Canadian Consulting Engineer

Courthouses

In recent years, improving security at courthouses all over the country has become an issue, and many upgrades are under way or in the works. Alberta may be leading the way, with a three-year plan lau...

May 1, 2008   By Sophie Kneisel

In recent years, improving security at courthouses all over the country has become an issue, and many upgrades are under way or in the works. Alberta may be leading the way, with a three-year plan launched in 2005 that among other things calls for some form of “perimeter security” in all of its courthouses. Similar to that in airports, perimeter security in courthouses is mainly achieved through technology such as walkthrough scanners, hand-held metal detectors, x-ray inspeccour thouses tion systems to scan baggage, and desktop ionizers to detect explosive materials. These “active” security tools, along with passive and planning measures, represent the three types of security used in courthouses. “In the prisoner holding facilities, for example, active security measures are extensive, involving many security cameras, remote locking systems and so on,” says Bill Chomik, a principal at Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning of Calgary.

Chomik was the lead architect and interior designer on the Calgary Courts Centre, which officially opened this January. He is also leading the Kasian team currently working on the Northwest Territories Law Courts in Yellowknife (with PSAV) .

Attention to space planning in courthouses ensures that the public, the prisoners and court staff are well separated and only meet in interview rooms with special security features. Typically, the three bodies of users are completely separated from one another through a complex pedestrian circulation system that only intersects in the courtroom. Chomik explains that even the vertical circulation through elevators and stairs is sometimes kept separate.

“Passive measures can include double-celled elevators so that prisoners and guards transporting them are separated,” says Chomik. In many areas of these judicial buildings, ballistic-resistant glass is installed and some courtrooms even have bullet-proof judges’ benches, jury boxes and witness stands.

Around the exterior of court buildings, passive security measures include bollards, stairs and planters to prevent a ground-level vehicular attack. Some bollards and gates are mechanically activated to allow vehicles access into the facility.

On the active security side, surveillance cameras cover most areas both inside and out, while very sophisticated cameras are installed in the courtrooms themselves. “In courtrooms, pan-tilt cameras are used to provide maximum security,” says Chomik. “There are stationary cameras that view in a variety of ways, all the way from full 360-degree coverage to point-source coverage.”

Because designers are restricted from discussing alarm systems in detail, Chomik will only say that many different types of systems, designed to respond to different conditions, are typically installed, and they are generally monitored from a central security centre.

New technologies also bring new space requirements, such as remote video testimony rooms. The Alberta government is completing a pilot project to make videoconferencing available in 67 court locations and 12 remand centres and correctional facilities across the province. Not only is videoconferencing used to protect vulnerable witnesses, but also it means offenders can “appear in court” on video, rather than attending in person, which reduces the number of prisoners who have to be transferred from correctional facilities to court.


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