Security technology has changed rapidly in recent years, and it seems many schools have had a hard time keeping up. Let's examine some simple solutions school administrators might want to consider when reassessing their security needs.
Sensor technology has not changed much within the last decade, especially when it comes to door contacts and glass breakage detectors. Schools have learned that if they spend a few extra dollars on motion detectors, they can upgrade from a plain passive infrared (PIR) motion detector to a dual-technology motion detector, combining the PIR with a microwave sensor. Both technologies must be activated for the alarm to trigger.
In a cost-savings effort, some schools have tried to combine the motion detector with an intrusion detection device to activate the classroom lights for energy conservation and to save on sensors. There are a couple of key reasons this doesn't always prove to be a good solution. It is difficult to determine proper placement of a senor that would protect against perimeter break-ins and also control lighting, since each type of sensor would normally require very specific placement in order to function effectively. Integrating the different types of sensor technology would also hinder this dual use. Many building automation systems use a dual-technology sensor, usually combining a PIR sensor with an ultrasonic sensor. Both of these can sense hot air movement and are much more prone to false alarms. While it may not matter if a tripped sensor activates a light in the middle of the night, it is a concern if police are called and a staff member awakened to respond to a false intrusion alarm.
The complexity of today's intrusion alarm systems presents another set of problems. Many brands now provide more than 100 zones programmed into their control panels to distinguish each sensor and pinpoint a problem or false alarm source. Although the arming stations provide an English display of the system's status, some end users and installers complain that using the newer keypads is like programming a computer. These programming complexities have led to a new source of false alarms. The good news is that more manufacturers of IDS are coming out with systems that can integrate with their own or another brand of access control system, making arming and disarming the alarm system as simple as presenting your access control card.
Many K-12 schools have neither the budgets nor the support to install electronic card access control. Many are still living in a mechanical key world. Most school administrators find it increasingly difficult to manage their key control programs.
Perhaps the most prevalent practice now is to have the custodial staff open up areas for after- hours activities. But some schools want to provide a totally open facility for the public. I have had school officials tell me things like "half the town has the master key to our school," or, "this is a small community and we all know each other and trust each other." Inevitably, the key usually ends up in the wrong hands, and a major theft follows. Believe it or not, many administrators also admitted that the code to disarm the alarm system is common knowledge.
The best approach to preventing this type of problem is to replace keyed locks with an electronic access control system and issue individual cards or codes to only those that are authorized to enter after hours. This method also provides an access level for each individual. But more to the point, it records an audit trail for accountability. This provides an excellent management tool. And if the card or code is lost or stolen, it can be deleted from the system and a new one issued. On your perimeter doors, electrified locks used for controlling after-hours entry into the facility can also be used during the day for an immediate lockdown situation should it be required. Most schools now rely on administrators or custodians to walk to each and every door with a key to lock them or an Allen wrench to un-dog the panic hardware. This is not practical, and it puts these administrators in harm's way should there be an actual armed intruder.