A Unified Approach to School Security

June 2, 2024
PASS school safety guidelines recommend electronic access control and indicator locks

First established in 2014, the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) brings together expertise from the education, public safety and industry communities to develop and support a coordinated approach to making effective use of proven security practices specific to K-12 environments, and informed decisions on security investments.

PASS is led by a multidisciplinary team of volunteers, supported by the PASS Advisory Council representing partners from the public and private sectors. PASS leadership is tasked with:

·       Building relationships across the education, public safety and industry communities in support of the PASS mission

·       Ensuring the PASS Safety and Security Guidelines for K-12 Schools and related tools and resources are up to date and informed by appropriate subject matter expertise and reflect best practices specific to K-12 environments

·       Educating stakeholders concerning PASS resources through speaking engagements, written communications, organizational partnerships and other mechanisms

By taking a layered approach to school security, PASS addresses and provides recommendations for securing all areas of a school, from the perimeter to the individual classroom, with recommendations and best practices. For more information on the recommendations, including a checklist with each of the tiers provided, visit www.passk12.org.

As PASS Advisory Board Chair Guy Grace points out, controlling access to school buildings is fundamental to securing the school environment. “What we're recommending is considering electronic access control on more of your doors to expand your building operations and your daily school-business continuity, but also to facilitate emergency access in a more organized way,” Grace explains.

While access control can consist of both mechanical and electronic systems, PASS recommends that a limited number of key-operated openings should be provided to allow access to different areas of the property, parking lot, and building from the exterior if alternate access to the building is required.

“Electronic access control is a preferred approach, as electronics allow control to specific openings at specific times,” says Grace, noting that emergency access through a card or credential device should be provided at multiple locations around the building, or at property and parking lot perimeters if secured, to ensure rapid access. “Districts should provide access credentials to all emergency responders. One way this could be accomplished is by issuing all area law enforcement officers a key card or key fob that would access the currently installed card readers. Many school districts have found issuing law enforcement credentials to be very valuable in helping in the response to emergencies on campuses. With that in mind, I would recommend that as card readers are replaced or updated that a mobile credential capability is considered.”

Classroom Locks

Whether mechanical or electronic locks are installed at classroom, Shelter in Place or interior openings, interior doors should comply with appropriate locally enforced building codes for new educational occupancies, existing educational occupancies, new day care occupancies, existing day care occupancies, new business occupancies, existing business occupancies and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to latest PASS guidelines, which recommend that school administrators work with local life safety experts to determine code compliance related to securing classroom/interior doors.

While many types of mechanical and electronic locks are available, PASS notes that certain functionality is essential for classroom doors (and other shelter in place doors) from a safety and security standpoint, including:

·       Classroom locks should be lockable from the inside of the room.

·       Any lock shall allow keyed or electronic access from the corridor side for access by authorized personnel without a special tool or knowledge. Electronic access doors shall have a key override from the corridor side.

·       Any lock shall always allow free egress from the inside of the room with one releasing operation.

·       Locks should ideally have a visual indicator so that the condition of the lock (locked or unlocked) is visible from inside the room.

Note: Code-compliant conversion kits that retrofit existing locks with a visual indicator are an affordable means to comply with this recommendation, PASS notes.

“Having the ability of all the occupants to be able to lock that door is actually a critical piece now,” says Grace. “And the other one, a new component, is the visual indicators on locks. Now that's a life saver, and that's also a culture enhancement within the schools. So, when we look at the indicator locks, that's a Tier 2 now in our PASS guidelines, so our recommendations are for K through 12 to look at obtaining locks with visual indicators.”

He continues, “I will point out that anything that we're recommending here is going to be expensive, but if this is done right, these are going to last generations and generations of kids. You see a lot of our K through 12 schools asking for these visual indicators because it really is about empowerment and it's also peace of mind every day to have those locks with visual indicators.”

Unified Security

Many schools are moving toward unifying all life safety systems, as these systems are being used daily within the school and classrooms and not just for an emergency.                                             

“When you look at all of these components and these recommendations, it's quite evident that these are foundational components,” says Grace.Our next recommendation is that ability of having unified life safety systems … your lockdown, your mass notification, your video surveillance, your public address, your first-responder, your real time location services, for example.”

And when there is an emergency, these systems are already in place and tested and part of the school’s everyday culture. “Whatever is going on in there – we are moving toward that ability to have all of that technology unified in that way to get real time tactical information about what is going on, where the location is and getting into facilitating a speedier access to these incidents is critically important,” Grace explains. “Because when first responders look at these school maps, for example, when they come to an incident, it could be very perplexing, especially when you get into larger facilities.”

Now with mobile access, he adds, “It is that ability to get into these schools quickly and efficiently using location services and strategic access points and cut down on that response time, but also the ability to segregate or localize an attack. So, what you have done is you've stopped or deterred, or delayed an adversary from getting to different areas in that school.

“When you're doing this, you're tactically cutting down your response time for a medical emergency or first responder emergency. So that unification piece is a big takeaway because you can't only do this on the access control side, you must do this with the other technologies that schools are buying as well – the video management system, mass notification, as we discussed – it’s all those technologies working together.”

Grace adds that it is “absolutely critical” that first responders can get into the school, not just through one point, but through multiple points. “I think those are the critical access control pieces that we take from this – the functioning of the school – when an emergency happens, we now you have different ways to control your access.”

Many bigger schools and campuses are also setting up security operations centers, with states like Texas looking at adding them state-wide.

“I think that that's the important, and as we look at school districts with more than 7,000 students, you see a lot of them are creating security operations centers like what we had in Littleton,” notes Grace. “If we look at Texas, they are building security operations centers for all their regions, with many of those school districts building their own security operations centers, so when we look at this, everything that we're talking about is unified.”

As an industry, Grace says we need to continue to empower all stakeholders in those K-12 schools.

“We are trying to provide all those occupants with the options that they need to know to be able to deal with emergencies daily,” he says. “We need to continue to work on that empowerment piece and develop those in schools as well as anything that we can do to educate those kids and those teachers on doing the right things in these different emergencies or situations. I think that's the win-win for us and obviously it's done differently everywhere, and there are so many things that need to be done, but when you give people confidence that goes a long way toward their overall mental health, whether that be your technological implementations, or defining your human roles and processes and implementations.”


Tips for Creating an Effective Lockdown Drill

Creating a lockdown drill procedure requires careful and thoughtful planning. It is crucial to consider the possible effects of drills on the mental well-being of students and teachers. The following are essential steps to develop an efficient lockdown drill, which can also be found in the PASS Safety and Security Guidelines. “Making any drill an educational experience for the staff, students, and community is important,” says Grace. “Students should be empowered to know what to do.”

PASS recommendations include:

Notify Parents in Advance

Transparency is key. Parents should be informed well in advance about upcoming drills, allowing them to discuss the process with their children and address any concerns.

Test Systems When Schools Are Closed

It is essential to regularly test schools’ communication systems, alarms, and security measures during breaks or when schools are closed. This helps to ensure these systems’ proper functionality and identify any issues that need addressing. Specifically, it is essential to check that the door lock and sensor monitoring systems are fully functional and that the emergency messaging systems are correctly set up.

Keep Drills Simple and Age Appropriate

Drill procedures should be simple and easy to follow. A well-understood plan that is easy to follow will lead to a more effective response. Remember that it is important to tailor the drills to be age-appropriate, balancing the need for preparedness with sensitivity to the students’ developmental stage. Safe and Sound Schools offers guidance on understanding students’ development levels, which can help craft an age-appropriate drill procedure.

Offer Multiple Strategies/Scenarios

It is important to note that students and staff may not always be in their classrooms or behind closed doors during their busy school days. Remember, during an active threat situation, the natural human reaction is to be startled, feel fear and anxiety, and even experience initial disbelief and denial. Knowing your options provides the means to regain your composure, recall at least some of what you have learned, and commit to action.

There are four consistent basic options that you can utilize: shelter, evade, defend, and care. During an active threat situation, individuals rarely have all the information they need to make a fully informed decision about which option is best. While they should follow the plan and any instructions given during an incident, they often must rely on their judgment to decide which option will best protect lives.

Therefore, it is necessary to teach them additional strategies beyond just sheltering in a classroom. For instance, they should be taught what to do when an active threat arises in other areas of the school, such as bathrooms, cafeterias, or hallways. In addition, during a lockdown drill at an elementary school, staff and students should be given scenarios for recess so they can learn how to leave school grounds safely.

Based on the information that the students and staff have, evacuation strategies should be drilled as one of the option-based strategies. Ensuring that students and staff know how to evacuate in an active threat situation, where the reunification points are, and what to do once reaching a unification point empowers students in an active threat situation.

Make It an Educational Experience

Transform drills into educational opportunities by discussing the importance of preparedness, the rationale behind each action (like shutting off lights, staying quiet and out of view, and responding to law enforcement), and everyone’s responsibility to maintain a secure environment.

Visit www.passk12.org for more information.