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Key Considerations in Designing Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities

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Keeping classified information secure is paramount to aerospace and defense companies, especially when working with government contracts. Often their facilities include some form of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), which is an enclosed space equipped for handling sensitive information. The top design priority for a SCIF is to secure the perimeter of the room by controlling everything that enters and exits, mitigating the risk of compromised information. Each SCIF is designed to a certain standard depending on the government agency’s (Customer’s) requirements, such as ICD 705 or DOD/NISPOM, and they may or may not have emission security (EMSEC) requirements. In addition to ensuring the design meets the Customer’s requirements and accreditation standards, I have found that a truly successful SCIF project will also address the following three design considerations:

1. Coordinating Customer + Client Needs

Each SCIF I’ve worked on has had varying security requirements based on the Customer and the project site’s Security in Depth (multiple layers of security). Having a knowledgeable SCIF design team can greatly improve project coordination to deliver an on-time and on-budget project. Due to the complex nature of a secure environment and the necessary construction and technology specifications and details, these projects are often a costly investment for clients. Therefore, it is vital that a SCIF is designed correctly to meet the required standards to achieve accreditation by the Accrediting Official (AO). By staying abreast of the current standards and working closely with the various clients and security representatives, we can determine the specific security requirements and details needed to achieve accreditation.

A few drivers of security requirements include location and function of the space. A SCIF on a campus may have more amenable security requirements than a SCIF located in a shared office building, due to the additional layers of security already in place. Another site consideration would be the location within a building. A SCIF on the ground or first floor may have greater requirements than a floor higher up in a building due to accessibility from the exterior. The intended function of the space plays a big role in determining the design of the SCIF. A conference room vs an office vs a manufacturing area, for example, will all have different requirements depending on the purpose of the space. One way to maximize facility investment is to create shared spaces for multiple SCIFs. For example, a SCIF conference room could be used by multiple adjacent SCIFs, eliminating the need for duplicate spaces. Achieving this function requires extensive coordination between with the design team, the security representative, the Customer and technology team.

2. Designing Within Existing Conditions

Many of the SCIFs I design are renovation projects, usually located within existing facilities and offices. Constructing a SCIF within an existing building comes with its own unique challenges and considerations that have significant cost impacts, particularly when it comes to EMSEC and creating a six-sided RF shielded box. A metal floor or roof deck in a building can be used as one of the sides of the box whereas a building with a precast concrete floor will require installation of RF shielding below it.

Another factor that needs to be considered is how existing ductwork or pipes currently penetrate the space and how to eliminate any unnecessary penetration points. This may influence the shapes of rooms or add cost to reroute around certain areas.

There are no boilerplate or one-size-fits-all solutions when designing a SCIF; each space is unique and requires understanding the existing space, Customer requirements and client needs to ensure a successful and operational environment.

3. Making the Space Feel Human

Traditionally, when most people think of a SCIF, they imagine a sterile, beige room devoid of any natural light or personal comfort—but this doesn’t have to be the case. We actively work with our clients to create environments that are secure and feel human, improving the occupant experience. Clients invest significant time and resources into employees who have the security clearance to work on programs within a SCIF. A work environment that is designed to enhance employee comfort, choice and well-being can aid in attracting and retaining talent.

Similar to corporate office design, SCIFs can incorporate huddle spaces, collaboration areas and provide choice in work styles to improve employee satisfaction and engagement. Creating a SCIF environment designed for employee retention can include the installation of lighting that mimics circadian rhythms, ergonomic workstations and seating, modern and fresh finishes and color palettes, and flexible work solutions. The environment outside of a SCIF can also play a role in employee well-being, by providing additional amenities and areas to take personal calls, connect with colleagues or take a break while admiring surrounding views.

It's About More Than Security

While SCIFs are complex and highly technical facilities, successful projects are about more than just the physical design and requirements. It is important to have a trusted design partner who understands not only your needs as a client, but also how to work with sensitive and confidential projects and interpret and confirm Customer requirements and standards. Through working closely with my clients, I have been able to build up knowledge of their concerns and business goals, while developing trust and partnerships to help navigate the intricate world of designing secure environments. For anyone that has visited a SCIF, I’d like to hear about your experienced.; was it a sterile, beige room, or were human elements tied in?

Blake Sabo, AIA
Senior Project Architect : Principal

Blake Sabo, AIA, is a Senior Project Architect and Principal focused on Aerospace and Workplace projects in EUA's Denver, CO office. In his free time, Blake loves to cook and grows some of his own ingredients.

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