Concerns about school safety and security are more acute than ever before. Recommendations for school security are often a reflection of a school district’s priorities and available budget.
In our School Security Strategies and Design seminar we are often asked, “What should be the top priorities for school security?”. Below we have outlined our top six (6) physical, electronic, and procedural security priorities for the safety and security of K-12 schools.
Priority #1: Perimeter Doors
Schools are complex facilities that have multiple perimeter entry points. These portals of entry include primary entry doors, secondary entry doors, event entry doors, emergency exit doors and maintenance and service doors.
Every school perimeter door should be locked and secured at all times whenever it is not being directly monitored by a school staff member.
School perimeter doors should be either electronic access controlled, requiring an access credential to gain entrance, or electronically alarmed and monitored to identify whether the door has been propped open or the locking mechanism appropriately engaged. One of these two types of security systems should be functional for every school perimeter door.
School perimeter door electronic security systems must be monitored on a real-time basis when a school is occupied. This often occurs in a school’s administrative office. Whenever a school perimeter door security alarm is activated, it is vitally important that a timely response occurs.
Priority #2: Visitor Access Control
Visitor access control management begins when an individual(s) who is not a school staff member penetrates the perimeter or footprint of the school property. This can occur when an individual(s) enters the school property either by vehicle or on foot.
Visitor access control includes signage and wayfinding to visitor designated parking and natural access control to the designated building entry point. Natural or formal surveillance of visitor parking and pedestrian walkways from a school’s administrative office should occur.
At a school’s designated visitor entry point, school visitors should be vetted or interviewed before gaining entrance into the school or school vestibule. Visitors should be required to provide a valid photo identification before granted access beyond the school administrative office. School visitors should be issued a color-coded, self-voiding photo identification before proceeding past the administrative office.
Visitor access control procedures should be followed until the visitor exits the school building(s) and school property.
Priority #3: Classroom Security
Active shooters or assailants often focus their weapons violence intent upon the occupants of school classrooms.
Multiple strategies can be adopted and implemented to render classrooms safer while maintaining a positive learning environment.
- Doors. To prevent or minimize ballistic penetration, classroom doors should be either Extra Heavy-Duty Performance Doors as per the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) or a 5-ply Structural Deposit Lumber Core (SCLC) door.
- Window Glazing. For window glazing material related to classroom door vision panels or sidelights, or in close proximity to classroom doors, we recommend Level 3 (UL rated) bullet resistant glazing. Classroom door vision panels and sidelights should be positioned as far as possible from the door lock.
- Quick Release Blinds. We recommend quick release blinds or curtains for all classroom windows, vision panels and sidelights.
- Classroom Door Lock. We recommend Classroom Security Function Locks – a key on either the inside or the outside will lock the classroom door. We do not recommend traditional Classroom Function Locks where the door can only be locked from the outside.
- Door Locked Indicator. We recommend Classroom Security Function Locks should have an indicator on the door so it can be visually determined if the door is locked or not.
- Classroom Shelter Area. Designate shelter areas within the classroom outside the corridor line of sight through a classroom door vision panel.
- Corridor Walls. The walls between classrooms and adjacent corridors could be vulnerable to attack by an active shooter. The walls between classrooms and adjacent corridors should be either masonry or abuse resistant wall board.
- Egress Window. Recommend that each first-floor classroom have a large (at least 3’ x 4’, or 5’ x 5’) egress window that can fold/open outwards for possible emergency escape.
- Classroom Communications. For emergency communications, there should be an intercom, cell phone, hard line telephone, two-way radio, or Wi-Fi connected smart communication device.
Priority #4: Minimizing Human Error or Oversight in the Prevention of School Violence
The benefit and usefulness of school security strategies is largely dependent upon school leadership and educators effectively and appropriately employing school security measures, strategies, and technology.
School security technology is only as effective as the human element behind it.
There are numerous school security deficiencies or vulnerabilities that can be attributed to human error or oversight. School safety and security is as dependent upon the human element as it is security technology and “target hardening”.
Priority #5: School Communication System
Schools should have overlapping and redundant communication capabilities. Failure to be able to effectively communicate has proven to be the “Achilles Heel” (vulnerability point) of emergency event response.
Verbal and electronic communications between the school’s administrative office and classrooms (as well as other school facilities and rooms) should be vibrant and reliable. There should also be effective communication between the school and first responders. Such communications should include:
- Each classroom should have at least two (2) verbal communication methods.
- The first should be a regular hard-wired communication device such as a desk or wall-mounted telephone.
- The second should be a school-wide intercom system.
- Classrooms should have a duress alarm located at the teacher’s desk or platform and linked to the school administrative office.
- Classroom teachers should have wi-fi connected smart devices.
- Appropriate school staff should have a cell phone app that allows them to initiate a school lock-down.
- The school should have a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) that boosts two-way radio reception in and around school buildings for first responders.
Priority #6: Video Surveillance.
Although the general public frequently entertains misconceptions of the benefit and crime prevention effectiveness of video surveillance cameras, if objectives for their use are well conceived and appropriate video systems are utilized, video surveillance cameras can serve a useful purpose in school safety and security.
The three primary benefits of video surveillance in schools are:
1) Tactical Response. Being able to enhance situational awareness and view persons and vehicles on school grounds, at the visitor entry portal, at the administrative office, in school corridors and hallways, at all building perimeter building entrance points and in specific school venues such as assembly and circulation spaces, parking lots, etc.
2) Crime Prevention. Ideally, the presence of video surveillance may deter some inappropriate or illegal activity.
Forensic Evidence. The procurement
of forensic information or evidence may be obtained through video surveillance.
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