SPECIAL REPORT: Comprehensive Exam

Photo credit: Jupiterimages/BananaStock

By Anne Cosgrove
From the March 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Security has long been a significant part of educational facility planning and operations. Facility managers (fms) work with their colleagues to plan and install the safety equipment and practices set in place by their school districts or other authorities. Sometimes the threats come from outside the campus, while problems can also originate with a student, employee, or other user of the facility. Shooters, disgruntled parents, bomb threats, and extreme weather events are among the dangers posed to occupants of schools, and fms are on the frontlines of ensuring the policies and procedures that are created to maximize protection are enforced.

Know Who Is On The Campus

Access control is a primary focus of keeping school occupants safe. For that reason, the condition and operation of exterior and interior entrances are important parts of a security plan. In order to keep track of who is entering, many districts keep all doors locked after the morning rush of students and staff arriving at the building. At these times, schools can place additional staff at entrance areas to help monitor access.

Once the school day begins, locking all exterior doors and providing one point of entry for visitors is common practice at many schools. In addition to installing suitable doors, locks, and related equipment, consistent visitor management procedures are crucial. This should include positioning someone inside to evaluate if a person should gain entry. Depending on the district’s security protocol, the person at the entrance might be a staff member, security professional, or a police officer.

A second line of defense is an entrance vestibule where a visitor waits before an interior door is unlocked. In this scenario, the person doesn’t have free access once inside the main entrance; they must wait for assistance, whether it’s someone coming to the door or letting them in remotely.

In Loudon County, VA, visitors to any of the district’s 80 schools must be approved by a staff member inside before being granted access to the building. William Kolster, director of facilities services there since 1997, notes this has been the policy since the mid 1990s. Meanwhile, all new schools in that district are built with an entrance vestibule, and Kolster explains, “We’re opening two schools this August, and three more are planned for the following year, and those schools will have holding lobbies. Opening new schools allows us to incorporate the latest in safety and security as we design those facilities.”

Discussing the role of his department in security planning for Loudon County schools, Kolster, says, “In addition to being part of the team, my department is the implementer of a majority of the solutions we choose. In most cases, this involves an alteration to a facility, and we implement it in the most efficient way.”

Steve Cader, northern California branch manager for ABM Security Services, and a retired police chief for Atherton, CA, says, “Access controls and equipment are absolutely needed to help deter unwanted individuals from free access to a school campus. Regardless of if you have an open campus or a secure facility, there should be a policy to check in visitors and vendors. If an incident occurs, there should be a plan in place to track and locate temporary guests, and if a visitor bypasses the check in process they should immediately be challenged.”

Cader continues, “Regular vendors may be allowed instant access to the grounds if they have gone through a basic background check at which time they may be issued a security badge for their areas of concern. Non-vendor visitors should check in on arrival and be issued a temporary badge listing their destination.”

Beyond the main entrance, other external doors can be outfitted with security tools that accommodate the daily movements of authorized people. April Dalton-Noblitt, director of vertical markets for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, says, “Often, there are entrances from parking lots accessed by teachers and staff. Electronic access control is typically recommended for those points, allowing the time of access to be controlled and monitored. Entrance [could be granted] via a keypad and PIN code, or a reader and credential.”

Having employees use PIN codes or access cards also removes the potentially dangerous, if not simply inconvenient, possibility of having to replace lost keys and perhaps change locks.

Describing his district’s approach to exterior doors Kolster says, “Over time, we’ve transitioned all schools to proximity locks. We used to have cipher locks, and those were the only things that would work with the panic bars on our doors, but the four button codes can get compromised. We moved to standalone proximity locks, and as we migrate forward we are converting those locks to have wireless capabilities. We will be able to change whose card will open where from a central location.”

Classroom Protection

Inside a school, minimizing access to classrooms and other spaces is achieved through various locking strategies. In Loudon County, the current (albeit temporary) approach is to lock all classroom doors during instruction times. Says Kolster, “Since Sandy Hook, our lockdown plan is one of the items that has garnered significant attention. It calls for the teacher to lock the classroom door and hide. This requires them to go into the hallway to lock the door, and we want to eliminate that. Until we decide on changes to that equipment, we now lock all the classroom doors during the school day. Teachers can unlock them from the inside.”

While a threatening person or force may not be deterred by walls, windows, or doors, it’s of course prudent to provide the best possible materials and equipment to mitigate harm to occupants. Kent C. Jurney, CPP, vice president of client services for ABM Security Services, notes, “Doors are a relatively easy and cost-efficient way to safety retrofit classrooms. The heavier/thicker the door is, the better the protection. Also, all glass should be wire mesh reinforced. This makes intrusion more difficult and creates less shrapnel in destructive events.”

He adds, “If the budget allows, hallway doors should be closable and lockable by remote control (like fire doors) from the main office or security office.” [See the sidebar below for information on several grant programs available to eligible schools.]

Dalton-Noblitt advises, “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.”

She continues, “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 and have been required by law for California schools since July 2011. An indicator on the inside rose or escutcheon that indicates which way to turn the key is extremely helpful, and the inside cylinder can be keyed so that any key in the master key system will lock the door.”

In Missouri, Darrel W. Meyer, executive director of operations for Kansas City Public Schools, is overseeing a review of the district’s safety measures. The district operates 33 schools totaling four million square feet, serving about 16,000 students.

“In light of the events that have happened across the country we’re being proactive with a self-analysis,” he says. “We have created a Safe Schools Task Force, which involves various stakeholders. In the meantime, I am doing a complete review of all electronic security systems. As part of this, our security team is working with a consulting engineer to survey the schools, and this includes evaluating camera and card access systems.”

Only one point of entry should be made available to school visitors. Ideally, this entrance will keep a visitor outside until approved by security at the door. (Photo: Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies)
Only one point of entry should be made available to school visitors. Ideally, this entrance will keep a visitor outside until approved by security at the door. (Photo: Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies)

Surveillance cameras are commonplace on school campuses today. In the past, this security measure was primarily used to monitor exteriors, but interior camera systems are becoming more prevalent. In Loudon County, the type and placement of cameras has been an evolution. Says Kolster, “When we first installed security cameras, we put them at entrances and perimeters of the schools. As time went on, we put in interior cameras for additional security.”

While surveillance cameras are moving into more schools, the importance of watching the exterior remains paramount. Fms may want to employ Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through environmental design.

Some fms may find they are already using some of the strategies inherent to this approach. While not formally adopting CPTED guidelines, Loudon County policies pay attention to safety beyond the walls of the school buildings. Kolster says, “In new construction, we make entrances and perimeters much more visible, and we’ve changed the layout of trees and other plantings. The schools don’t look like a prison but certainly the ability to see someone approaching is much better than in the past. We are incorporating this at our older schools as we make modifications to the grounds.”

Says Cader, “Traditionally, there has been relatively open access to school grounds and buildings. Environmentally aesthetic barriers and restraints as well as fencing can be implemented to create a perimeter that can better control and limit access to schools.”

“Parking areas should also be located away from main or ancillary buildings,” he continues. “The extent of these limits should recognize the proximity of schools and neighboring facilities, especially in urban areas that may encourage ingress and egress with extensive foot traffic.”

Cader notes that security should also be evaluated on school buses, their loading zones, and routes taken. In Kansas City, student busses are already a focus says Meyer. “We are responsible for a child from the time we pick them up to the time we drop them off,” he explains. “We’ve made sure to have an effective policy in place with our bus company. This involves them conducting specific driver training, safety measures, and bus inspections.”

See Something, Say Something

Even with the best security equipment and procedures in place, people are the linchpins in keeping occupants safe. People are needed to not only ensure systems are operating properly, but they can also be the “eyes and ears” that supplement the systems. Fms and their security counterparts should consider how those outside of their departments might help.

In Meyer’s district, the newly formed Safe Schools Task Force is planning its first meeting. School officials, administrators, and other employees as well as parents and other members of the public will examine and discuss the district’s plans.

Says Meyer, “We have also been conducting principal and teacher training for emergencies. This includes tabletop exercises for various scenarios—storms, lockdowns, fire, bomb threat, for instance. We also have a procedure manual outlining what personnel should do in an event, and working alongside the security department we are reviewing those procedures with school personnel.”

In Loudon County, Kolster says his district also focuses on support from school employees. “We rely on staff,” he says. “If someone sees something of concern happening, staff members are encouraged to approach them. For instance, our custodians are our eyes and ears after school is out. Our custodian team leaders have been trained to challenge people who look that they don’t belong.”

To keep an eye on school employees themselves as well as vendors new to a campus, background checks should be part of a hiring plan. Jurney notes that schools are required to conduct thorough background checks on all employees, and he advises that vendors who provide services to schools be held to the same strict standards.

“Every employee who works on a school campus should undergo a comprehensive background check that includes their criminal record, employment history, and substance abuse history,” he says. “They should also be fingerprinted and a photo ID taken, as well as drug tested. And they should be required to provide documentation to the school on every employee of theirs who will have access.”

Whether the threat is vandalism, student violence, terrorist threats, or an active shooter, having a law enforcement officer or trained/armed security guard on campus can be a strong potential deterrent. A school can work with local police to establish a school resource officer program. These are fully sworn law enforcement officers, armed, in uniform, and assigned to a school full-time. Another option is to hire a private security firm to provide a trained and armed security guard.

Meanwhile, fms may want to know if their service providers have “safe campus” programs offerings. These types of vendors will follow best practices that help create an integrated culture of awareness and safety. These types of vendors are cross trained in security tactics and are savvy in safety planning. This increases the number of people watching for suspicious activities and supplements the efforts of a school’s facility and security staff.

Moving Forward

As safety and security plans are reviewed and renewed, there are many issues and areas for fms to examine. With so many stakeholders, fms can benefit from the support of others as they decide what is working and what needs to be changed.

Says Kolster, “Loudon County Public Schools has been focused on safety programs for a long time. Located near Washington, DC, we see what federal buildings are doing and have been aware of the issues. But as the threat changes, so does the response to the threat. I think that’s where facility managers and their security counterparts need to be working. There is always something new, and you need to see where you can adapt. We don’t chase technology, but we certainly keep our ears to the ground so we know about the latest developments to decide whether or not we will implement it.”

This article was based on industry literature as well as interviews with Cader, Dalton-Noblitt, Jurney, Kolster, and Meyer.