Security is Social


Let’s be honest. We’ve all had that awkward moment when someone new or unfamiliar comes too close, forcing us to say: “Excuse me, you’re in my personal space.”

We have a similar reaction when we notice someone unfamiliar in our workspace. There is a sense of invasion, a need to protect and the responsibility to act. That’s exactly why our work environment is composed of security zones: to help us protect ourselves and government information, assets and resources.

Security zones are a physical delineation tying security requirements to a physical space. There are five security zones: the Public Zone, the Reception Zone, the Operations Zone, the Security Zone and the High Security Zone. The Operations Zone, the Security Zone and the High Security Zone are referred to as Restricted-Access Zones. The key security principle to allow access to these zones is to have the right security clearance and the need-to-know.

Security zones are similar to proxemics. Proxemics is a theory developed by Edward T. Hall (The Hidden Dimension, 1963) that studies the amount of space we feel necessary to set between ourselves and others. There are four interpersonal distance spaces: Public Space, Social Space, Personal Space and Intimate Space.

What do security zones and interpersonal distance spaces have in common?

Establishing zones is like setting a code of conduct. It sets limits on what is acceptable in terms of behaviours and access. An unknown individual walking in a security zone and a stranger reaching out for a hug are both zone infringements.

Security zones should be clearly indicated with proper signage. Interpersonal distances, however, are more complex; there are no clear indications of boundaries. A good example is when you reach out to shake a person’s hand and they pull you in for a hug. Awkward!

Here is a breakdown of security and interpersonal zones to better illustrate this concept.


In security, the outer zone is called a Public Zone. In this space, the public can access Defence establishments and its surroundings. In comparison, the Public Space refers to the physical distance, generally 3.6 to 7.6 metres, from ourselves and another person.

Public Zone – Grounds surrounding a building, public corridors and elevator lobbies.
Public Space – The mall or at a park where you encounter strangers.


The Reception Zone is the transition between a public zone and a restricted-access area. Similarly, we also have a reception zone called the Social Space. This space, 1.2 metres to 3.7 metres from ourselves, is where we allow acquaintances. The more familiar the person, the more we interact with them. We wouldn’t have the same interaction with a delivery guy we see once a month as we do with a colleague we work with on a daily basis!

Reception Zone – The commissionaire’s desk at a building entrance.
Social Space – People you might invite over for a backyard barbecue (e.g. acquaintances, co-workers).


The Operations Zone is where access is limited to personnel who work there. Similarly, we only allow certain people in our Personal Space. The latter, situated .5 metres to 1.2 metres from ourselves, is reserved for people with whom we often interact.

Operations Zone – A typical open office space, a regular electrical room or a base orderly room.
Personal Space – People you generally allow in your home (e.g., good friends and family).


The Security Zone is separated from the other zones by a wall. It is limited to authorized and appropriately screened personnel and is continuously monitored. It is similar to our Intimate Space. We “screen” the people we let into our personal lives and with whom we reserve more intimate contact.

Security Zone –Restricted areas and floors.
Intimate Space – Reserved for children, partner and close family members/friends. In other words, you wouldn’t mind if they were to access more private spaces of your home.


The High Security Zone is an area that is delineated by a slab to slab wall and is continuously monitored. Access is limited to authorized personnel screened at a higher level. Although there are only four interpersonal distance zones, we could compare a High Security Zone to our personal thoughts and feelings.

High Security Zone – A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF)
Personal thoughts and feelings– A safe/deposit box where you have your personal information (e.g., your will) or your personal thoughts and feelings.

Key take away…

What is the purpose of delimiting space? To create boundaries!

Within DND/CAF, we create zones to protect our country’s information, assets and resources. We do the same in our own lives to protect our acquaintances, friends and family as well as our living space. In both situations we are attempting to avoid INJURY.

So next time you see someone unfamiliar in your workspace, don’t be afraid to say: “Excuse me, can I help you?” much like you would if a stranger invaded your personal space.

For more information on the hierarchy of zones, check out Chapter 5: Physical Security of the National Defence Security Orders and Directives (NDSOD) and its associated standard, the Physical Security Standards.
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