Security on a Budget

School security is of paramount concern as we start the new century. Sophisticated technology has its place, but many school systems simply don't have the resources for state-of-the-art deterrents and monitors. Still, you can address your security needs without a huge investment.

Believe it or not, there are many design considerations that also incorporate security functions. From site to engineering to architectural elements, here's what you can do to help ensure the safety of your students, staff and property.

Facility considerations There are a number of facility design elements that can improve security:

-Sightlines: The administrative offices should have a clear line of sight of the approach to the building, the entrance and the corridors. If your administrative areas are tucked away from main corridors, consider relocating. Students are less likely to misbehave when they know a disciplinarian is just around the corner.

-Area separation. Schools can add overhead rolling gates to effectively separate and secure the rest of the building from the areas most likely to be used after hours.

-Computer labs (and other valuable equipment). By moving computer labs (and other valuable property) to the center of the facility, you can effectively reduce the security risk of someone breaking in through the windows and stealing equipment.

-Control systems. Ensure procedures are in place to minimize potential tampering with fire-protection equipment, power supply and utilities.

-Entrances/exits. Entrances and exits should be well-marked and well-lighted, from inside and out.

-Exterior facility lighting. Architectural uplighting around the exterior of the building allows for quick surveillance to determine if any windows have been broken or if anyone is lurking about. Internal courtyards should be lighted, as well.

Tapping into technology New developments in technology can help improve school security:

-Electronic systems. Electronic systems and components can enhance your security coverage without breaking your budget. Consider door monitoring (sensors that are alerted when the door is opened), card-access readers, phones in classrooms, call buttons at teachers' desks, metal detectors, and panic buttons-as well as outdoor and indoor cameras with time/date recording.

You can use combinations of these devices to ensure the best possible coverage to meet your school's needs and to fit within budget parameters.

These types of systems also serve as a deterrent because, although their components are protected, they are not hidden or camouflaged. Therefore, it is well-known that they exist.

In addition, because items such as cameras and door monitors transmit signals to an isolated control room, you also can use them for real-time monitoring.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to incorporating simple security solutions is the fact that your own maintenance staff can often carry out many of them. This reduces not only your costs, but also easy access by outsiders to your buildings.

Site considerations School grounds should not be overlooked when assessing your security plan:

-Planting design. The landscape design should minimize hiding places. Avoid planting groups of trees and shrubs around entrances and corners. In fact, all planting clusters should have a large, open area surrounding them. You also should avoid plantings - especially large, climbable trees-that will allow unwanted access to the roof.

-Keeping your distance. Extending the distance from the building to the parking lot and drop-off areas increases visibility and the chances that someone will see individuals carrying questionable material toward the building. Placing barriers such as bollards, raised planting walls and trees between the parking area and the building entry can ensure that this distance is maintained.

-Safe site clear zones. Plantings should be less than three feet tall or more than six feet high to provide a clear line of sight for staff inside the facility, as well as pedestrians and drivers outside the facility.

-Fence school grounds. Even partially fencing your school grounds can help limit access to your facilities. Hedges and privacy plantings work well too.

-Lighting (landscape and parking). Parking lots and planting clusters should be well-lighted and provide clear definition of entrances while deterring potential trespassers.

Plan for your future As you identify your security needs, you can incorporate them into the designs for future building programs. Consider improvements such as teacher preparation rooms with windows providing a line of sight to the corridors, well-lighted hallways with no projections to obstruct the view, well-lighted bathrooms that provide for maximum supervision, elimination of interior/exterior entrapment areas, enclosure of hiding places (such as the underside of a stairwell), and structural features that restrict unauthorized access to the roof.

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