Strategies For School Security

From training and drills to access control, act with intent and purpose to combat active shooter and other threats.

active shooters school security

By Ron Baer
From the August 2018 Issue

For the past two decades there has been an ever-increasing demand in the education market to protect schools from the threat of active shooters. And while it is important to take this threat to school security seriously, it is also important to respond in a way that is both responsible and feasible.

The reality of today’s security environment is there are many solutions being offered to schools and other public facilities that simply do not work, or worse, make buildings more dangerous for the occupants. For example, multiple versions of a device that will wedge a door shut from the inside exist on the market today. These are marketed as a security add-on to traditional doors. In reality, these are making things more dangerous by providing a false sense of security, reducing the perceived need for actual solutions, and likely violating fire and safety codes.

Those who install these options aren’t doing anything malicious. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re making every attempt to protect their building occupants. But they have fallen into an all too common trap of feeling the need to “do something” in short order.

The “do something” mentality is an extremely common emotion that runs through communities in the aftermath of reports of an active shooter at a school. That emotion is not misplaced. It is critical to act on security issues in the buildings we are tasked with protecting. Where we make mistakes is when we react without considering the larger context of safety and security.

School security and safety aren’t relegated to active shooter incidents. In reality, the danger of an armed individual entering a school is relatively low. This fact does not diminish the need to address this scenario —rather, it should serve to remind that it is only one component of a comprehensive security plan.

Communities in tornado or hurricane zones, for example, should be following similar steps to protect schools: find the right solutions, plan ahead, and ensure proper training and maintenance. The same goes for areas that suffer from earthquakes, floods, or other natural disasters. It should also be practiced for other types of emergencies, such as a gas leak or power outage.

That said, schools do come under immense pressure to respond somehow and in some way. Timeliness in these situations can feel imperative. In these moments, it is important to remember the more critical mission of a school: keep people safe and secure every day, regardless of the threat.

Reacting appropriately—with purpose and intent—means finding partners who can provide safe, appropriate, and effective solutions to make schools safer. These partners can help to establish a plan for how to handle emergency events and assist long term as you reinforce and practice the plan. Training and diligence are critical in ensuring those solutions and plans are effective.

Access Control Considerations For School Security

The first step to improving the security of a school building—or in planning it for a future facility—is to identify all the doors and openings in the facility. What are the ingress and egress points?

One solution that can greatly improve school security is to consider visitor management. Best practice today is to limit entry to main entrances through a vestibule that allows for proper check in and, potentially, a security screening. Automatic identification checks, requirements of photo identification, and metal detector scans are potential options.

Beyond limiting ingress, additional options include perimeter lockdown systems, security cameras and video management software, and more robust doors and hardware on individual openings.

Attack-resistant openings designed specifically for schools are now available. Some of these are complete solutions—including door, hardware, frame, and glass—and have been tested to forestall an attack from firearms and hand tools. Some of these openings on the market can withstand an assault for a minimum of four minutes — giving first responders the time needed to arrive and confront a potential threat.

Plan, Train, And Maintain

Performing site surveys of school doors and openings should not be limited to the start and end of a school year. Perform these surveys after every drill or test occurs to ensure the plan is operating efficiently. Changes can be implemented at any time with proper planning.

One change to consider is moving away from a lockdown process that immediately locks all openings from a centralized access control system. Today, best practices recommend a lockdown policy that allows for situational awareness and enables individual staff members to make the decision of when to lock and secure their doors. A centralized access control model could still be deployed for exterior openings; however, allowing for situational awareness ensures individuals aren’t locked out of safe spaces by a system-wide lockdown. It also allows for staff to begin evacuation if they deem appropriate.

Of course, situational awareness requires not only that a plan be in place, but also that it be practiced to ensure appropriate execution. Just as with fire drills, these plans must be put to the test, and then revisited and reassessed to ensure operational efficiency. This requires a high level of staff involvement, as well as an institutional understanding of how the plans and equipment in place will protect people during an emergency.

Impart on staff how important it is to keep doors and openings clear of clutter to allow for proper egress, ensure they are reporting if a door or opening is not functioning correctly, and conduct maintenance checks. Are teachers stacking supplies or placing tables in front of emergency exit doors? Are there doors being kept open that should be shut? These are common problems even the most well-maintained schools.

Also, notice if the hardware is working on doors. Are the door closers strong enough to ensure latching? Are the latches actually able to latch? Are the locks actually locking?

If lost keys for a particular opening cause excessive rekeying, consider retrofitting with an intelligent key system to eliminate mechanical rekeying. A proper inventory and credential or key check is a critical step in keeping campuses safe. Finally, if using a brass key system, do a key inventory and update any locks corresponding to missing keys. For an electronic access control system, ensure credentials are up to date.

Find partners in the community through security integrators or the regional representative at trusted security manufacturers. Many will conduct a site survey for free, and can suggest options for alterations or additions to your layout, plans, and execution.

school securityBaer is director of business development for K-12 at ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions. He has worked in physical security, access control, and asset protection since 1982, specializing in the education market since 1994. Baer meets regularly with middle and senior level K-12 executives to understand their needs and trends.

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