Safeguarding a School’s Entry Points: Securing Secondary Perimeter Openings

Schools receive many visitors throughout the day, including parents, vendors, and sports teams. Most schools, especially larger ones, have multiple doorways where visitors can enter and exit. Visitor access to all of these entrances needs to be controlled in order to maximize everyone’s safety and security.

Ideally, all visitors should enter through the main entrance and pass through a security vestibule or reception area before they can enter the school. The vestibule provides an additional layer of security in controlling who’s allowed to enter the building.

But what about all those other entrances to the school? This might seem obvious, but the most well-intentioned and implemented main entrance security procedures are going to be for naught if someone can literally sneak in through the back door. Every school needs an effective strategy for securing these secondary exterior openings, as well as interior doors such as gyms, cafeterias and auditoriums where visitors often go in and out.

The most effective strategy for ensuring proper security across all entrances includes the implementation of an electronic access control (EAC) system, which enables precise control of all entry and exit points and visitor access. Because an EAC system can be used to monitor the activity at every secondary perimeter opening, it can even reduce the number of security personnel needed to guard the school’s doors. Though it may be difficult to justify the short-term expense of implementing an EAC system, it is indeed a smart long-term investment.

There are two types of secondary exterior openings: doors that are controlled as restricted points of entrance and exit-only doors. An example of the former would be a door where faculty members and kids access a playground. An exit-only door is one where there’s no need for anyone to ever use it as an entry door; it is there only to provide free egress in a fire or emergency.

Electronic access control offers the ideal solution for doors that are restricted points of entrance. In the case of the playground, where there’s a need to restrict which staff and kids go in and out and at what times, a lock with a card reader (to name one option) could allow access for authorized teachers and staff during the school day only, and the card reader could be shut off after school hours.

Another important advantage of EAC is monitoring capability. EAC locks provide an audit trail of exactly who opened a door and when, and can record if and when a door was propped open. This can trigger a local alarm and inform the central monitoring system if a door has been propped open for a specific period of time.

Exit-only doors by their very nature prevent people from coming in from the outside, since they are only to be used in emergencies. There’s one important exception; some exit door mechanisms have a key override so fire safety or law enforcement officials can get in from the outside. The exterior trim of exit devices or “panic devices” comes in a number of configurations, including flush-mount types where there are no handles or levers projecting out the door. Fewer moving parts minimize vandalism and chances of forced entry.

For whatever locking solution a school selects, it’s imperative that the system meets all applicable building and fire codes. Improving school security at the expense of compromising emergency egress isn’t an option.

In the past year there has been much discussion about the importance of safeguarding students in classrooms. A primary consideration is giving faculty and staff the ability to lock a classroom door from the inside.

Schools also need to maximize security in areas outside the classroom such as gyms, libraries, choral rooms and other larger spaces. While controlling visitors’ access is important, there’s another and perhaps bigger concern, literally, in such areas: faculty and staff have to go across a larger distance to get to a door and lock it. And in the event of an emergency, every second counts.

Here’s where EAC can provide a major advantage: remote locking. Not only can a door be locked from a central location like a security office, but librarians, teachers and other authorized staff can instantly lock a door using an RF key fob or a hard-wired button near a faculty member’s desk.

If an area requires an exit device, a number of EAC-enabled configurations are available that are ideal for indoor use. These include exit devices with electronic strikes, electronic latch retraction and electronic dogging.

Although their advantages are compelling, schools may not be able to justify installing a full EAC system (for example, there might be little-used rooms and infrequently-used low-traffic areas in the building), or may require time to make the transition. In these cases, it’s essential to have full key control. Security and building facility personnel need to know at all times who has keys and whether they can be easily duplicated. Regular audits are essential as a means to verify a school district’s key system has not been compromised. In addition to key audits, it’s imperative to conduct regularly scheduled security walkthroughs to make sure that every key and lock is working properly.

As schools continue to face new challenges, they must also educate themselves with information to meet those changes. Today’s security industry is evolving and becoming more innovative every day. As security and industry experts we must become resources for our local schools as a way to keep our students, teachers and faculty members safe and secure. As schools seek and implement new systems to improve school security, we must focus on the whole school and all of the challenges within each space. Providing a secure entry point and ensuring classroom security is critical, but there are many other spaces within a school that students and teachers utilize daily that also must offer the same level of security.


Doug Titus serves as business development manager, education, ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions