Security for Schools Starts with Access Control

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.

Each school has its own control center and security staff monitoring its security arrangements. The district security department’s centralized office monitors and oversees that all protocols are being followed. This office acts as the extra eyes during school hours and enhances the security of the entire district. At each school, secretaries at the main office will have responsibility for checking visitors in and out. With the Compass system, key check activities can be distributed to other designated computers, so the assistant principal or school resource officer, for example, can take over the check-in camera duty if necessary.

Card-access security is expected to enhance the teaching environment in all our Littleton schools by solving and preventing problems. One important aspect is keeping the school safely locked. Another is monitoring the situation when nearby emergencies occur, to be sure that kids can’t get out and perpetrators can't get in.

CCTV and Readers
CCTV cameras associated with the access control arrangements are a useful deterrent, providing accountability for coming and going after hours. When a student turns up missing or lost, the CCTV shows who went in and out and what they were wearing. In fact, a recent child custody case was solved using the Compass access control system. A driver’s license reader for visitors may also be included.

The CCTV cameras are motion capable. LPS Security can aim the security cameras at certain areas around the school grounds at night. When something enters the field of view, the dispatcher is alerted to its presence, which allows the system to be monitored more efficiently.

Other Enhancements
To the basic, essential access control arrangements LPS has added more than 2,000 individual security devices that are all controlled through the Compass ystem. These include door intrusion, roof intruder detection systems, hardwired motion detectors, outside motion detectors, beam detectors and wireless security systems. All of the systems interact with each other.

For instance, when an alarm is tripped in a certain area, the nearby cameras are activated and automatically point to the area in alarm. The security officer is then able to investigate with the camera system. When a situation arises we can now respond more efficiently and safely.

In a recent trespassing, the system caught subjects pulling on doors around a school at two in the morning. The system alerted the operator in the central security office. He was able to monitor and provide important information to the responding security and police officers. The entire presence of the subjects on the grounds was recorded, including the apprehension. The suspects denied doing any of the things that were observed by the monitor, but after being told about the security system, they confessed.

Growth and Improvement
We envision a future where the Littleton security project continues to grow and expand, driven by real needs and finding ways to improve. For example, the Compass system might be expanded with internal GPS, allowing total tracking of anyone inside the building. Or one or more mobile command and monitoring stations might be deployed in the field where total control of all the systems could be implemented. Arrangements are being made to share alarm data and video images with police, firefighters or other agencies responding to a problem using the statewide digital radio/data network put in place after the Columbine tragedy.

Each year as school opens, Littleton security will present programs to educate the public, the parents, and school staffs. Parents will feel more secure when they have a chance to ask questions, and staff will feel safer when they leave after hours.

Security: a Necessity
Security in K-12 schools is clearly a necessity. The fourth weightiest item in the last Littleton bond issue was security, and we hope to add to our arrangements with every subsequent issue.

We expect that the availability of useful security technologies will expand into the foreseeable future, and we plan to take full advantage of the safety they offer our children.

Guy Grace is manager of security and emergency preparedness for Littleton Public Schools in Littleton, CO. Mr. Grace has been with Littleton Public Schools for 15 years. Before that he served in the U.S. Army.