Helping Schools React Responsibly to an Increased Security Demand

May 2, 2018
Manufacturers, integrators/locksmiths and end users are all working toward the same goal: protect the people and places that matter most

There is currently a demand in the education market to readdress the security needs of school campuses. This is fueled by continued reports of active shooters at our nation’s schools. And while there are many steps that can be taken to add robust levels of security – or to reinforce current security solutions – the advice comes with a caveat: don’t just react – react appropriately and with purpose.

When evaluating a school, it is our job as security professionals to look holistically at a school's year-round needs. That means considering all types of uses that relate to doors, openings and hardware. While there are questions in the current climate about what can be done to best improve school security in active shooter scenarios, it is also important to provide schools with reasonable, and more importantly, safe solutions.

Reacting appropriately means making sure not to install products that don’t truly make sense for a location. For example, while attack-resistant openings make sense for many locations, a gymnasium may be better equipped with an opening that reduces noise as it will benefit the school year-round and still conform to best practices for emergency lockdowns.

Much more concerning is adding aftermarket “solutions” that don’t conform to code and make things much more dangerous. These products often look to use a type of wedge or barricade to reinforce a door, and they are not only dangerous in fire or evacuation scenarios but can also allow a dangerous individual to barricade themselves within the school. This greatly hampers an emergency response team’s ability to effectively deal with a dangerous situation.

Schools come under immense pressure – from students, parents, and the community – that make it feel as if they must “do something” in response to the most recent incident. But a responsible manufacturer or integrator must provide guidance that fits within best practices.

Revisit the plan

All schools should have a type of safety and security plan that is implemented in the event of an emergency. Schools should revisit that plan to reassess its operational efficiency and ensure that all staff are up to date on the procedures expected of them.

One update that may be necessary is the move from having a single system that locks all openings to a sectored approach that relies on the situational awareness of staff. The current standard in the industry for lockdowns is that perimeter openings be controlled and shuttered by a centralized security system, whereas individual classrooms or other interior doors are locked locally based on the location, situation and decision-making of staff and faculty.

This new approach looks to ensure individuals aren’t locked out of a safe area by a system-wide lockdown. It also gives faculty the opportunity to begin evacuation if they can determine it is in the best interest. Of course, this requires training of teachers and faculty to make them situationally aware, but this is possible through the same methods that take place in training for tornados, hurricanes and fires.

Rethink visitor management

Another planning update worth revisiting is how visitor management is handled. However, this may require something of a redesign to the campus itself. Current best practices are to put a stop to visitors being able to access a facility from multiple points, and instead require they enter through main entrances or vestibules that allow for proper check in.

This can go as far as to allow for administrators to run automatic identification checks, provide photo ID credentials, and to implement metal detector scans.

The clear benefit to this is limiting the ingress to a facility. Combined with a situational awareness model, this approach can drastically improve the protection level of facilities.

Fix what is already there

Now is the time to conduct a site survey of school doors and openings. Don’t wait until the end of the year, and don’t do it just once a year. Do it now and do it often.

Look for some of the common problems that exist in all buildings. Have teachers stacked storage items in front of secondary exit or emergency exit doors? Have doorjambs or makeshift devices been implemented to keep doors open which should be shut? Is the hardware working on the door – i.e. are the door closers strong enough to ensure latching, are the latches working properly, are the locks working correctly?

Also, if you are still on a brass key system, do a key inventory and update any locks where there may be keys missing. If you use electronic access, ensure that all credentials are correct.

Upgrade openings

When the time has come to finally consider upgrading or replacing openings, the goal should be to improve the safety and security of classroom and perimeter doors. That includes improving emergency egress, facilitating lockdowns – be it from a central location, such as the main office, or from within a classroom – and hardening the building envelope from storm events, blasts, and physical attack.

With an attack-resistant opening, the entirety of the assembly should be resistant. That includes the frame, the door, the glass and all the hardware that goes on it. Also, ensure it has been rigorously tested to withstand an attack for up to four minutes – the time in which it is likely law enforcement will arrive. This includes a ballistics test and a sustained assault with hand tools.

Wood and hollow metal options are available for schools, but it is important for administrators to understand the total package must be deployed as a solution for the opening to be truly attack resistant.

Another consideration is to think about what the exterior of an exit door looks like. The outside of the door can offer vandal-resistant pulls where there isn't enough leverage to compromise the door from the exterior of the building.

Also, if a school is looking to upgrade to the situational awareness model, electric locks can be retrofit to both interior and exterior doors.

Final considerations

Getting back to the original warnings, remember that schools may currently be in reaction mode. They may feel determined to do something they feel goes above and beyond. If, for any reason, a school seems set on installing a non-code-compliant product, tell them to get the fire marshal’s approval in writing. If the fire marshal isn’t comfortable taking on that liability, then neither should be the school.

Also, be sure to approach this as a collaborative partnership. Integrators and locksmiths are just as invested in keeping schools and children safe as the school administrators, teachers and the community are. Offer free site consultations, or find manufacturers you can partner with that will offer the free consultations.

To truly offer schools the best level of protection, we need to ensure that manufacturers, integrators/locksmiths, and end users are all working toward the same goal: protect the people and places that matter most.

Ron Baer is Director of Business Development – K-12, ASSA ABLOY