Schools should have a security area at the main entrance such as this one at Bell Prairie Elementary School, Kansas City, Mo., where guests sign in and out of the building, and receive a visitor’s pass. (Architect: Hollis + Miller Architects) Photo by Jennifer Ray

Secure and Strong Schools

Feb. 12, 2013
An effective security strategy will address individual needs for each school.

Behind every strong school system should be an even stronger security system. Administrators across the nation are on the lookout for new and more cost-effective ways to enhance security on their campuses and provide the safest environment possible for students, faculty and staff. The sad truth is violence and threats can happen at any school. Yet, school administrators can take simple and effective steps to mitigate risks. 

Different schools face different threats, including fighting and bullying, gang activity, theft, vandalism, drugs and unwanted visitors entering the school. An effective security strategy will address individual needs for each school. At times, carrying out security measures may mean installing expensive equipment. Schools that frequently are called upon to do more with less can take steps to identify and carry out no-cost or low-cost solutions to strengthen security.

Reviewing risks

Using cost-effective security measures may seem simple, but it is important to evaluate all risks on campus before taking action. Getting the most for the money while improving safety starts with good planning. When looking at a security upgrade and before instituting new security steps on campus, schools should consider undergoing a security risk review from an experienced security solution provider. Many providers offer these reviews at no cost; they look at all areas of a campus—from parking lots to sports fields to gymnasiums—to provide a comprehensive analysis of potential risks. 

Conducting a complete and objective security risk review helps administrators develop a holistic view of all systems and technologies, identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses, debunk myths, set priorities and identify areas where a school can reduce risks. Security risk review results then can be used to put security improvements into place.

Prioritizing solutions

After completing a campus security risk review, education administrators should review the findings to set priorities and discuss budget and strategies, even for low-cost or no-cost solutions. A good security integrator works closely with administrators and campus security personnel to make sure addressing security concerns is a collaborative effort, not a cookie-cutter experience. 

At St. Peter School in Geneva, Ill., principal Roseann Feldmann chose a combination of low-cost and no-cost security solutions coupled with products and services, which have diminished campus security risks.

Some recommended solutions for increasing indoor and outdoor security for campuses with similar areas of concern:

•Outdoor and building perimeter security:

-Cut back trees and shrubbery, reduce clutter and install more lighting to significantly reduce the areas available to hide outdoors.

-Fence in specific areas on campus, especially playgrounds and sports fields, to keep unwanted visitors off school grounds and out of isolated areas. This is especially effective for campuses that are adjacent to other properties or high-traffic areas where unexpected visitors may be more likely to trespass. 

-Keep an open lane between parked cars and fenced areas to increase visibility on the grounds while decreasing places available to hide.

•Indoor security:

-Keep hallways and stairwells free of clutter to send a message that those areas are not abandoned, and therefore are not available as places to hide.

-Ensure that doors are not propped open and that windows are locked at all times so that campus guests use the main entrance. Make sure school officials keep a record of all visitors. 

-Have a security table at the main entrance where guests sign in and out of the building and receive a visitor’s pass. This helps to properly identify visitors to and keep track of their time and their destinations in the building.

•Consider additional security solutions if appropriate:

-A security risk review also may expose the need for equipping a school campus with other security systems, including video surveillance or other physical solutions. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 84 percent of high schools, 73 percent of middle schools, and 51 percent of primary schools say they use security cameras to monitor facilities. Video surveillance cameras can provide an extra set of eyes to monitor parking lots, building and fence perimeters, gates, gymnasiums and storage facilities. 

Some systems have software-based video analytics to trigger incident-driven alerts, as appropriate. Whether someone is trying to climb a fence or enter a campus in an unauthorized manner, these analytics can trigger alarms and notify local law enforcement of potential breaches.

Third-party monitoring services also can report suspicious activity to local law enforcement, either around the clock, or only at specific times for high-risk security scenarios, such as a basketball game or another school-related event, and can supplement the on-the-ground efforts of security officers and administrators. 

In addition to video surveillance, a variety of other cost-effective solutions can be used on school campuses. New outdoor emergency communication systems are available that use intelligible voice technology to provide warnings and real-time information to people in endangered areas. 

The systems can use specialized speaker technology that can be heard clearly for up to a quarter mile and can broadcast live or recorded messages to entire school campuses. If there is an emergency at an outdoor football, soccer or lacrosse game, everyone will be notified immediately. 

Proactive steps

In recent years, educators have become more proactive in addressing critical campus security challenges. Working with a security solution provider may help identify high-risk areas on campus and determine solutions catered to a school’s unique needs. 

Whether considering low-cost or no-cost solutions, security systems, or a combination of both, schools should take appropriate steps to stay a step ahead of a security problem. 

Bomber is director of marketing, Core Commercial, for Tyco Integrated Security, Boca Raton, Fla.

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