As of December 2018, Americans have been terrorized by 325 mass shootings this year, many of which have taken place in schools. That’s not counting other incidents of school violence, threats, and other safety issues. In order to be proactive, school security protocols must be a major concern for administrators, educators, families, and of course, students.
To avoid school violence, it is necessary to consider and implement tried-and-tested ways to improve security. Using armed personnel for security is one way to tackle the problem of school violence. This can be an effective visual deterrent and prevent incidents, as well as mitigating the effects of a violent incident should one take place.
This is not the only solution to school violence, however. If used, it should be used as a component of a larger movement. There is no need to choose one security method over another. A suite of solutions will help cover all bases and reduce the risk of a violent incident taking place in a school.
Educational facilities can employ many tactics to improve security for everyone. These include training staff so that they can identify risks. Trained staff will understand the proper procedures for dealing with risk, such as alerting security. One such procedure, for example, is to have teachers, faculty, or staff question anyone observed in a hallway without a visitor pass, alerting security or main office personnel when necessary. While teachers are not primary “gatekeepers,” their awareness of their environment and its safety can help prevent incidents.
Smart stakeholders also consider architecture and design to improve security. With the right school architects, these elements can bring school security protocols to life in a strategic, managed way.
In an educational facility, learning should be at the forefront, which means spaces need to meet educational requirements, as well as those of accessibility and comfort. When layering school security protocols, creating a safe and secure environment becomes part of the design objectives. Security becomes part of every aspect of the school, from architecture to electrical, mechanical, and technological design choices.
School security protocols can include any number of design features. The key is to strike a balance between a secure school and a welcoming environment. With too much security, the facility can feel prison-like. With not enough security, people at the school are at greater risk.
A school exterior might be designed with ample lighting and signage to direct people. This can ensure that all visitors are appropriately routed on foot. Using design to keep vehicles physically removed from the buildings can help make facilities safer by increasing the likelihood that all visitors are seen by people and picked up by cameras before entering. With this in mind, it may be wise to keep parking lots or bus areas away from the main entrance.
Landscaping can promote security by minimizing dark and shadowed areas. Proper landscaping can allow for entrances, camera views, and other monitored areas to be clear of obstructions. It’s also worth considering keeping primary entrances and access points together as this will cut down on the number of spaces to monitor
And by numbering or otherwise marking doors and windows, outside security or first-responders will have a way of navigating the location precisely and quickly, which can be critical in an emergency situation.
School security protocols can be supported by interior design choices, too, starting with main entrance and circulation areas. Many schools have opted for secured entrances that require someone to buzz them in or otherwise allow access, for example, with cameras installed for greater visibility. Staff and other authorized people may be able to enter with cards or other secure devices, depending on the school’s security needs.
Places like the school office or administrative areas should have a clear view of main entrances and any other reception areas, with controlled access and clear signage. Setting the office or security station up at the front of the building is a necessity for visitor control.
Reception desks or offices can have panic buttons installed to alert authorities to any issues quickly. The ability for reception/administration staff to communicate with classrooms, and vice versa, is also vital.
It can be helpful if classrooms and other spaces have numbered or otherwise-labeled doors, just as outside. Hallways are best when they provide clear lines of sight to supervisors, with no blind spots or hidden areas. (note: this “sealing” of hallways is a problem from a code standpoint, particularly the fire code; it’s not something that’s done often)
In a lot of communities, schools are valuable resources for groups that require meeting or recreation space. Schools encourage this for a variety of reasons: for generating additional revenue, for promoting community partnership, and for providing more opportunities to students and their families. That being said, community use of schools can be a security risk. Good design ensures that school security protocols are met, separating and securing unused areas from the spaces where community groups are welcome after hours.
These design choices only work if they are well maintained and in good repair. Ongoing upkeep, as well as faculty and staff training, is just as important in establishing school security protocols.
With good planning, architectural expertise, and input from stakeholders, any school can find the intersection between safety and comfort with school security protocols.