Skip navigation

Priority Protection

Incidents such as the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., raise awareness about school safety. Students are our most valuable and perhaps most vulnerable resource, so protecting them should be a priority for everyone involved with the planning and design of schools.

Although the memory of Columbine is horrific, school administrators and designers need to identify and understand potential sources of danger, the costs of addressing these threats and the expectations of the community.

Dangers fall into three categories: natural disasters, accidents and crime. Examples of natural disasters include hurricanes, blizzards, floods and tornadoes. Most accidents consist of slips, falls and vehicular accidents. Crime involves shootings, drug-dealing, vandalism, sexual assaults and physical violence.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2001, 18 percent of high school students reported carrying a weapon and that half of these instances were on school properties. In 2003, 5 percent of students ranging in ages from 12 to 18 were victims of nonfatal crimes; 4 percent were victims of threats; and 1 percent were victims of violent attacks.

School designers and administrators are familiar with these issues and are capable of developing strategies that reduce threats. They are responsible for protecting children while conserving financial resources. Safety issues can be addressed with many design strategies that have little or no cost.

Areas of architectural response

Five areas should be addressed when designing schools for safety: surveillance, accessibility/egress, physical barriers, psychological design and communication:

  • Surveillance

    Defined as “watch over someone or something,” surveillance can be incorporated in two ways — actual and perceived. Crime is reduced as surveillance (or the perception) is increased. Surveillance components include:

    • Lighting

      Consideration must be given to where to place indoor and outdoor lighting and when to have lights turned on.

    • Landscape

      Good designs limit the opportunity for hidden or obstructed views.

    • Location and use of administrative offices

      For administrators to view the greatest number of students, windows should be positioned with the widest sight angles.

    • Building layout

      The facility should provide views for maximum surveillance from as few control points as possible. Avoid circular or zigzag-shaped hallways.

    • Restrooms

      Considering sightlines, some schools are removing restroom doors and placing sinks outside the entrance to reduce horseplay and vandalism.

    • Metal detectors

      These may add considerable time and expense as they control the access of students and visitors into schools. Economical mobile detectors providing random checks are an option.

    • Security cameras

      Systems can be expensive, but provide documentation for everything. These systems are helpful in cafeterias and kitchens, and can prevent questionable claims from employees. Security cameras are extremely effective when police have access to them.

    • Nooks and crannies

      School designs should eliminate small areas for hiding, mischief and criminal activity.

    • Lockers

      Lockers sometimes create concerns because they can be a hiding place, and locker areas often cause congestion. If they are included in your facility designs, locker areas need to be planned carefully.

  • Accessibility/egress

    Emergency and administrative personnel need access to a school in emergency situations. Areas for improvement:

    • Plans, keys and facility knowledge

      School officials and emergency personnel need training in disaster planning. Consider a secured lock box on the property positioned where authorized individuals have access to keys and blueprints or plans during emergencies.

    • Blind-side access

      An entry should be designed so security personnel can access the building without being detected by alleged criminals.

    • Exterior doors

      Although access is important for emergency response, it also may create opportunities for criminals. The greater the number of entry points, the harder it is to control access to the building.

    • Security rooms

      Design a situation room for emergency personnel to use. Consider placement of various communication devices in this room.

    • Alternative routes

      Exits and routes should be designed and identified to provide alternatives during emergencies.

  • Physical barriers

    These considerations provide function, beauty and a safer school environment:

    • Steps and boulders

      These should be used as barriers, especially around driveways to separate possible runaway cars from pedestrians and to prevent intentional harm.

    • Laminated glass

      Glass is used as a barrier. A broken laminated window maintains environmental control of the building and helps to prevent unauthorized access.

    • Entry vestibules

      A second set of doors provides a layer of security that prevents unlimited access.

    • Division of spaces

      Students are managed more effectively when they are divided into smaller groups. This is the traditional “divide and conquer” approach.

    • Division by age group or interest area

      Students are controlled better when they are in their own age groups and among friends.

    • Partition doors/grilles

      These applications allow schools to shut down areas not in use.

  • Psychological design

    Sound environmental design eliminates tension at schools. Designs should address these issues:

    • Noise

      A cause of tension and irritation. The selection of building products and systems can alleviate noise.

    • Bullying

      Reduce bullying by providing alternative routes through the school, dividing students into age groups, eliminating unsupervised areas and providing surveillance.

    • Bottlenecking

      Too many people in one place can cause problems. A smooth flow of students with adequate space means fewer problems.

    • Pleasing environment

      A clean and well-maintained facility increases pride and comfort. Components can include natural lighting, outside views, music, pastel colors, and building materials such as natural wood and architectural stone.

  • Communication

    From teachers to emergency personnel, communication is important. These steps can facilitate communication:

    • Two-way communications

      Handset systems provide more privacy than speaker systems, but speaker systems are more accessible in emergencies and allow room monitoring.

    • Outside telephone lines

      These should be installed in classrooms to provide teachers and administrators with immediate access to emergency personnel. Telephones also create a professional environment.

    • Dialogue

      Police, fire departments, parents and students should take part in safety planning.

Safety leads to a better environment

The physical environment affects everyone. It is important to be aware of the influence that school design has on building users. What makes one person feel safe and secure may alarm another. Some security steps are obvious, such as metal detectors; others are more transparent, such as removing restroom doors. The key is to make sure well-intended “solutions” don't compound a problem.

Considering all possibilities is crucial when designing or retrofitting schools. Through research, questions and working with school and emergency officials, schools can increase safety. As school-safety issues are addressed, the quality of education is likely to increase. With the comfort that comes from feeling safe and secure, there can be more focus on academics and life experiences.

Lam, AIA, is a senior vice president and managing partner of SHW Group Architects, Engineers and Planners, a full-service architectural firm dedicated to the design of education facilities both nationally and internationally with seven offices in Texas, Maryland, Michigan and Virginia.

What to look for in an endpoint security solution

It's more difficult to secure a campus IT network than a corporate network. The largest business might have hundreds, possibly a few thousand remote workers and visitors connecting suspect endpoint computers to the network; in contrast, education institutions face the challenge of managing tens, even hundreds of thousands of unknown endpoint devices. Any one device could wreak havoc across the network or operate unauthorized applications that put everyone at risk.

Campus networks also must support a range of computer configurations and software, including older operating systems; corporate environments can standardize or mandate specific software and configuration settings. In addition to enforcing computer security requirements, education institutions are faced with potential lawsuits when students illegally share music MP3 files, or use the campus network as their own playground for attacking other computers.

Along with checks for patches and anti-virus software, any endpoint security-enforcement program should include checks for personal firewall, peer-to-peer software, Windows update settings, web browser and application security settings, services, registry settings, and required and restricted software. In addition, endpoint security solutions should check endpoint devices proactively to determine if they have been compromised by any worms, trojans or spyware — which ultimately is what endpoint security is all about.

To ensure that endpoints are secure, any endpoint security solution must include:

  • Agent-less implementation

    Endpoint security solutions can provide many benefits, but the cost of deploying and managing them can be high as well. Agent-less solutions can provide the same benefits, but at a much lower overall cost.

  • A full suite of testing capabilities

    Most endpoint security solutions check endpoints for the latest software patches and for the presence of up-to-date anti-virus signatures, but much more is required to truly ensure that endpoints are secure.

  • Verification that harmful software does not reside on the device

    Endpoint security solutions should check endpoint devices proactively to determine if they have been compromised by any worms, trojans or spyware.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.