Originally published by Assa Abloy
For the past two decades, there has been an ever-increasing demand in the education market to protect schools from threats of violence. It is important to take this threat seriously while also responding in a way that is responsible. The reality of today’s security environment is that there are many solutions being offered to schools and other public facilities that simply do not work, or – much 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. They’re marketed as a security add-on to existing doors. In reality, these secondary products are making things dangerous by providing a false sense of security, reducing the perceived need for actual solutions, and likely violating fire and safety codes.
Thinking beyond one type of danger: What are some other safety considerations for school security?
Taking Action in a Non-Reactive Manner
The “do something” mentality is a common emotion that runs through communities in the aftermath of reports of intrusion, criminal acts, or even active shooters at schools. That emotion is not misplaced. It is critical that officials act on security issues in the buildings they are tasked with protecting. Where mistakes happen is when reactive actions are taken without a complete evaluation of the needs and requirements for schools. When reacting quickly, we often tend to go with the first option as opposed to the best option. Schools come under immense pressure from school boards, parents, students and community members to respond somehow and in some way. Timeliness in these situations can feel imperative. It’s important to remember the more critical mission of a school: keep children safe and secure from every threat, not just against threats of violence. Violating code or failing to investigate multiple options may quickly placate individuals, but it won’t help you with the extremely important goals of everyday safety and security.
“You do see it from time to time that someone accidentally goes with a lower class of product,” said Michael Ruddo, Chief Strategy Officer at Integrated Security Technologies, a security integrator for schools in the Virginia area since 2002. “It’s a situation where someone has good intentions but wasn’t well-versed in quality or application. When you integrate security, you want to go with products that are both robust and appropriate for your school.” Reacting appropriately – with purpose and intent – means finding products and partners that provide safe, appropriate and effective solutions to make schools safer. It means establishing a plan for how to handle emergency events. It requires training and diligence in ensuring those solutions and plans are effective for mitigating criminal and natural threats.
A School's Mission
For schools and universities, the core mission is not only to educate students, but also keep them safe and secure. According to EveryTown Research, since 2013 there have been more than 300 school shootings in the US — an average of about one per week. A recent article published by Campus Safety Magazine states that nearly all US schools now have planned responses in the event of a school shooting. In 2016, the CDC found nearly 90 percent of public schools had a written plan for responding to school shootings and 70 percent of those schools had drilled students on the plan. This is for good reason: shootings are among the deadliest types of emergencies a school could face. Multiple active shooter and other security incidents at schools across the country in recent years have prompted parents and administrators to examine and improve campus security. Among the many options for enhancing security, one of the fastest ways to mitigate risk is to implement policies and procedures that keep unauthorized visitors from getting on the campus in the first place. “You cannot anticipate everything that will happen, but you can be prepared by combining the right use of procedures, people, and technology to save time in an emergency event,” said Thomas Marino II, Director of Operations and Engineering for Advanced Security Technologies, a security integrator based in Connecticut. “Saving time can make a huge difference in reducing impact in these tragedies.”
More Than One Need
However, security and safety aren’t relegated to active shooters. In reality the danger of an armed individual entering a campus is relatively low. That fact should not diminish the need to seriously consider these solutions and best practices – rather, it should serve to remind us all that it is only one component of the security continuum. Communities in tornado or hurricane zones, for example, must consider FEMA rated hardware and shelter design. Similar considerations must be applied for areas that suffer from earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters. It should also be considered for other types of emergencies, such as a gas leak or power outage. Perhaps most critically – as it applies to all schools – national standards and state codes for fire safety must be followed in every situation. That means keeping egress lanes and fire doors clear of obstructions – including secondary locking devices that don’t adhere to safety standards. “You try to consider everything that goes into not just security but also safety,” Ruddo said. “You consider how the door is going to be used. Is it an interior application or an area with ingress and egress? Do you need panic hardware or electronic access control? Don’t forget about all the uses that go into a school.”
It is these additional considerations for safety and security that require we always act reasonably and responsibly when it comes to protecting our schools. To that end, secondary locking devices that jam, wedge, bar, or barricade doors in place don’t just violate code, they make doors much more dangerous. In the event of an emergency, they could accidentally shutter a needed means of escape. They also allow for individuals to quickly barricade themselves in a room that is no longer accessible by key – stopping staff or first responders from being able to de-escalate a situation. So, what can be done to ensure we design schools that protect our students, teachers and staff against all threats?
Step 1: Utilize the Correct Technology
The first step in revisiting your security layout – or in planning it for a future facility – is to identify all the doors and openings on your campus. What are the ingress and egress points? Perhaps there are too many to secure and manage. A design trend that can greatly improve security is the creation of entry vestibules — a single, controlled access point that prevents visitors from moving past that point without authorization. “Try and limit your entries and exits to just a few main points,” said Ruddo. “Find a way to channel folks in and out of schools correctly. You really should try to get it down to four entrances you’re monitoring for people entering the building: main entrance, bus drop off, cafeteria, and staff entrance.” By limiting the entrances, the right technologies can then be applied. Credentials for access control can be issued to proper staff – through traditional key systems or with electronic access control. For students, and school visitors, a control point is created where the individual enters into a vestibule. They are visually verified via cameras or must speak with someone at the front desk who greets and identifies the visitor. Identification check technology, metal detectors and x-ray bag scanners can also be utilized in this location. Due to the construction of a building – especially on rural campuses, it can often be prohibitive for a school to implement access control at every opening. In this situation, it is important to look at perimeter security. Perimeter security isn’t always just about violent intruders. Good perimeter security also greatly reduces opportunities for vandalism and theft. Schools today are full of valuable equipment, including computers, laptops, tablets, lab supplies and equipment, projectors, sound systems and more. In this situation, security cameras, video management software, gates, fences, vehicle barriers and other perimeter protection systems – including security guards – are appropriate to consider. The goal in all of these situations is to slow down a would-be intruder as they attempt to enter a facility.
“All of the technology solutions we provide are designed to save time,” Marino said. “Time can be saved in front of an event through prevention and detection.” For schools looking to address interior openings – and stay away from code-violating, secondary locking devices - one of the easiest, quickest, and most economical ways to immediately improve the security of a school is to use an opening that can withstand and repel a physical assault. “Attack-resistant openings designed specifically for schools are now available,” said Kurt Roeper, Director - Industry Affairs, Codes & Standards, ASSA ABLOY Americas. “These doors are offered as complete solutions – including the door, hardware, frame and glass – and have been rigorously tested to repel an attack from firearms and hand tools. These openings can withstand an assault for a minimum of four minutes – giving first responders the time needed to arrive and confront any potential threat.” With the goal of constructing the most robust, resilient and safe educational facilities possible, ASSA ABLOY partnered with School Guard Glass™ to develop complete openings that comply with the 5-aa10 test standards based on the FBI’s Active Shooter Report. The openings are economically and inconspicuously designed using hollow metal door construction – with specific ASSA ABLOY frames, hardware, structures and systems – that ensure maximum security without sacrificing usability or design specifications. Retrofit options are available to upgrade existing wood doors as well. To ensure that doors remain closed once they are locked, the Attack Resistant Door Openings are rigorously tested to ensure they can withstand an intense four-minute physical attack with the use of hand tools after being shot 60 times with 7.62 NATO rounds. And while the door or glass may not stop a bullet from penetrating the opening, the attackresistant door assembly will remain intact, preventing an attacker from breaching the opening. “These openings are designed to do what secondary locking devices promise, but without breaking code,” said Roeper. “If you want to make your classroom doors more secure without violating code or sacrificing safety, this is your answer.”
Step 2: Planning to React
Every school needs a safety and security plan ready to be implemented in the event of an emergency. “An effective safety and security program combines the proper use of procedures, people, and technology,” Marino said. “It starts with having the right policies and procedures in place, then you need the people to enforce the polices, and the technology to be used by the people as a tool to execute the procedures. Planning, training, and communication are critical too.” While the CDC found that 90 percent of schools had a security plan in place, revisiting that plan at least once a year is critical. Revisiting the plan after running drills is best practice. From a planning standpoint, security should be thought of in concentric layers, with the perimeter as the first layer of defense. Schools need to prevent unwanted intruders from entering the secure space that has been defined for students and staff. Whether that’s a fence perimeter or the exterior of the building, it’s the primary line of defense in protecting students and faculty. At its core, perimeter security has more to do with understanding and controlling patterns, not just locking doors. It also requires a planned response if an unusual pattern occurs or if an individual breaches the perimeter. That response is typically a lockdown. Currently there is a new best practice in lockdown procedures where a “situational awareness” model is recommended. In this scenario, specific sectors or doors are locked down using access control while individual staff members make the decision of when to lock and secure their doors.
A centralized access control model – where a single button triggers lockdown – could still be deployed for exterior openings. This allows for situational awareness internally, and ensures individuals aren’t locked out by a system-wide lockdown. It also allows for staff to begin evacuation if and when they deem it appropriate. Also critical to planning is to conduct surveys and maintenance constantly. Conduct surveys after every drill or test to ensure the plan is operating efficiently. Check for blockage of exit doors and for code-violating secondary locking devices. Every aspect of your security hardware should be routinely inspected to ensure everything is working properly – all access control openings should have a door closer, locks should be functioning and latching correctly, and there should be no loose hinges. It’s very likely that adjustments or modifications will have to be made over the life of a door opening. Each school faces its own set of challenges. To help plan, work with a security integrator who specializes in schools. “We make a point of not only integrating the right products but helping with a plan,” Ruddo said. “Part of that plan is preventative maintenance. Normal wear and tear in schools is much more intense than other locations. We make sure to visit every school at least once a year for a site survey and maintenance. That is in addition to what the school is doing on their own.”
Step 3: Training Staff
Of course, a plan can’t just be in place – it must also be practiced to ensure appropriate execution. Don’t just depend on the physical security hardware alone to ensure occupant safety. Schools need trained people in place who know the procedures that can react to emergencies and guide individuals to safety during an emergency. The CDC numbers show that while 90 percent of schools have a plan in place, only 70 percent are practicing the plan. That number is, quite simply, too low. “You can’t just put the technology in and expect a location to be secure,” Marino said. “You must do the training so the staff understands the technology, understands the plan, and can execute it appropriately. That’s what makes a location safe.” Just as with fire drills, these plans must be run through test drills, 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 technologies and solutions in place will protect people in the event of an emergency. “The good news is that if the goal is to save time in these tragic events, time can be measured,” Marino said. “Because it can be measured, it can always be improved upon.” 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 performing appropriately, and conduct maintenance checks frequently. Ensure no one is purchasing secondary locking devices and implementing them in spite of the plan. These are common problems that exist in even the most well-maintained of schools.
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