Grading for Safety

Grading for Safety

Take a proactive approach to facility security audits.

No matter the mission of an organization, the security of its facilities is critical. This is especially the case for education facilities, where so many students, staff and administrators spend the bulk of their days. Administrators have a moral and legal obligation to protect the people in their facilities. This can be accomplished with a proactive approach that identifies risk factors, establishes objectives and financial parameters, and results in a plan to carry out recommendations.

Importance of an Audit

Time constraints and diminishing budgets may make it difficult for facility managers to prioritize security.  A comprehensive security audit can help managers accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of their facilities, create a realistic budget to address the needs, and demonstrate any security shortcomings to those in leadership positions. Being proactive about risks and threats often is more efficient and less expensive than being reactive.

Among the security enhancements to Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools was a rerouting of visitor traffic through the main office. Photo courtesy of the Gordian Group.

Education facility security audits should consider not only buildings, but also the grounds and systems. Security threats may be anything that attacks people in a building, or damages facility components that will affect those in the building, including the means of egress for those trying to evacuate. 

Performing the Audit

Security audits may be simple, such as a walkthrough, or may be a comprehensive and thorough inventory and analysis that examines buildings, components and grounds for every possible risk factor. The latter leads to more detailed results; it will help facility managers establish the existing level of facilities protection and develop both long- and short-term security enhancement plans along with the an estimate of the funds needed to reach those safety goals. Some facilities even examine the possibility of technology breaches to make sure that hackers cannot manipulate systems to amplify their attack. 

An audit process consists of identifying the desired scope, designing the audit to that scope, collecting data, developing cost estimates and schedules, and presenting the findings. Administrators should have a clear objective: Will this audit look at overall performance and analysis, or is a particular threat being assessed? The following questions typically are answered in a security audit:

  • Are existing security components or systems working as intended? Do they need to be enhanced?
  • How difficult is it to breach security measures?
  • Are students and staff aware of safety procedures and behaviors, such as not allowing others in a restricted door without an access card?
  • What measures are in place to counter a threat? Are these measures effective against external, internal and passive threats?
  • What duties and responsibilities are assigned during a threat? 
  • What is the response in case of a breach? How are the responders trained to lead this response?
  • Does this response work at all times, including before or after normal school hours?

Building an Estimate 

Once an audit is complete, the results can be used to develop a plan that itemizes security enhancement needs and their costs. Education facilities may require small updates, such as window and door lock upgrades, or security film added to glass walls. Larger facility alterations might include a secure entryway renovation or a redesign of a section of the building to incorporate safety features. 

Work at the Holbrook (Ariz.) Unified School District included adding security cameras, implementing badges, securing multiple entrances and relocating and adding security features to the school’s main office. Photos courtesy of The Gordian Group.

Before any of this work can begin, facility managers must estimate the finances needed to enact a plan and possibly make the case to supervisors or a school board. The more detail included in an audit, the easier it will be for administrators to build an accurate cost estimate and construction schedule. 

Up-to-date construction cost estimating data is necessary to help officials gauge the best range of prices on security enhancements. Investing in the safety of students and staff is important, and the investment may be a large one. Reliable and relevant cost data will help administrators support their proposals to governing boards or other authorities. Cost estimate validation services also may provide an unbiased analysis to aid in accurate budgeting. The estimates may help justify the costs, as the audit will clearly delineate which security measures the educational institution has and which it lacks. 

Developing the Action Plan

Schools and universities have strict time constraints for scheduling alteration or remodeling projects. Work is completed most easily when students and staff are scarce; that means much of the construction takes place in the summer or over scheduled holiday breaks. When prioritizing and scheduling security enhancement projects, administrators should consider the unique timing needs, and look to alternative delivery methods, such as Job Order Contracting (JOC), that expedite procurement and enable a faster construction start.


The Holbrook (Ariz.) Unified School District used the JOC method to upgrade security at an elementary school over a summer break. The small school system identified security enhancement needs in response to publicity about security breaches across the nation, but struggled to find funding. Although the school itself never faced a safety crisis, administrators believed the update would benefit the community and that students and staff who felt secure at school would perform better.

The district scheduled several security enhancement projects during the summer so they could be in place when students returned in August. Using the JOC delivery method streamlined procurement because the contracts were already competitively awarded. By July, the remodel was completed ahead of schedule.

Security enhancements to Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools included fortifying an entryway. Photo courtesy of the Gordian Group.

The school installed security cameras, put an ID badge system into place, secured multiple entrances and relocated the main office. Because the school had multiple entrances, many visitors were able to enter unchecked. The school redirected the stream of traffic so that all of it funneled into one hallway. The hall and office area were outfitted with bulletproof glass, a sliding window for visitors and a hidden, bullet-proof cubby area where office workers could go in case of a threat of violence.

A similar update occurred at Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools during a six-day winter break. After receiving a grant from the Governor’s School Security initiative, the school identified projects and used the same delivery method to expedite procurement. To qualify for the grant, the district needed to complete the work by the summer.

The projects included fortifying an entryway and increasing security by directing visitor traffic flow through the main office. To do this, a display case was demolished and an associated lighting circuit terminated. Glazed storefront framing was installed to reroute visitor traffic to the office. The construction started on Dec. 21 and was completed Dec. 27.

Once education facility managers have completed an audit, identified needs and updates, and created accurate estimates to support funding requests, facility managers may use ongoing safety checks to keep the facilities protected. This may include routine walkthroughs to check on doors, hinges, or entryway access controls; or conducting regular drills to ensure that students and staff know what to do in emergency. Exterior safety components also should be checked, including parking lot lighting, perimeter controls and fencing.

Mewis is the Director of Engineering at RSMeans from The Gordian Group. He has more than 40 years in the construction industry including hand- on experience estimating construction costs and managing construction projects. Pierre-Antoine is the Director of Great Lakes Operations for The Gordian Group. He oversees customized JOC Solutions for clients, including Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago, Purdue University, Indiana University and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

SIDEBAR: Security Upgrade Options

Facilities security updates are a trend at many schools and universities. Education administrators and facility managers react to recent events by analyzing the security provided in their buildings and identifying which enhancements would help facilities respond to emergencies. All of these efforts aim to make the buildings safer for students and staff, and give peace of mind to the community.

Here are a few examples of security upgrades:

  • Windows, doors and equipment that resist storm damage
  • Bullet-resistant windows and windows with speakers for school visitor access
  • Face-imaging and biometrics readers to help ensure proper entry authorization
  • Charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras for advanced surveillance
  • Keypads and card readers for building entry
  • Electric locksets and hinges for enhanced doorway security
  • Fire-rated stainless steel access door with cam latch
  • Fence and parking lot gates for perimeter safety
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