Building Types

Pandemic design considerations for police facilities

COVID-19 has changed police facility design strategies and drastically changed the way officers interact with the public on a daily basis.

By Larry Hlavacek and Jonathan Tallman March 10, 2021
Courtesy: Dewberry

In recent years, community policing concepts significantly impacted our approach to the design of law enforcement facilities. To promote close connections between law enforcement officers and community members, our designs incorporate flexible use zones that develop areas of community engagement including the main entrance lobby, public plazas, community meeting/training rooms, and memorial and display areas.

In 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic challenged current police facility design strategies by drastically changing the way officers interact with the public on a daily basis. Officers are confronted with a “new norm” of conducting police operations in an ongoing pandemic environment of restricted interaction with the public and physical distancing from coworkers. Faced with this increased potential for exposure to disease, chemicals, and hazardous materials, new methods of community policing and operations must be considered, and awareness increased to address these concerns.

Sanitation and decontamination zones

New program spaces for consideration by law enforcement agencies include designated sanitation and decontamination zones. These spaces provide the front-line defense for decontamination including contaminated equipment and uniform removal, cleansing stations, personal protective equipment storage and disposal, officer decontamination, and medical evaluation.

Dewberry’s design of decontamination areas is influenced by our fire station designs, where this type of specialized space has become a standard feature in recent years. Decontamination areas, located at entry points—or in the case of fire stations, apparatus bays – limit contaminants from entering a building and help maintain a healthy and safe work environment. These spaces may include:

  • An outdoor sand pit or abrasive walk-off surface to remove contaminants from boots and shoes
  • Bio-hazard waste receptacles for disposal of contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Handwashing and sanitizing stations
  • Showers and laundry facilities
  • New PPE supply storage for use within the building.

Fire stations now often employ a progressive system of spaces that moves personnel from zones of higher contamination to zones of low to no contamination. This approach, which can be instructive to the design of police stations, consists of red zones – the first areas firefighters enter, yellow zones that serve as transition areas or buffers, and finally green or no-contamination zones. In the red zones, firefighters drop off equipment and apparel for cleaning. Yellow zones may include shower facilities as well as hand washing facilities. Green zones include the living areas, break rooms, training spaces, and offices. In combination with this sequence, mechanical systems should incorporate strategies to reduce the risk of infectious aerosol dissemination.

Protecting police officers and support staff

Law enforcement officers routinely place themselves at risk in day-to-day operations, ranging from exposure to hazardous chemicals, narcotics, and members of the public who may pose a disease risk, including COVID-19. The inclusion of dedicated decontamination space within police facilities reduces the risk to these officers, as well as staff and members of the public. Our designs also routinely incorporate laundry facilities alongside locker room areas to address uniform contamination.

Figure 1: Traditional layouts featuring two-way traffic flow can impede appropriate distancing. Courtesy: Dewberry

Figure 1: Traditional layouts featuring two-way traffic flow can impede appropriate distancing. Courtesy: Dewberry

To further reduce the risk of contamination and infection, operation flow within law enforcement facilities should evolve and move away from historic linear two-way traffic flows that fail to provide appropriate distancing and sanitation areas for both equipment and personnel (see figure 1). An improved, one-way circular operational flow provides for required physical separation and establishes dedicated areas to sanitize equipment and decontaminate personnel allowing staff areas within the facility to remain as “clean” zones (see figure 2).

Figure 2: One-way, circular flows allow for distancing and dedicated areas for decontamination. Courtesy: Dewberry

Figure 2: One-way, circular flows allow for distancing and dedicated areas for decontamination. Courtesy: Dewberry

Additional measures to reduce risk include automatic doors and lighting controls to reduce areas of contact, cellphone-controlled applications, integrated health monitoring stations at staff and public entrances, and environmental controls including UV light sanitation of supply air and proper humidification levels that limit the spread of viruses. Finally, smart workspace planning can help minimize risks of contamination and infection. Modular workstations that incorporate a more isolated design layout instead of groups of workstations allow for greater physical distancing and sanitation. High-use rooms may incorporate UV disinfection, touch-free controls, and electrostatic aerosolized disinfection sprays. Limiting horizontal surfaces where germs can collect and using antimicrobial materials with durable non-porous surfaces further reduce the risk and allow for frequent and thorough disinfection.

Through forward-thinking adjustments to operational flow, incorporation of decontamination and sanitation zones, new automation technology, and improved layouts of staff workspaces, the risk of contamination within a police facility is greatly reduced providing a safer environment for positive community engagement and police operations.


This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s websiteDewberry is a CFE Media content partner. 


Larry Hlavacek and Jonathan Tallman
Author Bio: Larry Hlavacek and Jonathan Tallman