ARCHITECT'S GUIDE

TO SECURITY ACOUSTICAL CEILING SYSTEMS

Lockdown Specification: DOC | PDF

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The Evolution of Correctional Ceiling Treatments

One can safely assume that the original and longest standing security ceiling systems were constructed of stone, later evolving to mortared stone, and then to concrete. This was a perfectly suitable finish for facilities that did not have the complex building systems and the significant management challenges of today's corrections environment. Today's criminal justice architects must address the routing and delivery of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and security systems beyond the reach of the inmate while, conversely, meeting a stringent budget requiring minimum building height and floor to floor spacing. Furthermore, the direct supervision management method has delivered the new challenge of providing a secure and controllable dayroom space where the officers can clearly communicate with the inmates and, most importantly, among each other.

The first evolution in correctional ceilings was the use of security plaster. While security plaster ceilings and bulkheads effectively enclosed building systems from inmate access, they equally inhibited maintenance access. Although clearly a high quality finish, plaster's cost, schedule impact, inaccessibility, and lack of acoustical control forced corrections designers to seek other alternatives - the first of which was gypsum wallboard systems. These multi-layered systems were often interwoven with plywood or wire mesh. While more cost effective than plaster, gypsum board systems did not significantly improve schedule due to their progressive method of construction, inaccessability, and their need for field taping, and painting. Acoustics could be addressed through the adhesive application of mineral fiber ceiling tile, but this was not a durable finish within inmate reach.

The advent of steel security acoustical ceiling systems and the subsequent development of multiple gauges and configurations of these systems has provided today's criminal justice architect with new options in security ceiling treatments. These systems address the need of today's corrections facility in terms of security, building system integration, acoustics, controlled access, cost, and schedule.

We often reflect on the interesting parallels between the evolution of corrections ceilings and the evolution of commercial ceilings. For many of the same reasons, architects in both markets evolved their ceiling system design from stone or wood to plaster, then gypsum wallboard, and finally to today's modern acoustical ceiling systems.

System Types

There are several manufacturers of steel security ceiling systems offering varied products. Generally, these products can be broken into three types: downward locking panel systems, snap in pan systems and security plank systems.

Downward locking panel systems (Exposed suspension)

These systems, typically available in 2'x2' or 2'x4' modules, utilizes heavy duty exposed "Tee" Grids in combination with 18 or 20 gauge locking security ceiling panels. A compression member is customarily installed from the system to the deck at 48" on center to resist system uplift.

Snap In Pan Systems (Concealed suspension)

These systems are familiar to many architects because of their commercial uses in kitchens and in decorative metal ceiling applications. These products have been modified for use in the corrections market, often through the installation of a concealed wire clip trying the corners of the ceiling pans to the suspension members. A secondary framing system is usually required to prevent system uplift. These systems are typically available in only 20 gauge and lighter steel and aluminum, although we are aware of one manufacturer promoting an 18 gauge snap system. These systems are most commonly specified in 2'x2' modules.

Security Plank Systems (Exposed suspension)

Security plank ceilings are commonly available in modules of 12", 18" or 24" wide in custom lengths to suit the area of usage. The market currently offers systems ranging from 12 to 20 gauge steel in single or double layer configurations, with the vast majority of specifications requiring the use of 14 or 16 gauge steel planks. In cells and corridors, planks typically bear on matching wall mounted angles, secured with screws, rivets, welds or concealed mounting hardware. A series of angles and suspended Tee section is commonly used in larger "full field" applications.

Selection Criteria

Many factors are involved in selecting a security acoustical ceiling. Each corrections design is unique based on the classifications of inmates, the type and level of supervision, the intended usage of the facility, and the time and budget available for its completion.

The project team of owner, architect, and construction professional are the only ones that we feel are qualified to make the final determination of just what metal security acoustical ceiling system is appropriate for what usage within the facility. However, there are several common factors to be considered in selecting these systems.

Supervised vs. Unsupervised Areas

This is often the first criteria in selecting steel security ceiling systems. Generally, snap in and downward locking pan systems are selected only for supervised areas. Security plank systems of appropriate gauge and construction are available for use in cells and other unsupervised areas.

Ceiling Height

The ability for inmates to reach the ceiling level will be a key factor in ceiling selection. Many specifiers will utilize inexpensive mineral fiber acoustical tile at the inmate inaccessible areas of two story dayrooms while opting for metal security acoustical ceilings and/or bulkheads above the mezzanine catwalks. This design provides an economical combination of security, noise control and building systems enclosure. Double bunking is another key element of ceiling height. Ceilings in these environments must be able to withstand an inmate who might be repeatedly kicking or leg pressing the system from the horizontal position. For instance, a downward locking panel system at 9'-0" high would typically be very appropriate in a supervised multi-purpose room unless the operator intends to use these areas as double bunked dormitories.

Types and Level of Supervision/Classification of inmates

Most applications of downward locking panel systems and snap in pan systems are found in direct supervised areas of minimum and medium security facilities. Security plank systems are commonly utilized in indirect supervision environments and in maximum security facilities, with proper emphasis given to gauge and system design. When selecting the ceiling system, careful consideration should be given to possible future changes in the use of the areas, classifications of the inmates and methods of supervision.

Is your ceiling a security barrier or a tamper and abuse resistant security finish?

The project architect must identify which areas of the project require security barriers and which areas require security finishes, and are not necessary in many areas of the facility. The market offers pan and panel security acoustical ceiling finishes that, when properly designed and constructed, effectively inhibit the concealment of contraband and withstand significant levels of abuse. Snap in pan and downward locking panel systems are generally not security barriers. In the opinion of many corrections specifiers, consultants and operators, only heavy gauge steel security acoustical plank systems of appropriate construction and meeting specified structural criteria should be utilized as a security barrier.

Duration of stay

The length of time that an inmate will occupy an area will impact ceiling details. For instance, an architect designing a holding cell (where inmates will not stay the night and double bunking is not a factor) might utilize a 16 gauge security acoustical plank ceiling system with security screw fastenings. However, the same architect would likely select a 14 gauge plank system with concealed fastening for an inmate cell in a jail or prison.

Features and Benefits

The features and benefits of security acoustical ceiling systems are what differentiates products within this market. The following list is not fully comprehensive but should provide an overview intended to each aspect of security, acoustical ceiling systems.

Type of System
Downward locking panels, Snap in pans, Security Planks.

Composition and gauge of panels
12 to 20 gauge steel (A60 Galvanneal) stainless steel, aluminum.

Composition of suspension and method of securing panels
Steel or aluminum of specified gauge fastened by screws, rivets, concealed angles.

Panel and suspension system finish
Primed, polyester, powder coat.

Means of resisting system uplift
Compression posts, angle hangers, secondary framing systems.

Provisions for access panels and associated costs
Upward, downward, security screwed, hinged/locking.

Installation jurisdiction
In Union markets, snap in pan is the jurisdiction of the sheet metal worker while some plank systems (those resembling decking) belong to the steelworkers.

Integration with building systems
Interface with recessed lighting, HVAC components, sprinklers, speakers, etc.

Noise reduction coefficient(NRC)
ASTM C423 definition of sound absorption performance in the speech frequency range.

Effectiveness as a concealment barrier
Consider in conjunction with ceiling height and level of supervision.

Effectiveness as a security barrier
Generally applicable only to security plank systems. Consideration can include structural criteria for uniform and concentrated loading.

Manufacturers and Installers Qualifications
Typically a minimum of 3 to 5 years with 3 to 5 successfully completed security ceiling projects of equal or greater scope.

Single source responsibility
Assures the provisions of engineered systems and inhibits contractors from purchasing components from various sources which could result in breach from incompatibilty.

Final Consideration

We encourage criminal justice architects engaged in the selection of steel security acoustical ceilings to interview as many qualified providers of these systems as time permits. Knowledgeable architects will write clear specifications for these products, thus providing their clients with the products that best meet the needs of the various areas of the facility at the most competitive pricing.