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Physical security programs can detect, deter, delay and diminish the effects of safety- and security-related issues.

Thieves steal from school transportation facilities. Vandals break into local school bus lots. Universities and community colleges are victimized by auto theft. This loss of equipment has cost schools countless dollars. School transportation security often is overlooked, but it is essential to an education institution.

When tires get slashed, vehicles get spray painted, or any other type of vandalism occurs, schools suffer the monetary loss. When students slash tires in order to get classes cancelled, a district could lose thousands of dollars.

Dedicated space

During tough economic times, it is essential that schools protect transportation systems. Spending a little for protection can save a school a lot of money in the long run. Prevention is the best response.

Some easy and cost-effective steps can enhance an already established security program. If a school does not have a transportation security program, it should begin one immediately.

In addition to saving schools money, a high-quality school transportation security program can prevent violent encounters and other crimes. A couple of years ago, a school bus driver was stabbed to death after her ex-boyfriend boarded her school bus prior to the start of her day. Had there been better physical security measures in place, the attack might have been prevented.

The first step in establishing a high-quality school transportation physical security program is to designate a specific area where all school transportation vehicles will be parked and stored. Education institutions should not allow school-related transportation vehicles to be parked at private residences, on the street, in parking garages or at other commercial properties. A dedicated parking facility where all vehicles will be left when unattended is essential. This includes not only school buses, but also vans, cars and trucks.

This designated parking area must have security lighting, and the lights must turn on automatically. Dusk-to-dawn lights are good and generally provide sufficient lighting capabilities. The lights also must turn on during other times of darkness, such as during storms or other low-visibility situations. The light must be sufficient to illuminate the entire parking complex.

Designated users

Access control and perimeter security also are critical to a security program. The parking lot perimeter must have a fence that effectively keeps unauthorized people out. A six- to eight-foot chain-link fence with triple-strand barbed wire on top generally will suffice.

Once the perimeter is set, an education institution must have a system for allowing authorized people inside and keeping unauthorized people out. Gates with locks are one way. Schools that use this method must make sure that only properly vetted employees are allowed to handle keys. If lock keys are lost or stolen, all locks must be changed immediately. One effective security method is to have people enter a building and from there move to the parking area. This method enables office personnel to screen those entering the facility and reduces the number of lock keys. Additionally, this method reduces the number of entry and exit points, which are vulnerable to security breaches.

Keys to vehicles must be locked inside a box in the transportation office. When keys are assigned to drivers, the education institution should record who received the keys, when they were issued and when the keys were returned. Do not allow drivers to retain copies of vehicle keys or lock keys. School systems should conduct a key inventory quarterly.

Physical measures

Inexpensive security measures can enhance a program's effectiveness. Placing shielding on top of lights is one cost-effective enhancement. The shielding reflects light to the ground and provides more illumination. This also decreases light pollution.

A school looking to improve perimeter security may consider a privacy fence. Privacy fences may be made of wood, metal or some other type of material that prevents someone on the outside from looking in. Adding visibility-reducing material to chain-link fencing is another cost-effective security upgrade. This mesh-like material will prevent people from seeing into the parking lot.

The area around a facility's perimeter must be kept clear of obstacles and hazards. Outside trees should be trimmed so limbs do not obstruct views. Bushes and shrubs should be trimmed so a person cannot use them as a hiding place. Do not have trees growing next to a fence, as intruders can use trees near perimeter fencing to climb over. Simple landscaping changes may improve security.

Cameras work both as a deterrent and as an investigative tool should an incident occur. Many inexpensive camera and digital recording systems are available. Schools using security cameras should make sure the images are recorded and maintained for at least a couple of months. Cameras require light to work properly; sufficient visible light or properly installed infrared light is essential. The better the light source, the better the images will be.

A security consultant can provide education institutions with an assessment of which security methods are working, which are ineffective, where budget resources should be focused, and where money can be saved. Schools should seek unbiased and professional outside sources for their security assessments.

Brooks is a state police officer, state SWAT team sniper and captain in the U.S. Army. He is a senior instructor with Gray Ram Tactical, LLC, Higginsville, Mo., a consulting and training firm that works with school faculty and bus drivers on crisis-management. He can be reached at [email protected].

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