Protecting Children

Over the last 10 years, school buildings have become a more common target for criminals to act out their violent plans. The most recent incidents are chilling examples of outsiders choosing schools as targets for their deadly acts. Why schools? In many communities, a school is the biggest public stage, and a person looking to hurt a community may be drawn to that stage.

Many safety professionals say schools need to take more responsibility for protecting their pupils. The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) has called for a re-examination of school safety measures in light of recent school shootings. With better ways to control access to facilities, schools could ward off potential copycat criminals and others intent on harming students.

Some of the best technology on the market for monitoring who is in and who wants to get into the building is a digital surveillance camera system. Digital video systems can store recordings from multiple cameras for up to 30 days. Additionally, a highly visible central camera command center will let people know they are being watched. Criminals are less likely to commit misdeeds when they know they may be on camera.

With cameras placed at entrances, and in common areas and hallways, school officials can monitor an entire building from a single location. Digital video recorders also come with software and Internet capabilities that enable viewing of cameras from remote locations or at multiple locations. The cost of a building surveillance system has decreased. For example, mini dome video cameras now sell for less than $200.

Other ways to deter violence and control entrance to a building are available. One company has introduced a low-cost video door monitoring system that enables the doors to remain locked; only an authorized person can open the door after the identity of the person has been verified. Other emerging systems available to schools include face-recognition security systems, fingerprint technology and card-access systems.

One simple thing schools can do is to lock more doors, thus reducing outsiders' access to a facility. Think about how many different keys (and copies of those keys) an education institution has in circulation. Perhaps a card-entry system might be considered.

Education institutions walk a fine line between providing an open, welcoming enclave for students and parents, and creating a secure building. It is a real challenge for schools to try to maintain a safe environment without making it an armed fortress.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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