Safe and sound

Student and faculty safety. Secure equipment and facilities. These are primary concerns of every school administrator. The most effective way to protect your school from harm, as well as keep insurance premiums as low as possible, is to create a powerful and effective security plan.

The first step to sound security is initiating a comprehensive security audit. A security team, including representatives from building staff, faculty and students, police and fire departments, and security consultants, should be organized for this purpose.

During the security audit, the team should research the neighborhood and identify common crime occurrences and their frequency. Also, consider an analysis of security plans of nearby facilities. Once the surrounding area is evaluated, the team should examine its schools and note areas for improvement. During this phase, a security specialist can be employed to address liability issues and recommend equipment that has proven effective.

Knowing the elements Access control is a critical element of any strong security plan. It is essential for your security staff to be able to monitor who is in a building, at what time and on what floor.

Although the best time to address facility security is in the design phase, renovations that improve security always should be considered. Keep the number of entrances to a school at a minimum, and structure stairwells so that once somebody enters, they must exit at the ground floor and re-enter through the main entrance. This reduces the possibility of unauthorized entry to other floors.

Administrators must ensure that visitors are not left unsupervised. Many of the traditional lock-and-key systems used to keep school facilities secure after hours are being replaced by newer, more technologically advanced systems. Some of the alternative systems include:

Electronic key access. This system includes electronically coded key and door controllers that can be programmed to recognize one or more codes. Since electronic keys are assigned codes from one of several billion possible combinations, they are virtually impossible to duplicate. If a key is lost or stolen, the code can be erased from the system without having to replace the lock.

Keypads. With this system, staff punch a code and a personal identification number into a keypad that is positioned outside a locked door. This eliminates lost cards or keys.

Panic-alert buttons. High-end electronic access-control systems can be equipped with numerous other features that assist with security measures. Some contain a panic alert that lets an individual send a distress signal in the event he or she is being coerced to open a secured door. Other systems are capable of recording who entered an area and at what time, linking this information with a central computer. This data can be used to create reports on the activities of each door, which can be helpful during an investigation of a crime.

Patrolling the area Popular sites for crime incidents are areas that lack sufficient lighting and surveillance, such as parking lots and garages, elevators, stairwells, alcoves or other hidden areas in hallways. These sensitive places should be well-lit and equipped with emergency back-up electricity. It is important that these areas are monitored around the clock by security guards or closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV).

When used with wide-angle and zoom lenses, motorized mounts and other features, CCTV extends the reach of the central guard desk to areas throughout the facility. Carefully angle the camera to capture the best view of an area. For discreet security, flat board cameras can be built into existing architecture or placed in tight places. Picture clarity, as well as light and heat sensitivity, are important variables to consider when selecting a camera device.

To prevent unnecessary and uncontrolled wandering, require all deliveries and messenger services to be directed to one central location-usually the front office of a school. Also, one area should be designated as the removal site for items from the building. The removal of items should be monitored and require a supervisor's signature.

Another important policy is the use of visitor passes. All maintenance personnel, cleaning staff, plant and foliage services, and other contractors should be required to hold or wear the pass in a prominent location, making it easily identifiable to students and staff.

New beginnings The important role that staff and students play in safeguarding their schools cannot be understated. Inform all staff and students about what to do in security-related incidents. Assemblies, guides and videos can give specific examples of how to react in various scenarios, and they can educate everyone on the location of emergency exits, stairways and emergency-aid kits. Instruct staff to stay aware at all times, report suspicious individuals to security, and store laptops and other valuables out of sight.

The selection of a security system is only the first step. Once a security plan is implemented, administrators must periodically test all aspects of it to ensure proper working order. Wiring, alarms, fire extinguishers, CCTV, battery-powered back-up systems, panic buttons and phones are just some of the items to test. Furthermore, administrators must ensure that procedures are being followed and that new employees are properly trained.

While most colleges already have some type of security team, many districts are finding it necessary to hire security personnel. The first step in the hiring process is a thorough background check of all prospective security professionals. Once hired, the new security personnel should shadow a current employee to become knowledgeable of the schools and the campus. In addition to vandalism and criminal activities, security professionals must learn how to handle minor medical emergencies and small fires.

Your security personnel should dress in similar attire, which should be distinctive from a police officer's. Photo badges should be worn. Although the effectiveness of security officers relies heavily on their keen sense of awareness, the tools with which they carry out their responsibilities can have a major impact on their success. Security personnel may rely on computers, flashlights, first-aid kits, handcuffs and cellular phones. Two-way radios also are important. Each member of the security team must stay informed during an emergency situation and be able to communicate with fellow security guards, police officers and paramedics.

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