Keys to Effective School Security

March 2, 2021
A multilayer approach might include video, electronics, mantraps and temperature screening in addition to locks.

Children face many dangers as they move through their K-12 education. School officials must consider all options as they plan and implement the best security available to protect their young charges. These dangers range from the threats posed by common, ordinary bullies to that of active shooters. The question is: What can be done to protect these facilities while maintaining an enjoyable learning experience?

As a locksmith, in years past, your involvement with school security typically revolved around the installation and service of mechanical locks, door hardware, door closers and electronic access control (EAC) systems. Today, however, a host of other security precautions are available. Each one represents another opportunity for you to earn additional revenue, sometimes on a monthly basis — the famous recurring monthly revenue (RMR).

In this feature, we’ll look at school security in a holistic manner, providing you with a general blueprint to follow. It makes sense to perform the duties in which you feel confident and capable while farming the rest to business partners that specialize in those areas of security.

A Multilayer Approach

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details when talking about school security. What’s the best way to protect against a bully? Where will a shooter likely enter the building? What do you do if there’s a tornado? Is one resource officer enough? No doubt to an astute school administrator, a million questions have to be answered, and it’s your job to know the answers, even if your company doesn’t perform all the work.

Let’s begin with the big picture. The physical security of almost any building or campus involves a multilayer approach. It begins with the hardening of the compound itself and ends with items such as mass notification communication, visitor management, ID badging and health screening. 

Hardening of the compound involves the following precautions:

  • Attention to the immediate perimeter outside each building, which includes lighting, landscaping, limited access to the campus and outdoor video surveillance.
  • Outside perimeter doors having commercial Grade 1 locks.
  • Placement of secure locks on classroom doors.
  • Video surveillance of all publicly accessible hallways.
  • The installation of a mass notification system throughout the school or campus.
  • Possible use of a school-lockdown system.

 Interlocking Vestibules

Time is of the essence when an active shooter enters and begins to prowl through a school building. For this reason, school officials might choose to add one or more mantraps, typically referred to as a security vestibule.

A well-designed access-controlled security vestibule features two or more doors that are synchronized to serve those who enter and leave. Many times in smaller schools, they’re installed at a public entrance to screen visitors. In larger applications, security vestibules can be used where students enter and leave, such as a bus dock area.

“School authorities are definitely concerned about the prospect of an active shooter,” says Daniel Hernandez, CEO of SecurityBud of Fullerton, California. “Through special interlocking access controllers, we’re able to coordinate the locking and unlocking of the doors in such an application.”

There are several ways to set up an interlocking vestibule for school use. One way is to lock the outer door electronically while maintaining the interior door in an unlocked condition while the exterior door remains closed. Access to the vestibule to someone outside hinges on either a valid credential, such as a key fob as part of an EAC system or an intercom through which visitors are granted access manually.When the outside door is opened, the inside door locks automatically. As long as the outside door remains ajar, the inside door can’t be opened.

“Some schools will utilize metal detection both on the incoming student population and any visitors,” says Skip Burnham, A/E sales manager with Dortronics Systems. “Depending on space and the layout of the entrance, they may have the metal detectors within a vestibule or prior to the entrance in a covered structure.”

Any such system relies on an interlock control system. The Dortronics 4700 series PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) is an access controller that provides the necessary timers and relays to accommodate up to four doors in a school vestibule application.

“Our interlock controllers are based on a custom-made PLC for access control applications,” Burnham adds. “Most are programmed at the factory and can be field-configured to meet the facility’s specific needs. On more-complex applications — typically 10 or more doors — we provide custom programming based on the customer’s specifications and operating requirements.”

The vestibule itself can be a hardened structure that’s added to the front of a school or a small foyer that’s equipped with a receptionist window that has bullet-hardened glass. In some cases where a receptionist window isn’t present, video and audio intercom technology can be used, which provides someone inside the school with the opportunity to view and speak with a visitor to determine the necessity for their access.

Temperature Screening

Another consideration in today’s COVID-19 world is that of screening visitors for health risks and allowing only healthy individuals into the building while rejecting all others — be they members of the public, students or teachers. This approach can include body-temperature detection and detection of a mask on the visitor’s face.

“We’re helping our client’s customers by using temperature monitoring as a means of access control,” says Mike Simon, technical director, Connected Technologies. “Their access credential allows them into the lobby, so if their body temperature is above normal, their access credential will not allow them to go any further.

 “Another way we use our Safe Passage system is either through a waiver that the person must fill out, which provides a snapshot of their current health, or through a temperature-sensing system of some kind,” he adds.

Detecting Sounds

Finally, schools should consider the 24/7 monitoring of audio, which includes data analysis. We’ve long had scream and gunshot detection through a variety of audio analytical technologies.

“All of our solutions are tied to school security, as this is the biggest market we serve,” says Rick Cadiz, vice president of sales and marketing with IPVideo. Three are tied directly to access control: HALO, ViewScan and Sentry. ViewScan is a passive weapons and metal detection system, and Sentry is a body-temperature and mask scanner.

As for HALO, it’s an audio analysis IoT system. The integration factor between an audio IoT device, such as IPVideo’s HALO Smart Sensor, makes it possible for local cameras to hone in on a specific area automatically while getting the attention of on-site security personnel after a particular sound is detected. A good example of this would be an attack in a restroom that results in the victim screaming for help.

“VMS [video management system] is typically the head end [for HALO sensors], however, some access control companies, like Gallagher, have pulled us into their mapping software on occasion,” Cadiz notes. Power over Ethernet is the preferred method of connecting, he adds, but the systems also have Wi-Fi capability.

The issue of what constitutes good school security isn’t easy to answer. However, you can navigate this difficult terrain successfully by drawing on experience, the expertise of others and unrelenting study.

Allan B. Colombo is a longtime trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. Contact him at [email protected], 330-956-9003 or