Security/Life Safety

May 1, 2009
Simple, inexpensive steps to improve school building security.

Schools and universities constantly must be vigilant about security on their campuses, but with the economic struggles facing most education institutions, administrators may find it difficult providing protection for students, staff and facilities.

But school officials can enhance safety on their campuses without draining their budgets, the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities says. To help administrators accomplish this goal, the clearinghouse has put together a guide for administrators, "Low-Cost Security Measures for School Facilities."

Among the suggestions:

  • Limit the use of building entrances to one or as few as possible. Adjust locking hardware on all other entrances so they cannot be opened from the outside without a key, an access card or other device.

  • Inspect exterior doors for damage and faulty hardware. Frames, view lights, hinges, locks, and latches should be examined at least monthly, and repaired as needed.

  • Install face plates at exterior door latches to prevent jimmying.

  • Install fish-eye viewers in exterior doors lacking windows or sidelights to help identify those seeking entry.

  • Number doors and rooms in a logical, sequential, floor-by-floor pattern so emergency responders can find them quickly.

  • Display room numbers on classroom windows so they are readily visible to first responders from outside the building.

  • Inspect all windows accessible from the street for damage and faulty hardware, and repair them immediately.

  • Keep unoccupied rooms and spaces locked when not in use. This practice requires full cooperation by faculty and staff.

  • Keep egress paths — corridors, stairs, stairwells, and exits — clear of obstructions and flammable materials.

  • Make sure that corridor and restroom lighting controls are protected from unauthorized use.

  • Check that exit signs are visible and illuminated. Keep a supply of bulbs and spare fixture components for immediate replacement and repair.

  • Post clear and precise emergency- evacuation maps in classrooms and other major building spaces and at key corridor locations. Include at least two alternative evacuation routes.

  • All classrooms should have two-way communication with the office. Consider providing cell phones, two-way radios, or portable duress alarms to faculty and staff.

  • Install a panic or duress alarm at the school reception desk and within the main office area to alert key staff.

  • Ensure radio-frequency (RF) communication is possible throughout the school. This capability is critical for local emergency responders. Invite them to test all parts of the building.

  • Install a battery or portable generator backup power supply for telephones and emergency communications. Schools without an uninterruptible power supply should have a sufficient backup source to maintain voice communications for at least several hours.

The entire list of suggestions is available online at


In feet, the recommended maximum height for bushes on school grounds, to eliminate hiding spaces and provide clear lines of sight.

In feet, the recommended height below which tree branches on school grounds should be trimmed to provide clear lines of sight.

The maximum percentage of wall space in classrooms or hallways that should be covered with teaching materials or artwork.

Source: National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, "Low-Cost Security Measures for School Facilities"

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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