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Build A Safer Shelter

While many security concerns can be addressed through retrofitting, the construction of a new building provides a great opportunity to address security issues

While many security concerns can be addressed through retrofitting, the construction of a new building provides a great opportunity to address security issues

So the money you asked for to build a new facility came through—now what? Along with concerns about noise reduction, waiting areas, and cleanable surfaces, you also want to make sure your new buildings are better equipped to handle security issues than the old one: The goal of any new design should be improvement. Learn from the flaws you found in the old building, and work with your architects to make sure they aren’t duplicated in the new one.

In California, the Escondido Humane Society is recovering from thetragic fire that destroyed its old facility in January 2001. Plans for construction of a new shelter, complete with security enhancements, are underway, says Phil Morgan, the shelter’s executive director. In its old building, Escondido endured the same problems found in many shelters—the building was outdated, and the lack of a sprinkler system ended up costing animals’ lives.

The new facilities will be far better prepared to prevent such calamities; a sprinkler system is only one of the improvements, Morgan says. “In addition, our old place was all within one building. ... The new design will have more of a campus layout, with a separate animal control facility, so that if one building were to burn, the other one won’t.” Also in the new shelter, potential adopters will have to come and go through the front lobby, passing staff along the way; this should decrease the potential for animal theft.

A safe space for veterinary supplies is another primary element of shelter design planning, says Larry Gates of Gates Hafen Cochrane, an architectural firm that has been helping organizations design new facilities for shelters for years. Installing a safe, preferably in a nondescript cabinet, is the simplest way to secure such supplies, says Gates. “Another way we handle it is with a steel roll-down grill covering the entire pharmacy wall,” he says. “That has some advantages, in that when nobody’s there you can just close the whole thing down so it will be secure. ... It tends to work better than having a pharmacy in an enclosed room, because it’s more accessible during the day but totally secure at night.”

Nighttime security can also affect the decision to install indoor/outdoor or indoor-only runs. While indoor/outdoor runs can provide more exercise space and fresh air for dogs, some organizations are moving towards indoor-only runs, in part to boost security. The Capital Humane Society in Lincoln, Nebraska, found that the switch to an indoor-only facility solved many of its security problems. “We used to get people who’d come to the shelter and they’d see their dog in an outside run, but they wouldn’t tell anyone,” says Bob Downey, executive director. “Then at night, they’d come back and cut the fence of the run they knew their animal was in and take it. But when we went to all indoor kennels, that stopped.”

Some shelters have found that indoor/outdoor runs also increase burglars’ ability to gain access to the rest of the facility. Many indoor/outdoor runs have doors or hatches large enough for a smaller person to fit through; if an intruder breaks through these, he can probably get into the rest of your facility from there.

In transitioning shelters toward indoor-only facilities, Gates and his firm have occasionally planned only partial overhauls—a move Gates says is often more affordable than building an entirely new shelter, yet still allows the organization to fix layout problems. “If we’re doing something like that, we’re typically moving toward an entirely new type of ‘adoption pavilion,’ ” says Gates. “In existing shelters, you kind of focus on the area the public sees, and we might put some Band-Aids on the old building, but we’ll focus most of our attention into a new addition, and then the public’s contact with the shelter remains mostly positive.”

Whatever you decide your organization needs to address, either through renovation, new construction, or something in between, you should work closely with the architects and consultants involved in the project and make sure they understand your shelter’s security-related issues. They’ll probably have some innovative ideas you haven’t considered, and any innovation that results in increased safety is a good one.

“All security concerns can and should be addressed in the design of new facilities,” says Eric Blow, who has retrofitted fences and locks and added new lighting systems at Jefferson County Animal Protection in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as director. “Architects are much more well-versed in incorporating security measures into buildings than they are in designing buildings for animals. The security part will be a comparative breeze for them.”


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