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Playground Safety and Vandalism, Part 1

By Arthur H. Mittelstaedt, Jr., Ed.D

ASTM standard D6578-00 ("Standard Practice for Determination of Graffiti Resistance") covers the basic method for evaluating graffiti resistance of coatings and evaluating graffiti removal by alternate cleaning agents. There are factory finishes (e.g., UV Gardall) that allow spray paint and permanent marker graffiti easily removed with solvents. Gardall uses a soy-based solvent.

Vandalism in playgrounds and other park facilities has been quantified at an estimated loss of close to 2.5 billion a year in repairs and replacements. Other criminal activity, such as theft and injury no doubt equal that amount again. This direct loss does not consider the indirect costs attributed to the sacrifice of other budgeted items and resultant services that should be provided to the public.

The basic approach to a playground administrative includes:

  1. A prevention program that documents an organization's effort, administration and communication with staff and public, including cooperation with other agencies;
  2. A correction program that identifies existing symptoms and affects, detection of future causes, apprehension of offenders and rehabilitation of chronic offenders;
  3. A retribution program including prosecution of incorrigible offenders, retention of convicted offenders, or restitution of payment for losses incurred. This is a big commitment for managers of playgrounds and recreation administrators to understand and then adopt. Internally generated conditions and situations that promulgate vandalism require a hard examination as a playground is planned, designed and constructed.

Playground site amenities most often vandalized include: lights, fencing, landscaping, walls and steps, fountains, benches and tables, equipment, plant beds, statuary, turf, paving areas and safety surfacing. Play equipment most often vandalized are panels, chains, bridges, swings and moveable parts.

What can be done to alleviate this affront? The playground design should consider a basic problem-solving approach. Any problem in a playground or recreation facility has a cause that reflects a symptom, and thus has a result or effect. Remedies can be preventative or corrective. Proper playground design is preventative; proper park maintenance is corrective and preventative.

The use of devices and techniques applied in design that could deter or detect criminal activity throughout a park system can vary and it should be the playground designer to select the best use of a device or technique to apply to their playground.

There are a variety of design devices for crime detection. These include: "Modualarm," a police station annunciator system; monitors/detectors such as magnetic controls, vibration contracts, switch mats, foils, smoke detectors, heat sensors and fire locators; photo-electric cells; infra-red lights; laser beam TV cameras; radio sensors; foot rail and counter switches.

There are also intrusion indicators such as alarms, whistles, bells, buzzers, sirens, horns, etc.

In playground design a variety of structural and mechanical features in a building are prone to inducing vandalism or other criminal activity. There are also a variety of other features in a playground building that are prone to vandalism attacks or conducive to harboring possible criminal activity.


Walls should be of washable material or a material not susceptible to marking--either of rough texture, blended color, or epoxy or glassed finish. The type of material could be tile, paint or plastered concrete, textured concrete or wood. Where possible they could be left natural. Walls should be able to withstand acid washing if marred. The ASTM standard D 6578 Practice for Determination of Graffiti Resistance can be useful.


Floors should be treated with coatings with either fibrous or liquid solutions to prevent or deter markings. Surfacing should be fire, burn and discoloration-resistant due to abusive treatment.

Fountains should have deep anchored footings, be of heavy, durable material that cannot be removed or damaged without extreme effort and have concealed piping. Concrete fountains have proven to be most successful. Fountains should also have recessed bubblers and spring button faucets.

Bathroom Fixtures

Piping should be concealed, flush valves installed to prevent flush tank damage; fixtures should be aluminum or nonbreakable through explosive or blows. Paper towel dispensers and toilet paper dispensers should be heavy-duty and recessed. Faucets should be small and spring released.


Doors should be heavy-duty metal or solid wood, all locks and hinges should be nontamperable.


Glass should be unbreakable with wire mesh within the glass or design. Screens might also be placed over windows with untamperable fastenings.

Furniture and Equipment

All furniture and equipment should be durable and heavy duty without materials that can be torn, cut, burned or marred.

Lamps Switches and Receptacles

Lights and other electrical appliances should be discretely placed near supervisory areas to avoid tampering. All fixtures should be tamperproof and glass and bulbs unbreakable. Outlets should be high beyond the reach of children.


Lights placed in and about the playground or buildings are for the safety of the public and for greater utilization of facilities at night. This means the use of playgrounds without fear. The illumination must give satisfactory distribution of light and an acceptable uniformity or ratio of maximum or minimum foot candles to eliminate eyestrain, reduce blinking and provide adequate illumination. Lighting fixtures in parks and facilities should minimize glare and light source interference, while eliminating dark spots. There must be visibility of all objects and alcoves and ease of discrimination by direct illumination. High lamps help prevent damage or destruction by bats or sticks. There are also "unbreakable" bulbs, globes and shields.


Fences in and about parks and their facilities are for increased safety, for separation of activity, for the protection of participants and for the safeguard of supervisory adults. The fences chosen must be of heavy gauge chain link or unbreakable plastic metal. They must have heavy posts and concrete footings. Small or low fences are easier to destroy and should not be installed. Railings should be of heavy-gauge metal and without wood, which is susceptible to burning. Fence locking fixtures should be of heavy-duty and vandal-proof to prevent jimmying. Fences should otherwise be without gates if surveillance of the playground on a periodic basis is available. Fence fixtures in parks and facilities should be nonflammable and nonbendable; have nonremovable hinges or locks, high, knuckled chain link, nonbarbed extensions and large mesh or open screen for visibility.


Landscape materials in playgrounds are for increased natural beauty, for shade and wind break, for flowering color and smell and for enjoyment of playgrounds. Considerations for landscaping include: no low branched or densely branched trees that afford concealment. Groves and mass plantings should be illuminated, as should heavily branched trees. All plant materials should be of large diameter, height and large-balled to prevent hand removal or knocking down. Landscape materials in playgrounds and facilities should reflect an abundance of spiney shrubs, but not on edges of beds. Shrubs should be away from walks and roads. There should be protection and marked guy wires on new trees. Dead branches must be removed.

Walls and Steps

Walls and steps in and about parks are for decorative appearance, for grade separation, for walk protection and for drainage control. Walls and steps should serve more of a functional as opposed to aesthetic appearance, as walls allow for concealment and steps often are surrounded by shrub masses. Walls should be low whenever possible and of a rough texture to discourage graffiti and scarifying. Walls and steps should be in open areas. Walls should be of low silhouette; rough textured; of heavy, durable material and easily cleaned.

Benches and Tables

Benches and tables should be of heavy-duty construction and anchored to the ground. They should be located where easily observed by the public and illuminated at night. Benches and tables should generally include monolithic, heavy-duty wood or metal construction with nontamperable bolts and fastenings. A rough textured finish will reduce scratches, cuts and markings.

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October 23, 2019, 10:08 pm PDT

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