The complexity of ensuring our schools and education facilities are both safe and secure has grown tremendously. Brass key systems are increasingly supplemented with secure credentials as access management has become more critical. The continued development of mass notification systems and video surveillance has made them critical components of a holistic security solution. And now, a major next step is upon us in the evolution of physical security as we look to more effectively manage lock-down procedures.
In the past five years, the biggest change in school security has been to transition from the idea of the big red button–where a single action locks all openings–to a more sectored approach. The new way of thinking is that the big red button locks down perimeter and exterior doors, but interior doors are locked locally based on location, situation, and teacher and faculty decision.
When discussing why this change is appropriate, it is important to look at the specific needs of education campuses today. Physical school security can be broken down to subsections, including perimeter fencing and gates, the building exterior, visitor-access management, and interior spaces. In previous iterations of lockdowns, systems were developed that allowed one system to lock every door: the centrally controlled, universal-lockdown concept.
So why make the change toward the locally controlled/situational-awareness strategy? Why move to universally shuttering exterior openings while allowing faculty and staff to determine what interior doors and openings are locked during an emergency?
(Next page: How to switch to a situational-awareness solution)
The shift to situational awareness
This change emerged from practical applications that put students in high-risk situations. For example, I recently met with a district that tested the universal lockdown in different scenarios. They first tested the application during class time. That run was successful because when the district put the school security system into play, students were already where they needed to be. Next, the district tested the system during lunch hour. For this test, and every scenario following, around 75 percent of the students were locked out of safe areas because of the nature of the “all or nothing” solution.
By making the switch to a situational-awareness solution and a local decision-making process, faculty and staff have the opportunity to evaluate the situation and determine if evacuation is feasible. If not, they can choose to get the most students possible into a safe space before the doors are locked.
Obviously, this approach requires a high level of training for teachers, faculty, and students to make them situationally aware and to act accordingly in emergency situations. But just as with fires, earthquakes, and tornado drills, there are steps we can take to ensure proper training is in place.
Rethinking visitor management
Also beneficial in making this change–and likely soon to be seen as a requirement–is to rethink the actual design of campus buildings for more robust visitor management. Ten years ago, visitors entered through multiple points of a building, and visitor management mainly consisted of visitors signing a piece of paper as they checked in at the office. Now, schools are constructing vestibules adjacent to the administration office through which guests must enter the school. These vestibules are critical to the point that they are the first thing on almost every district’s list to install, if they don’t already have them.
Once inside the vestibule, administrators are able to run an automated check of the ID of every guest for ID verification and Offender Database Listings. In some cases, they are able to create photo ID credentials that guests must wear at all times while inside the building. These badges are used to not only keep track of who is inside the school, but also for faculty and students to easily identify guests in the hallway.
The obvious benefit to this is that it increases school security and safety on its own by limiting ingress to a facility. However, when combined with a strategy of situational awareness, it greatly improves the protection provided to those inside the building by further segmenting the process of a lockdown.
One of the most dangerous things a district can do is respond to the “do something” mentality that occurs when the public reacts to a crisis that occurs in nearby districts or across the country. That’s when stop-gap solutions get applied that rarely improve the situation.
Rather, a district must collaborate and gain consensus on its own strategy that follows industry best practices. Even as a professional in the education-security industry, I find it difficult to enter a building and immediately understand traffic flow, high-risk areas, and regular activity throughout the classrooms and hallways. The best school security strategies come from the people who work, teach, and learn in those spaces every day, along with those that will be required to respond to various incidents.
Districts should expand and empower safety and security committees made up of risk managers, locksmiths, administrators, students, teachers, and other stakeholders. Together, these groups can tap into insights, find problem areas, and create solutions that will keep their facilities secure.
While I believe security strategy should be in the hands of the districts, school-security professionals can ensure that campuses have the proper access point solutions to provide the installation and training to make their security systems successful.
Schools must seek out integrators and manufacturers who listen, collaborate, and present multiple solutions that fit each school’s strategy and budget.
Simply put, the first step to a solution is to build collaborative partnerships between districts and manufacturers. Seek out a manufacturer that will listen to your needs, help assess your challenges, and support your strategy through the installation, deployment, and maintenance stages for the coming decades.
It is through these relationships that manufacturers can become more in touch with the needs of end users and that school districts can better protect their students, teachers, and staff.