ASIS seminar addresses fundamentals of K-12 school security

Dallas, Texas -- Schools have a long way to go to improve their security, said Paul Timm, PSP, at a seminar on school security held this past week during the ASIS International conference in Dallas, Texas. The seminar, titled "Safe and Secure Schools: Trends, Practices and Funding", was held on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010.

"Access control in schools is not good right now," said Timm, the president of RETA Security, and he's not talking about failed maglocks or broken Wiegand readers. Instead, the problem is often due to the human factor, evidenced by students and staff propping open doors to bypass security for convenience's sake. In addition to scanning their facilities for doors that are regularly propped open, Timm advised school administrators to implement "closed school" policies – which means restricting access to delegated entrances, as opposed to the norm today of leaving all doors unlocked during school hours. Timm said he often hears from schools that they don't think they can implement a closed access policy that would funnel visitors and students in through specific door locations. Security doesn't always become perfect overnight, he countered, and if a school can only close half their entry points in the first effort at implementing a closed access policy, they have still made a big step, and can work to close even more doors the next year. But doing that, he said, does mean a significant shift in the mindset for school leaders and facility managers, which have typically operated with the mentality that it is best to keep the facility fully open to facilitate ease of entrance for students.

In the seminar, Timm also touched upon the use of security cameras for schools, and he warned of a common mistake in the way that schools begin video surveillance installations. He said he often sees the first cameras installed on the exterior of the buildings to watch parking lots and facility grounds for vandalism and break-ins. The right approach, he said, would be to put cameras inside the school. That is where the schools most valuable assets – students, faculty and staff – are located, said Timm, who added that effective security means focusing on the most valuable assets first.

Timm said that in terms of technology adoption, it's not uncommon to see schools only invest in basic burglar alarm technology. This approach, he said, is similar to the practice of putting cameras only on the outside of the buildings. It's an investment that only helps protect the physical facility, but does little to protect the valuable assets that are the school's workers and students -- because the alarm system is only turned on once the people leave for the day. Timm said that while burglar alarms are a useful investment as part of school security, alarm systems simply can't be the end-all of their security technology investments.

Lockdown drills need to be practiced, said Timm. He said that most schools are already practicing fire alarm drills, but with the concern for violent incidents in schools, schools should be creating step-by-step approaches to handling lockdowns and testing those out at least once a year. Other areas of potential improvement that Timm pointed out to the ASIS seminar audience included emergency communications for schools, implementation of mass notification, how to handle bomb threats and how to create a cache of crisis supplies.

Timm will be presenting additional security tips for schools next week (Oct. 28, 2010) as part of the webinar series. Register here to attend School Security 101. Registration is free, and the archived seminar program will be available for one year after the event date.