K-12 Security: Safe School Design

As government entities, school districts and parents are searching for increased comprehensive security measures for their schools, it’s a good time to review what schools need to protect students, staff and property.

Protecting schools has its nuances. By knowing what to expect and understanding the unique attributes of designing for safer schools, you can be more helpful to your education clients, assuring them that they are meeting the latest in K-12 safety and security standards.

Here’s a rundown of the areas of concern in a typical K-12 security installation, retrofit or upgrade situation:

Main Entrance – Many schools restrict access via the main entrance during school hours. When students enter or leave school at the beginning or the end of day, the doors are typically unlocked. At these times, most schools have additional staff to help monitor building access. During school hours, doors are locked and a camera monitors who rings the bell for access. Office personnel assess the visitor and allow or deny access.

As a second line of defense, some schools also deploy an entrance vestibule that directs visitors to the office. Electrified door hardware on these openings facilitates immediate lockdown.

Secondary Entrances – Often, there are entrances from the parking lot or playground accessed by teachers and staff. Electronic access control is typically recommended here, allowing the time of access to be controlled and monitored. Entrance is via keypad and PIN or reader and card credential. The days of giving keys to half the town for after-hours use are over.

Emergency Exits – These doors are not required for access but do provide free egress. They are often “exit only” with no exterior operating hardware, although some facilities prefer a key cylinder on the exterior to allow quick access for emergency personnel. These doors can be monitored by staff or automatically monitored, providing an alert if open. Additionally, visual status indicator options for exit devices and locks provide an at-a-glance verification of the locked/unlocked status of the door. As a result, teachers can easily identify if the door is locked and quickly secure the door’s exit device or lock if it is unlocked.

Classrooms – In many incidents that have occurred in schools, lives were saved because of locked interior doors. Whether students and teachers hid in closets, bathrooms, storage rooms or stayed in a locked classroom, the doors provide immeasurable protection. Classroom security locks have been a standard in many school specifications for years — not just for classrooms but for just about any room that would have had a regular classroom function lock in the past.

These locks let a teacher lock the outside lever without opening the door to the corridor and have been required by law for California schools since July of 2011. Again, an indicator on the inside rose or escutcheon which confirms that the outside lever is locked is extremely helpful.

There are also access control locks that are appropriate for classrooms that allow immediate lockdown from a central point, such as the office. Where total building or facility lockdown capability is desired, electronic locks achieve fast results. For new construction or remodeling, they can be hard-wired and connected to the building’s computer network. In existing buildings and where hard-wiring is impractical, wireless electronic locks provide the same enhanced security. Both can be centrally managed through the computer network for fast, effective lockdown from any networked computer.

Be aware though. One lockdown issue with some wireless technologies, such as WiFi, have the potential for communications delay. According to Gary Conley, the University of Virginia’s Facilities & Systems Engineer, Office of Business Operations: “Usually with Wi-Fi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock 5-6 times per day. However, such limited (non-online) connectivity with the host limits the locks’ ability to receive urgent commands from the host.For instance, even with a historical 900 MHz wireless platform, a direction to immediately lock down could be ignored for up to 10-plus minutes.”

Schlage AD-Series modular wireless locks overcome this issue with, a patent-pending “wake up on radio” feature that works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat.Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to 10 seconds and responds.Thus, 10 seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown (Learn more about the product at www.securityinfowatch.com/10239498).

Assembly Spaces – Large spaces like gymnasiums, auditoriums, cafeterias and libraries typically have doors equipped with panic or fire exit hardware. These devices may be equipped with cylinder dogging or a trim control that is similar to a classroom security lock, allowing the doors to be locked without entering the corridor. To facilitate quick lockdown in a bank of doors, staff may want to limit access through one door or door pair while keeping the others locked on the pull side. If budget allows, electric latch retraction provides immediate lockdown.


Tips for Integrators

New, Innovative Products – Watch out for “innovative” products designed to make schools safer. Although these products may be based on great ideas with good intentions, many are not code-compliant.

Ask for Help – As an integrator, you are not on your own. Manufacturers can put you in touch with a specification writer that can help advise you or write the specification for you.

Manufacturers are also accelerating the number of complementary school safety seminars and webinars that it offers to school districts, emergency responders, architects and others. For instance, Ingersoll Rand offers one day seminars or one hour webinars entitled “Safe & Secure Schools” featuring Paul Timm, PSP (Physical Security Professional), one of the nation’s leading experts in school safety. These interactive sessions present proactive solutions, many of which can be implemented at little or no cost during these challenging economic times.



Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, is a codes and compliance expert and a door hardware specification writer for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. Read her blog at www.idighardware.com. Request more info about IR at www.securityinfowatch.com/10215684.