Security in schools has been in the news too often. The tragedies across the country have shaken parents, children, teachers, school staff and the general public.
In addressing this issue, each district must ask, "How restricted should we make our publicly funded building?" A school may have to work to change the culture of all that use or visit the building in order to increase the level of protection.
A valuable starting point to increase safety and security is a coherent security philosophy. This will bring into the open the concerns that people have and give them a forum to disclose possible security breaches. Consider forming a security committee that would meet regularly to discuss concerns about school security. The committee should include representatives from each facility. Each building may in turn have its own security committee.
An adaptable plan The security committee should develop a security plan that addresses the procedures and systems that exist, and how to improve them. It should not be a document put on a shelf after it is written; it should be a living document that is routinely reviewed and revised. Monitor the security plan continually to see that it is working.
Gather all pertinent data on past problems and current procedures. You may want to enlist the help of a security consultant.
Work closely with a system designer. Technology-driven security products are changing rapidly. You need the help of someone that is up to speed on the latest methods so you do not get an out-of-date system before it is installed.
Many security measures work well at first, but given time, people learn to circumvent them or faculty and staff stop enforcing them. You might want to stage a mock break-in attempt to test your plan. It is amazing how many places you can enter with just a smile, a wave of the hand and an attitude that you know where you are going.
Many systems and equipment options can help make a facility secure. The problem is that they are just the tools, not the solution. For example, a carpenter can have lumber, nails, a saw and a hammer, but cannot build a house without a plan and the knowledge of how to use the tools. And if you have ever built a home, you'll know that the plans often are altered to make things fit correctly.
Equipment choices Once you have created a security plan, you will have to decide which equipment will provide the most effective protection for your students, staff and facilities.
Intrusion detection is the security system most commonly found in schools. It is a typical burglar-alarm system controlled by wall-mounted keypads. Often, multiple keypads control different zones in the building.
Sensors are used to detect certain conditions; they can be passive infrared motion detectors, glass-break detectors, photoelectric beams, door contacts or window contacts. If something trips a sensor, it will trigger a signal that alerts a central monitoring company. The staff at the central monitoring company will then call the proper local authorities.
Other types of sensors can protect areas such as cafeteria freezers or sump pumps. The central monitoring company is given specific instructions on how to respond when these alarms sound.
You should provide added protection in areas with high-value equipment or sensitive information. Computer labs, administration offices, rooms with student records, and gymnasium storage areas may require special consideration.
ID Cards School officials must be able to identify who is authorized to be in the school. The use of photo ID badges is common; everyone must work together to make sure they are worn. Schools should require all visitors to sign in and receive a visitor's badge. Students can help by reporting persons without a badge.
An ID badge created on a computer-based system that keeps a record of all photos and information can reduce the chances of someone using a false ID. Also, you can integrate a computer-based badging system with an access-control system.
Access Control Many schools lose track of keys over time, and some may be copied illegally. Schools might not realize the keys have fallen into the wrong hands until after items are stolen.
Access-control systems employ electronic methods of locking and releasing doors. A card, rather than a traditional key, unlocks a door. The card cannot be copied, and if it is lost, it can be deactivated. It also can be reconfigured instantly through a computer. A stolen access card could be tracked to trigger an alarm if someone tries to use it.
Access-control systems also can track unauthorized access. You can program the system to deny a specific user access to the building after hours, and the system also can generate a history report to track who enters a specific room. You also can use the cards to track attendance. The card can have additional functions-library book checkout, supply purchase, meal plans or photo identification.
Through the computer, you can lock and unlock different areas based on time of day, day of week or other specific situations.
Schools often have too many entrances. Since it would be very expensive to connect all of them to an electronic system, schools need to review traffic patterns and alter them to manage entry and exit to the facility.
Determine at each access point how a door will lock and unlock. Consider the fire rating of the opening, whether it is an emergency exit door, the direction of the door swing and the door material. Doors not connected to an access-control system should have "exit only" hardware to prevent the doors from being used as an entry.
Exit Alarms Schools can install exit alarms at doors, either as part of the access-control system or as stand-alone units. These exit alarms produce a loud siren when the door is opened and require a key to silence them. They can be operated by battery or connected electrically with a battery backup. The units that operate on batteries alone are less expensive, but if the siren goes off on Friday afternoon, the batteries would be dead by Monday morning, and staff would not know it unless there were weekend activities.
When the siren goes off, someone must investigate. Establish a plan that specifies who responds to a siren.
Video monitors Closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems allow surveillance of a large area in a short amount of time. The systems also can provide recorded evidence to show who was responsible for an incident. Privacy issues often keep cameras out of many areas, and having too many cameras can be cost-prohibitive.
Systems vary greatly in cost and features. Administrators need to consider their specific needs and the system's low-light capabilities. Cameras can be in color or less-expensive monochrome (black & white). Cameras come in standard resolution or high-resolution-high-resolution is more expensive and provides a better-quality picture. Cameras that operate outside are required to be weatherproof and are more expensive than interior cameras.
Cameras that can pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) are more that twice as expensive as fixed-position cameras. PTZ cameras can watch a larger area with one camera, but if the camera is looking east, it cannot watch a problem to the west. Someone determined to make mischief can watch the camera and take action when it points the other way. Cameras with digital signal processing (DSP) are using newer technology to eliminate hot spots and other image defects to make the picture more usable.
You need to know what you want to cover before deciding on camera placement. Are you trying only to look for activity in a corridor, or are you trying to see the face of a person entering or exiting a space? Are you trying to cover all areas or just trouble spots?
You can receive images on a monitor alone, a multiplexer or a video matrix switch. A monitor is useful to see what is happening at any moment at a specific location. A multiplexer can view up to 16 cameras at a time in a format that divides the screen into smaller squares (multiplexed), or each camera can be selected to be viewed in full screen. A multiplexer also allows the multiplexed image to be recorded with all sixteen images on a single recording unit.
A video matrix switch is used with a larger number of cameras and when the images are to be actively monitored. The video matrix switch actually "switches" the images from different cameras to designated monitors to allow a single security person to see any of a large number of cameras at a single monitoring station. A matrix switch allows for anywhere from 16 to 2,046 cameras to be viewed without having 2,046 monitors.
You can view the images live, if someone is available to do so. Usually, though, the images are recorded for later review. Digital recording is more expensive than analog, but digital provides greater control during image playback and you can zoom in on an area of the recorded image, increase contrast, and even search for motion in a given area of the picture.