Safety has always been a concern for school officials, but in December 2012, it was made all the more prevalent when an active shooter entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 innocent people, 20 of which were children under the age of 8. Incidents like this one may be a rarity but are no less concerning and are motivating communities across the nation to take action and implement measures that can ensure classrooms stay safe.
While the solution to incidents like this may seem simple – upgrade school security systems – it is a time-intensive process that involves many parties in order to gain the necessary approvals and budgets. In fact, it can take 18 months or longer to solidify building upgrade projects, with the opinions and recommendations of everyone from law enforcers and superintendents to teachers, parents and other community members coming into play. With schools facing day-to-day security issues like propped doors, multiple visitors, high staff turnover and competing budgets, they need resources and insights from professionals that truly understand the unique challenges of the K-12 space.
Integrators can play a tremendous role in helping schools solve problems and look at school security holistically by assessing how space is used, how traffic flows, building codes, staff training and more. Beyond serving as a go-to resource for products, integrators can share comprehensive solutions and help schools understand their risks, immediate security needs and the procedures they need in place to provide optimum security.
Following are the top security trends and technologies rising to the top of school districts’ list – and how you can leverage these findings to better support K-12 schools.
Start with the first point of entry
Tight budget constraints in schools oftentimes force decision makers to implement security upgrades in phases, beginning with perimeter security and access management. As the first point of entry for an unwelcome intruder, it is always recommended to make the perimeter a top priority.
Top best practices for improving a school’s perimeter security include:
- During school hours, establish a single point of entry. As students, teachers and staff enter in and out of the school, schools need to be able to closely monitor who is coming and going. Generally, schools should select a front door location that is easily supervised to provide more control over who should – and shouldn’t – enter the building. This entrance should be clearly marked and direct guests to a visitor management center.
- Improve visitor entry management by creating a vestibule. This adds an additional layer of perimeter security to automatically funnel visitors in the main office before allowing them access to other parts of the school. Vestibules should be closely monitored, particularly when students arrive in the morning. Once classes begin, the school is locked and visitors must verify their identity prior to entering the school. This is oftentimes achieved with an intercom system, camera, window film and pass-through drawers.
- Deploy electronic access control. Whether stand-alone or networked, hard-wired or wireless, electronic access control helps schools monitor who has accessed a door and when providing enhanced security. Implementing ID badges for staff and personnel is a widely adopted solution, with more than 85 percent of districts requiring all visitors to sign in and receive a badge.
Enhance visibility by incorporating natural surveillance. This solution is a core component of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), a multi-disciplinary approach to preventing crime through the thoughtful design of an environment, and can be implemented in phases to meet a school’s budgets. Natural surveillance helps to maximize visibility. For example, placing the school’s front office right at the entrance allows staff to easily see who is at the front door. This can be further improved with an access control system that utilizes security solutions like digital video cameras and an intercom with a microphone that is linked to a buzzer in the main office.
Stress value-added services like school security self-assessments and grant funding information
Integrators should demonstrate how their expertise goes beyond products and stress value-added services. For example, school assessments can evaluate the school’s risk and what next steps are achievable within a given budget.
Here are some low or no cost actions schools can take right away, and that integrators can provide support in:
- Engage in periodic facility assessments. Schools should periodically use facility assessments to identify, evaluate and report on the condition of their building. Facility assessments evaluate existing conditions and identify any deficiencies where schools can improve. With this information, schools can identify existing problems, develop budgets for future maintenance and capital renewal projects, and track deferred maintenance backlogs.
- Identify grant funding information and support tools for crisis management. Karen Evans, CEO at Sielox, a leading provider of integrated access control and video surveillance solutions, noted that following Sandy Hook, it took about a year for districts to allocate or request budget funds for security upgrades. The immense pressure schools face in paying for traditional expenses like books and learning tools oftentimes competes with the funding needed to provide a safe, secure learning environment. Identifying available funds are one of the number one concerns for school officials hoping to upgrade building security, but integrators can point schools to grants and other funding to help them pay for the security systems that will provide peace of mind. Integrators can also help direct schools to professionals to assist with security grant applications.
“The major consideration is a lack of money, so prioritizing technologies and placement is a huge concern,” said Mike Bradley, CEO at ECD Systems, a leading provider of integrated solutions and services including security, fire alarms, integrated communications and video surveillance, among others. He noted that because schools can’t afford to put access control on every door or cameras at each entryway, schools must pick the critical locations, implementing in phases to help manage costs and allow schools to scale up over time.
Understand other key best practices that have emerged since Sandy Hook
While schools continue to face violence and threats, simple measures can be taken to ensure that when a crisis hits, schools are fully prepared. Schools should avoid untested, new technologies such as bulletproof backpacks and whiteboards, and make-shift door barricades. While the development of these new tools may be well intended, their use could put staff and students at an even greater risk.
Having the right equipment or plans in place is a starting point, but can only go so far if schools aren’t following best practices. Industry standards include:
- Establish integrated emergency communications. Any successful lockdown requires the collaboration and participation of all involved parties, from teachers and principals to first responders that can provide help. . “With this in mind, many consultants recommend that some form of a communications system to immediately alert responders and individuals in the school during a crisis is most important to deploy first,” said Evans. Public address systems, messaging via networked computers, electronic signage, and other devices can alert everyone to a dangerous condition and that an emergency lockdown must be performed. Implementing an interoperable communications platform allows schools to quickly communicate with first responders, alerting them of an incident, sharing necessary information, and providing immediate access to the building to react quickly to an intruder.
“What I took from Sandy Hook was that the administrator was extremely on the ball and keyed the intercom’s all call microphone, which broadcasted what was happening in the office,” said Ernie Gauvin, Special Systems Technician with 29 years of at a school district in Arizona. “From what I understand, that saved lots of lives because the staffs knew what was happening and were able to respond.”
- Install institutional grade products. When it comes to door hardware and security solutions, schools should invest in solutions that are designed for specific purpose, use, and abuse, and expected lifecycle. Solutions should address everything from access control to unexpected fires.
- Train and drill all staff on policies, procedures, and technologies. Teachers and staff members often are the initial responders to an emergency. Yet, few initial responders are trained properly so that they know how to react during a lockdown scenario. Training aspects may include:
o Lockdown drills conducted annually
o School maps distributed to responders
o Inventories of classroom emergency equipment
“Technology is only part of the solution,” said Bradley. “The best districts balance architectural, policy and technology decisions for a comprehensive solution.”
Gauvin added that schools should be required to do lockdown drills, at least, two times per year.
Prioritize classroom lockdown capabilities
While there are many more advanced technologies that can help schools respond to intruders, one of the proven, cost-effective solutions are classroom lockdown capabilities. “You need to harden the actual classrooms,” said Mitchell Kane, president of Vanderbilt Industries. “The whole migration of security evolved to not only locking down the perimeter but actually locking down all the rooms. It's a real challenge to balance the safety of students with the security needed to protect them without taking on the profile of a prison.”
Should an active shooter or intruder enter the building, teachers should have the ability to lock the door from the inside of the classroom, preventing individuals from going into hallways or open spaces and putting themselves in harm’s way. Installing locks with a classroom security function will allow an individual to immediately lock a door from the inside with a key, eliminating exposure outside the classroom.
Experts recommend three proven lockdown technologies:
- Manual lockdown. This method uses keys and classroom security functions to lock down space. While this is an economical option, it relies on an individual having the right key at the right place.
- Remote lockdown. Enabling classroom lockdown by remote fob within proximity of a door, remote lockdown can be a cost-effective alternative to a networked system.
- Centralized lockdown. This networked system, when integrated with access control software, can enable immediate school or campus-wide lockdown. With the click of a button, all doors can instantly lock to avoid anyone from exiting the building, and provides a real-time solution when an unwelcome visitor enters the school.
“Implementing a lockdown on all the interior doors, where in the past it would have been a monumental or a Herculean effort, now becomes a fairly straightforward and easy to rollout effort based on the software integration that we have with these devices,” Kane said.
Gauvin recommends adding a second layer of security to access control systems by requiring PINs along with badges for all after hours access (after 7 p.m., before 6 a.m., weekends and holidays) to ensure security if access cards are lost or stolen. For the sake of convenience, access should be granted by the card only during normal school hours.
Integrators can serve a key role in addressing common security concerns for schools
Sandy Hook was neither the first nor the last active shooter scenario in a school, but it is often referenced as a turning point in security technology and protocols. With incidents like these, schools recognize more than ever the importance of implementing security best practices and technologies that can keep teachers and students safe. As more schools nationwide are prioritizing school safety in their planning and budgeting each year, this provides integrators with the opportunity to serve a critical role as a comprehensive security and safety resource that can help support creating safer learning environments.
About the Author:
Minu Youngkin is the Integrator Marketing Manager for Allegion.