Schools Behind Bars?

Designing safe and secure environments for schools and colleges doesn't mean they need to look like detention facilities

Door security: Any door is a critical point of access. Lighting, signage, hardware and observation are all key elements. Doors should be checked to ensure their security. Management should be held accountable for maintenance and inspection. If doors are not designed for security in the architectural stage, the retrofitting of walls, doorframes and conduits is expensive and ugly.

Special access areas require careful attention to detail. Roof access needs to be secure, but also in an area that permits quick and effortless access for maintenance staff. Other access areas such as electrical or mechanical rooms need to be placed so they are not in danger of being compromised.

Signage on doors is important to let people know whether the doors are exit-only or an entrance.

CCTV can be placed strategically at entrances, exits, hallways, stairwells and exterior doors. Cameras should operate continuously and videotapes analyzed and archived. There is an over reliance on technology. Many of the kids committing school crime are trying to have their moment of fame on video. CCTV gives the kids their chance to be famous and be on videotape, which is what they wanted. Thus, cameras should be low-profile or hidden from view. Broadcasting which areas are under surveillance will not have the desired effect of reduced criminal behavior, but could actually increase the number of incidents with kids showing off for the camera.

Duress alarms: Duress alarms provide security in isolated areas. They should be located in isolated areas, such as restrooms and locker areas. Duress alarm systems should be integrated with other security systems. Several types of devices can be used to improve security: Electronic sensors can detect anything ranging from weapons to stolen library books; and security mirrors can be used in areas containing blind spots.

Communication systems: Communication systems must be integrated within the design of the facility and with other systems such as fire and duress alarms, and CCTV systems. Periphery observation and security checkpoints should have a clear and secure line of communication to main administrative areas. It is important to secure and regularly check expensive or high-end equipment, such as computers. Besides security emergencies, there will be medical emergencies in schools. A comprehensive communications system is essential in schools and universities to account for emergency situations. Some schools have incorporated monitoring and locator systems, others have used intercoms and man-down alarms in the phone systems, and panic buttons in administrative offices.

Management: Management plays a key role in CPTED. It is the designer's responsibility to ensure that an area or space can be properly and sensibly managed. Once an efficient design is constructed, it is up to management to maintain a secure atmosphere.

General guidelines

The following suggestions are some design and management tips for a safer school:

* Conduct a security needs assessment for each school with a uniform survey instrument.

* Consider the views of students, faculty, administrators, school resource officers and neighbors and community groups into school crime prevention planning and design decision making.

* Have a district-wide crisis response plan, and establish practices annually.

* Integrate the school security systems, and have them remotely monitored.

* Natural and mechanical access control is a must.

* Selective use of CCTV. CCTV can attract nuisance behavior, so low-profile cameras are preferred. Time-lapse digital recording is essential for evidence of any criminal mischief.

* Eliminate design features that provide access to roofs or upper levels.

* Develop a Safe Corridor Program so that students can safely walk to and from school without being solicited for drug or gang activity.

* Communicate your security policy to faculty and students, and have them acknowledge their understanding of the ground rules — for example, no propping open the exit doors.

* Have lighting on grounds from dusk to dawn. Use motion sensors on exterior areas and common-use areas after hours to notify staff and police of inappropriate use.

* Operate schools after hours as adult education facilities to expand hours of use. However, care should be used in the design of school facilities that co-locate community recreational facilities, such that proper access control prevents school grounds from trespass and damage coincident to after hour adjacent uses.