzed the needs, worked with the public safety division of the town and established a plan that was brought to administration.
The plan was presented to Town Council at a regular council meeting and was well received and endorsed by the Mayor and all Council Members.
Thompson said, “The improvements covered installation of ballistic glass in the Treasurer’s office and in Planning and Zoning; new doors and frames in hallways on each side of council chambers with tempered glass; several new surveillance cameras, access controls for several doors, including the main council chamber doors, and door and desk video entry stations; door hardware; and panic buttons and strobes.”
“The security enhancements were for the security of the employees and citizens in general,” said Collins. “In today’s climate of violence, we felt we needed to be proactive.”
“These measures were not installed as a barrier between, or protection from, the average citizen, employee or customer,” said Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters. “These measures were implemented as a deterrent to hopefully prevent and to protect our employees and visitors in cases of extreme violence, such as the unfortunate incident in Virginia Beach, the Texas Church shooting or a number of other attacks that have taken place in common or public spaces. It’s obviously very difficult to predict when, where or from whom an attack might occur, so these recently installed security measures were implemented for areas that would have been the most vulnerable should an extreme situation arise.”
The Ballistic glass in the Treasurer’s Office and Planning and Zoning separates the public from employees. The administrative suite which includes the Town Manager’s office and Human Resources now restricts access and uses video entry stations.
The measures taken allow the entire Municipal Building to be locked down in case of an emergency situation.
As for security measures at other public buildings in Vinton, Public Works now also uses a video entry station where visitors must be buzzed in. The War Memorial has added many more surveillance cameras to its system.
Funding for the improved security was made possible by pari-mutuel tax revenue from Rosie’s Gaming Emporium (which will also be funding the upcoming Mountain View Road Reconstruction Project as the town’s match with VDOT).
Chief Foster first made a presentation to Town Council on security at their planning retreat in 2017, discussing vulnerabilities and possible solutions.
At the time he shared statistics indicating that approximately two million workers are the victims of workplace violence each year in the United States. Fifty-five percent of mass shootings occur in the workplace, while 29 percent occur in schools.
Eighty-five percent of workplace violence incidents involve criminal intent, such as robbery; 26 percent are over service issues between customer and client; 15 percent are due to interpersonal conflicts when a domestic dispute comes to the workplace. Some involve ideological attacks such as on animal testing laboratories or abortion clinics. Foster said that only three percent of workplace shootings involve an employee being fired.
Security improvements to the Municipal Building were made employing the concept of “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design,” a method based on the fundamental idea that the proper design and management of the physical environment can deter crime in a specific area. Just like buildings and properties can be designed to prevent damage from the elements and natural disasters, they can be designed to prevent crime,” is the stated CPTED principle.
Their principle is based on anticipating the thought processes of a potential offender and creating an environment that discourages follow-through. CPTED has the added advantage of creating a sense of security and well-being among employees.
Research has demonstrated that criminal activity tends to be reduced:
- when perpetrators perceive a risk of being observed (natural surveillance)
- when design strategies increase the effort required to approach a target –channeling visitors into a defined area (natural access control)
- when clear definitions of boundaries separate public spaces from private spaces and establish a sense of ownership (territorial reinforcement)
- and when property is managed to eliminate the “broken window” fact in the environment (maintenance).
The Town of Vinton worked with United Security and Control Systems of Roanoke and Meador & Company of Vinton for purchase and installation of the security system.