Security for Schools Starts with Access Control

The educational environment has changed greatly since 9/11, since Columbine, and with the acceleration of school violence.


On a September-to-June basis, some 25 percent of the total population of Littleton, CO, will be in school and under the protection of our security force. Most school districts have at least that percentage of school-age children in their population; in fact, in many of our neighboring communities the figure is more like 40 percent.

School in Littleton means 17,000 kids distributed among 26 sites. There are four high schools. The rest are elementary and middle schools, K-8, with a 27th building for administration.

Littleton administrators have always been security conscious. But the educational environment has changed greatly since 9/11, since Columbine, and with the acceleration of school violence. In the six years since Columbine, some 5 million serious crimes have been committed on school property nationwide.

Priorities have changed as a result. In the past, K-12 security measures tended to be reactive. Now we’re moving energetically toward proactive, preventive electronic security for our K-12 schools.

In 2002 voters approved a bond issue for the Littleton Public Schools. About $3 million of it was safety related, and much of that is going to further improve security systems in the school district’s 27 facilities.

Access Control Is the First Tier
For K-12 security, access control is always the first tier. Compass Technologies Inc. of Exton, PA, is supplying Littleton’s access control. The system includes four to five proximity readers installed in each elementary school, six to eight at each middle school and about eight at each high school. There’s a stationary camera near each proximity reader to capture an image of card users.

Each elementary school has five or six PTZ cameras, while each middle school has between eight and 10. The cameras are monitored 24/7 from the district’s central security office. Each school also has its own Compass access control system and camera monitoring station in the main office or campus security office.

This comprehensive access control system is expected to eliminate the distribution of building keys. About one-third of the recent burglaries committed in Littleton schools were accomplished by the use of building keys obtained in illegal ways. Often keys were lost by teachers and not reported. It costs about $8,000 to rekey a building, so eliminating the potential of key loss is a worthwhile bonus to the enhanced safety of electronic access control.

Total accountability for who is coming into the building and who is leaving is, of course, the goal of access control, and it is a 24/7 issue with school buildings.

After-hours visitors will be able to enter at only one or two doors, each equipped with a reader and a camera.

During regular hours, visitors to any of the schools have to go in through a main entrance. The administration building offices were rearranged following an earlier bond issue to have just one primary access point. This will now be electronically controlled, and staff members will be issued access cards.

Closed and Open Campuses
The elementary school is a closed campus. Kids are always under supervision as they go into or out of their buildings. With the new access control system, monitors and teachers have access cards to take groups of kids or whole classes in and out. While somewhat more liberal, the middle school is also a closed campus.

The high schools are open campuses. Since they are charged with preparing kids to take responsibility in college or in life, the campus can’t logically be closed off at the high school level. Supervisors know that some problems will arise, but they’re prepared for that. Some 85 percent of kids in Littleton high schools have vehicles. They will continue to be allowed to leave the school on free periods, but will only be allowed to go in and out through the eight doors equipped with card readers. Other doors will have alarms and CCTV coverage.

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