Crime Prevention for Firefighters: CPTED for CRR

What is CPTED?

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is the concept of crime prevention and neighborhood safety accomplished through natural elements and structural design. CPTED utilizes four strategies that contribute to “the proper design and effective use of the built environment that can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime and an improvement in the quality of life” within a community. The CPTED strategies are natural surveillance, natural access control,territorial reinforcement, and maintenance.

Natural Surveillance. This utilizes the placement of physical features, activities, and people in a way that maximizes visibility. This is accomplished through landscape design, lighting, and elimination of ambush points. These elements all promote more eyes on the street, and within the buildings where necessary.

Natural Access Control. This means controlling access to a site by its inherent design. This is accomplished through strategic design of streets, sidewalks, building entrances, and landscaping. These design elements can ensure that entrances are visible and clearly defined, well lighted, and take full advantage of natural surveillance.

Territorial Reinforcement. This strategy appeals to peoples’ sense of ownership. This is the use of physical attributes that express ownership such as, fencing, pavement design, walking paths, signage, landscaping, and public art. Territorial reinforcement encompasses the principles of natural surveillance and access control.

Maintenance. This allows for continued use of the space, and is a critical component of CPTED. If the other strategies of CPTED are utilized, but never maintained, then CPTED will fail. Maintenance serves as an expression of territorial reinforcement by showing property ownership, it prevents reduced visibility from overgrown landscape, and obstructed or inoperative lighting.


CPTED is a largely unheard of concept to the fire service. However, it is a concept that the fire service should fully embrace. In recent years the fire department concept of Community Risk Reduction (CRR) has prevailed. This is the concept of reducing risk of all types, not just fire, within a community. CPTED ties directly into the goals and objectives of a CRR program and benefits the community, first responders, and designers. 

Understanding CPTED principles and strategies can be advantageous to the community and the fire service in a multitude of ways. Reduced crime means lower number of emergency responses. More eyes on the street and people out, means faster response when emergencies do occur.  
CPTED as part of a CRR strategy contributes to safety of fire department personnel and first responders. Maintenance of property, natural surveillance, access control, can eliminate ambush points and make areas and structures safer for first responders. 

CPTED should also be applied for the fire protection and emergency management planning and building design. A holistic approach to building design and occupant safety is not complete without taking into account the risks, and perceived risks, of crime or potential threats. Applying CPTED principles can completely change, in the best way, the fire protection design and emergency response plan.

Codes and Standards

CPTED is in the codes and standards. NFPA 730, Guide for Premises Security, has a chapter dedicated to “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design”.  This chapter outlines requirements for lighting and landscape, and is referenced from other chapters within NFPA 730. Chapters 11-20 of this document cover specific occupancy types such as educational facilities, health care facilities, restaurants, shopping centers, retail, and more. Within each of these chapters is a section on CPTED as it directly relates to the occupancy type. Though NFPA 730 is only a guide, it can be utilized and implemented into a fire department's CRR and plans review process.

NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, will have its first draft meeting on January 18. At this meeting Public Input #188 will be voted on for inclusion in the document. The goal of this public input is to insert a reference to CPTED principles. The proposed language and substantiation is, as follows:

New section, 4.9 Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. In new construction and when a building undergoes renovation or rehabilitation, the principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) shall be implemented for the occupancies as described in NFPA 730, Guide for Premises Security, Chapter 8.

Statement of Problem and Substantiation for Public Input:

The intent of NFPA 101 is for Life Safety, as stated in the A1.1.8,”Life safety in buildings includes more than safety from fire...its technical requirements respond to a wider range of concerns...Code requirements...might also assist in responding to many other hazards…” Furthermore, Sections 4.2.1 and 4.2.4 emphasize the objectives of occupant protection, and physical violence mitigation. The principles of CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) contribute to life safety through a systematic approach to facility lighting, design, landscaping, and human factors planning. These contribute to the safety of the buildings occupants and to first responders. Application of CPTED principles can give the first responder an advance notice of unsafe conditions that may pertain to the facility or people around it. These principles are already a part of NFPA 730, the goal of this public comment is to put a pointer to these requirements for the user of NFPA 101.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is a strategy that can completely change a community. Employing these strategies as a component of the Community Risk Reduction program can reduce crime, reduce call volume, contribute to responder safety, and provide for a holistic design approach for buildings and community spaces.

For CPTED training and information contact Art Hushen at the National Institute of Crime Prevention.

For site assessments, plan reviews, or consulting you can schedule a free consultation with me.