This steel security building from Porta-King Building Systems includes a pitched roof that blends in with the architecture of the surrounding buildings.

How guardhouses have changed. In the 18th century, guardhouses were where sentries were stationed to eat and sleep between periods of duty. In the guardhouse at Fort Scott National Historic Site, for example, typical furnishings for guard quarters included benches, tables, shelves, a platform bed for resting between assignments, arms racks, a fireplace or stove, and leather buckets for firefighting.
Today, guardhouses are generally placed at the entrance as checkpoints for securing, monitoring and maintaining access control into a secured facility. In the case of small to mid-sized facilities, generally, the entire physical security envelope is controlled from the guardhouse. Come rain or shine, the guardhouse has to stand, protect and defend. And unlike the 18th century, you probably won’t find any sleeping guards.

This Par-Kut bullet resistant enclosure is mounted on a 15-foot tower that is also bullet resistant. It’s popular at nuclear power plants, correctional facilities, prisons, military bases or areas where elevated observation is a must.

Using Pre-Fab Versus Stick Built

A prefab guardhouse can provide as much security as a traditional guardhouse made from other materials at a fraction of the cost. A prefab structure helped Costco Wholesale secure its gas station equipment. Costco is the fifth largest general retailer in the United States and the leading membership warehouse chain in terms of sales volume. Since opening its doors in 1983 in Seattle, Costco has expanded its products and services, such as Costco Gas Stations in 1995. Currently, Costco operates 240 gas stations throughout North America. 
Early on in the design phase of the gas stations, engineers realized that to protect the equipment necessary for operations they would need structures both to secure and house sensitive equipment and also to provide climate control. They discovered prefab equipment shelters were the most reliable and cost-effective option for their needs.
Tim Hurlocker, director of Gasoline Operations at Costco, said that Costco preferred prefab structures from B.I.G. Enterprises over stick built because, “The equipment shelters are durable and easy. We order them, they arrive and we just plop them down on a concrete pad. It’s much cheaper to buy prefab than to try to build them ourselves.”
The shelters are necessary to Costco’s operations, because, as Hurlocker explained, “The original objective for the equipment shelters was two-fold: Guard the equipment and control the temperature around the equipment. We operate gas stations from Anchorage to Miami and from Hawaii to Minnesota. Though the outside may be very cold or very hot, we have to maintain a climate around all the gas station control equipment within a specific range.”
Hurlocker said that the shelters also serve a functional role for the gas stations’ security needs. “We have to secure equipment away from those who would seek to tamper with it. Unlike most gas stations, at Costco, the equipment shelter is not an attendant workstation. It is unmanned—this is an important point. It houses supplies, but no people and no chairs,” said Hurlocker.
He added that for increased security, Costco is now buying equipment shelters with a hotel style door with auto locking. “One doesn’t want anyone sneaking in there,” he said. “The shelters contain a lot of control equipment—for the casual thief, there is nothing that they could resell, but we have to keep the casual thief out because they think they might be able to sell something. For this reason, in tougher areas, we have had a number of locations with wire mesh reinforced windows.” 
For other security or facility planners in retail and commercial environments looking to utilize prefab structures, Hurlocker suggested to:
  • Use self-locking doors. “It’s human nature, people will prop them open and then you defeat your security. Plus, when they’re propped open, they waste a whole lot of air conditioning and heating. Also, someone could slip in and place some sort of device inside (tracking or other) that your employee doesn’t detect.”
  • Windows are a good idea for a hut that isn’t a manned station. “This may seem counterintuitive, but when your employees enter these unmanned structures, they are blind to what’s going on around them. The most valuable thing you’ve got working for you is the eyes and judgment of your people. Without windows, suddenly they are inside a dark cubicle. I would trade people seeing-in VS my people seeing-out anytime. If people can see in and see that there is nothing of value, you’ll lower break-ins.  Because equipment shelters frequently lack windows, break-ins occur more often because thieves think the structures must be protecting something valuable that they can sell.”
  • Secure your air conditioning opening. “Most equipment shelters have A/C units to condition the electric equipment. If someone can kick your A/C through the opening, the opening is big enough to crawl through. A bracket, or something that secures your A/C in the hole, is desirable.”     

In addition, all Costco gas stations employ security cameras, which include motion sensing capability for efficient nighttime coverage. The cameras are connected to a digital recorder which allows easy review in case we have an incident at our gas stations. All Costo equipment shelters are equipped with door and motion alarms, and are kept locked during the day. Consistent with our company's “belt and suspenders” philosophy, these and other measures comprehensively protect our gasoline systems, said Hurlocker.

This guardhouse from Little Buildings, which sits at the entrance to Citi Field ballpark, home of the New York Mets, is bullet resisting.

The Right Materials

Ensuring that your guardhouse works as good as it looks is of the utmost importance. For example, is bullet resistant design important, and if so, what level of protection. UL 752 and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) have the two most commonly used standards for bullet resistant materials. As a general statement, the higher the level of protection, the higher the cost. UL 752 has set 10 levels of B/R (bullet resistant) protection. It is important to determine which level of protection meets their protection expectations. According to Austin Mohawk, most security executives focus on UL 752 Level III, which is designed to protect against three shots from a .44 Magnum, because the .44 Magnum is the most powerful and popular handgun. The next most popular level of protection, said the company, is UL 752 Level IV or VIII. Level IV B/R (bullet resistant) protection that is designed to stop a 30.06 rifle shot, while UL 752 Level VIII will protect against five .308 NATO cartridge shots.
Generally speaking, according to Austin Mohawk, you should buy B/R protection for both a building's glazing (glass windows) and walls, including doors. Again, generally speaking, choose a bullet resistant shroud for a thru wall A/C unit, but do not buy bullet resistant protection for the building's roof or floor which are generally considered extra’s, but can be included if the threat risk so dictates. Some buy only bullet resistant glass, leaving the wall panels unprotected, the company said. Bullet resistant glass usually will have a small label in a bottom corner indicating the level of threat protection and to some buyers implies to employees and/or assailants that the glass is “bullet resistant.”
B/R glass comes in several forms. The most popular is laminated multi-layered tempered safety glass and "glass clad poly,” which is heavy, generally the least expensive, and the most resistant to pitting from blowing dust, dirt and/or sand, and is the easiest to keep clean. “Poly” is lighter and is easier to work with, by cannot be cleaned as easily, especially in the case of graffiti.
According to Austin Mohawk, B/R wall panels are usually B/R protected with the use of bullet resistant steel plate. Bullet resistant steel plate is the same material used in all NATO military Humvees, for example. Kevlar, which is popular for personal B/R protection, is lighter-weight, but more expensive and prone to losing its B/R qualities if wet, according to the company. B/R plastic FRP mesh, while popular in interior bank B/R protection, is seldom used in factory-built buildings, it said, because the cutting of it material produces a fine dust that can irritate the skin of the individual working the material.
No discussion of a guard building is complete without a discussion about adequate lighting. According to Austin Mohawk, adequate lighting is a great deterrent for close-in assailants and makes all inspection efforts more effective. For example, a gate access canopy can be used to provide a consistent level of adequate lights without creating blind spots. Establishing the first line of defense between a facility and a threat on its perimeter, the guard station can also define the image of a facility.