Improving A School’s Security In An Emergency: What You Can Do Now

The Sandy Hook tragedy has brought school security to the top of everyone’s minds. While the safety of students has always been paramount, in the wake of the horrifying events in Newtown, Connecticut, the urgency has never been greater to improve the security of our schools – and do it now.

In the event of a school emergency, being prepared is the best defense. A secure facility keeps unauthorized individuals from entering the building, protects from dangers from within the school and ensures ready or controlled egress as necessary. However, each school is unique and there’s no “one size fits all” security solution. That said, there are a number of steps that can be taken to improve a school’s short-term security, even while mapping out a long-term plan.

In brief, a school’s security system needs to do the following:

  • Control and monitor access, using either traditional locking solutions – locks and exit devices – or combined with access control technology.
  • Quickly secure a classroom from the inside with the aid of specially designed lockset functions.
  • Provide a safe means of egress from the building with exit devices.

To accomplish these objectives, companies like ASSA ABLOY offer a wide range of solutions, from mechanical locks to networked access control systems that provide an entire facility with real-time lockdown capability. In every case, school administrators should consult with a certified security professional to ensure that the best solution is implemented for their facility.


What Should You Do Right Now?

The first order of business is to make sure that perimeter doors and critical interior spaces that can serve as areas of refuge, such as classrooms, are secured.

Start with the fundamentals. Check all existing openings for basic functionality. Do all doors easily close and latch? Does the hardware operate as intended? A tip: remove door stops from outer doors, such as those commonly used for recess areas, as door stops can block doors from closing quickly should the need arise.

How does the existing hardware control and monitor access? If a master key and key control system are in use, what are the key control policies? Do you know where all of your keys are? Does your key system have procedures in place to prevent unauthorized distribution? Any gray areas in the system must be addressed immediately.

Keep in mind that any changes to an existing security system must conform to federal and local codes including fire codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


The Options: In Detail

Before selecting hardware, it is important to determine the best locking scenario for every door in your facility, which can include the following options:

  • The door remains locked throughout the day, limiting access through a single point.
  • The door remains unlocked except in an emergency situation.
  • All door locks are controlled from a central location.

Once the operating scenario for each type of opening is selected, it is time to choose the hardware that will achieve that scenario.

Many door hardware products were developed specifically with schools in mind so teachers and staff can secure a facility quickly and easily in an emergency situation.

Traditional classroom locks can only be locked by key on the outside. Today, there are several functions that allow the classroom to be secured from inside, reducing the chance of harm to teachers or staff. Classroom Security Intruder function locks can be locked from the inside or outside and offer the additional assurance of visual indicators when the door is secure. Schools should consider changing locks that are lockable from outside only to locks that are lockable from the inside as a quick and easy way to improve the security of their classrooms.

In addition, functions such as storeroom or corridor may be useful depending on where they are being used and the security goal of the door opening.

Exit devices perform the crucial function of facilitating safe exiting while restricting access from the outside. Typically used on perimeter doors, panic bars are the first line of defense against intruders and their specific function should be carefully considered.

Exit devices are available with many options appropriate to improving school security like electronic monitoring. When tied to an access control system, many parts of the device can be monitored for movement including the latchbolt and lever. This helps eliminate security breaches caused by doors being propped open or vandalized. SARGENT, an ASSA ABLOY group company, offers an Exit Device Security Shim Kit for double raised-frame doors that prevents chains or ropes from being wrapped around exit device pushbars, trapping people inside a facility as was done in the Virginia Polytechnic incident.

Falling between a mechanical lock and an access control system, stand-alone electronic locks use a keypad, card reader, or a combination to allow access. A radio frequency (RF) fob, similar to a car remote, is also available to remotely lockdown standalone electronic locks by pressing a panic button. From up to 75 feet away on the inside of the classroom, the panic button secures the door and disables all user credentials to prevent entry from unauthorized persons. This is an ideal solution in that everyday access is unrestricted by those with a PIN or credential, but secures the classroom quickly in an emergency. (See sidebar)

Standalone locks also provide some advanced features of a networked access control lock like audit capability and temporary access codes.

Electronic access control systems provide a heightened level of security, with control and monitoring functions. They use wired or wireless electronic locks that are tied into the master access control system. This enables every lock in the system to be configured via the main system. Access codes can be changed almost instantly from the central location. An EAC system adds a greater level of security by using locks that interface with a master access control system in the main security office (or centralized facility) by means of either wired or wireless devices. EAC systems also provide monitoring functions that enable precise tracking of anyone who uses a lock anywhere in the system as well as the status of critical doors to ensure they are not only closed, but latched and secured.

Another major benefit of an EAC system is that it can provide a complete audit trail for every credential in the system. Records of the activity of every lock are stored in a central database, including which credential was used to gain entrance and what time they entered the room.

ASSA ABLOY group brands offer a full complement of access control locking technologies including Wiegand-compatible, Power over Ethernet and wireless to meet the needs of any facility.

If it’s not feasible to add a full EAC system right away, consider installing basic stand-alone electronic locks that operate using a keypad or credential to reduce the need for keys and their potential for theft and loss.

Although the pressure to make sure a school’s security is greater than ever before, it’s imperative to keep in mind that the quick fix may not always be the best fix. Implementing the wrong life safety and security upgrades can be more harmful than no solution at all. The short-term benefits of any changes to a system must be considered while ultimately looking at how they will fit into a school’s total security picture, now and in the long term.


Christopher Gaughan is Director of Product Management, Architectural Hardware Group, ASSA ABLOY