Summer an optimal time to make security improvements in K-12 schools

July 21, 2015
How administrators can review and make upgrades while classrooms are empty

As many campuses are closed and classrooms are empty during the summer, it is an ideal time for school administrators and their systems integrators to review security preparations and make improvements for the fall.

Recent estimates show education represents the fastest-growing segment among U.S. security vertical markets. K-12 security is no longer seen as a nuisance to be tolerated, but rather as a high priority activity for the safety of students and staff and the protection of valuable property.

A 2015 federal study confirmed that over the past four years, security has increased on many K-12 campuses. More than 90 percent of schools now control access to buildings when children are present. Three in four campuses have installed security cameras. Nearly nine in 10 have created active shooter plans and most include regular drills.

That comes directly on the heels of another federal survey showing bullying among students age 12 to 18 is at its lowest level in 10 years.

Improvements can be credited to an increased awareness by administrators, as well as revised best practices involving multiple layers of relatively affordable and compatible security solutions.

Layered security has been shown to stop – or at least slow – even the most ardent criminals from gaining school entry.

Most school security plans now give prime attention to protecting entries. The first step is keeping all doors locked when children are present. Many unwanted visitors still enter school facilities through unlocked or propped doors.

Best practices now call for limiting visitor access to a single entry. Fencing, gates and signage funnel traffic to the appropriate door. Electronic locks and video intercoms then play a pivotal role. Acting as a virtual doorbell, the intercom allows visitors to request entry. A receptionist, behind the safety of a locked door, can both view and speak with a visitor before deciding whether to remotely unlock the entry.

Once inside, visitors should produce a government-issued photo ID to swipe through a visitor management system. It takes only seconds for the system to check visitors against criminal and sex offender databases. Schools can also create their own internal watch lists to check for other unwanted visitors, such as non-custodial parents. If approved, visitors receive temporary ID badges to wear on campus.

Schools are also installing basic access control systems for use on dedicated employee entries. Faculty and staff enter by swiping an ID badge through a door-mounted reader or entering a keypad code. These systems often pay for themselves by eliminating the need to re-key locks when keys are lost or stolen.

Properly placed video surveillance cameras – mounted both inside and out – can provide valuable 24/7 real-time and recorded images of criminal activity, other emergencies and liability issues.

Intrusion systems using motion sensors and door and window contacts help protect against break-ins at night and on weekends and holidays. A detected violation can activate alarms, notify a monitoring service, district security or local first responders and start cameras recording.

A few other important security layers for schools include:

  • Locks on classroom doors – lockable from the inside – add another layer of protection for students. Inexpensive peepholes allow teachers to see anyone requesting entry.
  • Panic buttons can be concealed throughout the campus or worn by teachers and administrators in the form of pendants. With the push of a button they immediately summon first responders or a student resource officer during emergencies.
  • Audio intercoms provide simultaneous instructions to classrooms and other campus areas in the event of a lockdown or evacuation.
  • Stainless steel mesh security screens are largely impervious to gunshots, knives and clubs making them ideal for glass doors and windows. The Sandy Hook gunman was stopped by a locked front door, but entered the school by shooting through an adjacent glass panel.

Each of these security elements is valuable alone, but together they synergistically create a formidable barrier to help keep unwanted visitors away from students, staff and valuable property.

Also, these layers are generally very affordable, enabling schools to benefit from a comprehensive approach to campus security. It’s all about hardening the entries to keep criminals outside.

When adding or replacing hardware, select non-proprietary (open standards) equipment offering greater flexibility with existing systems and future upgrades. Software products should also adhere to open architecture for compatibility with multiple product lines.

Also this summer, take time to review and make necessary changes to emergency plans and procedures and train returning staff and new hires. And make sure to trim bushes and trees that may prevent clear views of the school from the street.

Finally, when budgeting for the new school year plan for annual licensing fees, regular maintenance and services such as data backups, storage and monitoring.

These elements represent today’s best practices for school security. Fortunately, most schools are getting the message and taking action. But when we are discussing our most precious resource, our children, we have to go the extra mile. That’s why school security spending will continue increasing well into the future.

About the Author: Andre Greco is vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based Xentry Systems Integration. He has been involved in the security integration business since 1989.

About the Author

Andre Greco

Andre Greco is vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based Xentry Systems Integration. He has been involved in the security integration business since 1989.