Passive School Security

April 2, 2019
Passive technology can include such factors as parking lot and perimeter systems and bulletproof glass

Since our children represent the future of our society, assuring their safety while they are in school should be one of our priorities. Active shooter scenarios are a relatively new phenomena, and apparently an unfortunate event and part of modern world.

When I was a kid, we had fire drills and an occasional air raid drill. There were two kinds of sign: FIRE EXIT and BOMB SHELTER. These days, there are new procedures and drills that school districts implement in the hopes of protecting the children from these new threats -- active shooters, sexual predators, and domestic terrorists.

As a security professional, I have participated in programs to provide heightened security for (among others) schools, school districts and universities. While each threat is unique, they do have certain commonalities.

The security involves buildings, research reveals certain statistical trends among the perpetrators, and we as security professionals have extensive resources available we can offer.

The following terms are used by the security industry to help security professionals visualize the process of protecting people and assets and to aid in the design of security management policy and layered security systems: Deter, Detect, Delay, Respond, Recover

Sometimes security professional further dichotomies security as passive and active security.

Passive security is there, waiting, sometimes obvious sometimes concealed. Its presence acts a warning, perhaps as a reassurance. Active security alerts alarms, locks down & takes other appropriate actions.

Most security products perform multiple roles a security management system so it is difficult to try to list them as passive or active but we’ll try anyway

Steel Doors

 “A door assembly is often a building’s first line of defense and can dramatically reduce the risk of harm to people or property,” according to the Steel Door Institute.

The Steel Door Institute website,,  offers topical, useful and educational resources which are of immense value to door professionals (locksmiths).

SDI’s standards are available without charge. Design professionals around the world specify these standards because they are concise and regularly updated with leading industry practices.

In addition to their trusted industry standards, the SDI website has a Door Selector Tool, Drawings and Videos.

There is a difference between “forced entry doors” and “security doors.” Forced entry doors keep people out and are found in just about every building type.

Although each facility’s security needs are unique, virtually every type of building requires protection against forced entry. The challenge lies in determining the degree of protection that is appropriate and therefore which products are most suitable.

A forced entry resistant opening can withstand pry bars, hammers, and even battering rams – all while looking like regular doors.

Forced entry resistant doors are one of the most viewed products on The SDI website, especially in the last couple years. While the Steel Door Institute doesn’t sell products, they can point you toward more information and the 12 SDI Certified manufacturers that do.

Security doors are often for containment (e.g. police stations, holding cells, mental health facilities).

A door assembly is often a building’s first line of defense and can dramatically reduce the risk of harm to people or property. Government and high-end buildings tend to be more at risk for physical attacks. Retail and commercial tenants are usually more concerned with theft.

The security needs of schools vary widely and are often a hybrid of burglary prevention and safety.

Code Compliance

One of the most contentious issues associated with school security and the defense against the active shooter, is the locking arrangements on classroom doors.

School districts may consider classroom doors as faster, less expensive and easier to protect than the entire campus, although many of us would argue that security and access control has to begin at the furthest perimeter, and security should be multi-layered.

The debate is over the installation of barricade hardware on classroom doors. Everyone agrees protection against forced entry is essential, but many insist not at the expense of life safety. Nearly all of the “bolt on” barricade solutions actually increase the dangers the occupants face within the school building for a number of reasons.

When it comes to life safety, the local authority having jurisdiction (LAHJ) has the final word. Very often the LAHJ is the Fire Marshal. To a great extent they use the National Codes as baseline for their inspections. The best path for locksmiths is to educate themselves on codes and consider the LAHJs as allies on the effort to ensure life safety.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals has published guidelines for classroom door locks. Here are the highlights of document for you to review, but it is for casual viewing to capture the essence of their rules. Visit the NASFM website,,  and download the document.

If you are presented with an opportunity to enhance security to classroom doors, abide by these guidelines and by all means get out in front of any possible liabilities or casualties by reaching out to your own LAHJ FIRST before agreeing to install anything.

Bulletproof Barriers

Security professionals have long considered glass door and glazing as points of vulnerability because it provides an easy point of entry and target for forced entry and active shooters. Locksmith Ledger spoke to Rick Reid, Total Security Solutions Market Segment Leader, about bulletproof glass solutions for schools.  

Please tell us about your company, and your background in security.

The bullet resistant barrier business actually has its origins right here in the Detroit area. The industry emerged to protect Detroit banks from armed robberies. From there, it steadily spread to include all sorts of economic activities, from jewelry stores and pawn shops to party stores and fast-food restaurants.

Fast forward to today: Retail locations still need to deter armed robbery, but now we're increasingly addressing security concerns at municipal buildings, police stations, and unprecedented threats from mass-shootings.  Currently, the fastest-growing segment of our business is K-12 schools.  When John Richards founded Total Security Solutions (TSS) more than 14 years ago, he never would have imagined that schools would be a meaningful part of our work.

Today TSS is led by John's son, Jim, who draws on his own decades of security experience.  He's long advocated for modernizing the bullet-resistant barrier industry: greater customization and fine-tuning of designs, tighter tolerances, better fit and finish, higher quality at every step in the process.  As a result, TSS is deeply committed to exceedingly attractive, high-functioning, high-quality barrier systems and solutions.

Has the market for bulletproof glass and film grown in response to the active shooter problem?

Depressingly, yes.  We see a big surge in inquiries after any active shooter event. In 2018 alone, we did twice as much work in K-12 schools as we had previously.  But the market has also grown overall, in all segments, not just schools.  TSS is moving to a new 46,000 square foot headquarters this April, almost doubling our current footprint, to accommodate our continued growth.  

What products and services do you offer that would help the locksmith better serve the needs of schools calling upon them for security upgrades to defend against such attacks?

First and foremost, we offer education.  We really want everyone to make the best choices to secure our schools, churches, businesses.  We put a lot of free resources out on our website, so that everyone can educate themselves and start thinking clearly about safety.        

For a good overview of how we advise schools approach their planning: All Hazards Approach to School Safety

We also recently produced this video about when to use ballistic glazing vs. aftermarket security films: Bulletproof Glass or Security Window Film Video.

It all comes down to People vs. Products. If you're just protecting Products—preventing smash-and-grabs, vandalism, burglary—then security film is great. If you need to protect People, you need to seriously consider bullet-resistant materials.

What role does ballistic glazing play in school's security management program?

In our experience, the key security and safety improvement for a school is in access control.  A huge number of school threats are mitigated by simply channeling all visitors, students, and staff into a school building through a single point of entry.  For that reason, many schools elect to convert an existing entryway into a secured bullet-resistant vestibule entrance.  This can be extremely cost-effective for the school and can be accomplished without disrupting school operations or making the school look or feel like a prison.

Can a locksmith install a prefabricated bulletproof assembly he orders from you?

In many cases, yes — keeping in mind that some prefabricated pieces can be quite heavy.  Bullet resistant materials are usually two or three times heavier than conventional equivalents. Most schools opt for a custom vestibule system, which includes several doors with electric strikes, transaction windows or custom ballistic windows with framing, and panels to reinforce walls.  Most projects like that require two or three installers and can be completed in a day or less. We have our own installers, but work with plenty of third-party contractors and glazers across the US and Canada.  

Some locksmiths have found the liabilities associated with providing protective glass were ominous, and obtaining certificates of insurance problematic. What recommendations can you offer our readers?

This is part of the reason we have such a long history working with third-party contractors: A glazer or locksmith might only be asked to handle bullet-resistant security a few times in a career.  We do it every day and have for years.  Meanwhile, we don't have the resources to have boots on the ground in every town.  We've fabricated countless systems based on measurements glaziers, locksmiths, and other contractors sent us—even walking them through the process when they wanted the support—and then guided them through the final installation.

Our online Architectural Resource Center offers data sheets, spec sheets, and explanatory diagrams and videos about various bullet-resistant materials and components.  Our blog also has many articles around these topics.

Classroom Door Hardware

The ability to protect students, teachers, and administrators from threatening situations is a high priority in all educational institutions. Many schools, school districts, colleges, and universities have taken measures to address this pressing concern of safety of occupants in schools, and especially classrooms.

Some of the proposed or implemented solutions specifically affecting classroom doors, while well intended, may compromise aspects of life safety while attempting to address security. In addition to the demand to protect students and teachers from outside-the-classroom threats, classroom doors are required to comply with other life safety and accessibility provisions.

To help prevent fire spread in a school building, building codes, fire codes, and life safety codes may require classroom doors to be fire-rated doors. Fire-rated doors are required to be self-latching when closed to ensure they perform their intended protective function in the event of a fire.

To facilitate immediate egress from the classroom, building codes, fire codes, and life safety codes require doors from inside the room (the egress side) to unlock and unlatch with one motion without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or effort.

To ensure access to and from classrooms by all occupants regardless of physical ability, classroom hardware with no tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist; and the door operating hardware must be located between 34” and 48” above the floor.

Federal accessibility laws and building codes require the bottom 10” of the push side of the door to be a smooth surface.

When selecting hardware which allows classroom doors to be lockable from inside the room, consideration must be given to the risks and potential consequences of utilizing a device which blocks the door from the inside potentially impeding or preventing immediate egress by occupants, at any time, and under any conditions.

Devices which prevent classroom doors from being unlocked and opened from outside the classroom may place the inhabitants of the room in peril. In addition to the requirement that classroom doors must be unlockable and unlatchable in a single motion from inside the classroom (discussed above), these doors should always be unlockable and openable from outside the classroom by authorized persons.

Classroom Door Checklist

1. The door should be lockable from inside the classroom without requiring the door to be opened

2. Egress from the classroom through the classroom door should be without the use of a key, a tool, special knowledge, or effort

3. For egress, unlatching the classroom door from inside the classroom should be accomplished with one operation

4. The classroom door should be lockable and unlockable from outside the classroom

5. Door operating hardware should be operable without tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist

6. Door hardware operable parts should be located between 34 and 48 inches above the floor

7. The bottom 10 inches of the “push” side of the door surface should be smooth

8. If the school building does not have an automatic fire sprinkler system, the classroom door and door hardware may be required to be fire-rated and the door should be self-closing and self-latching

9. If the door is required to be fire-rated, the door should not be modified in any way that invalidates the required fire-rating of the door and / or door hardware

In the Classroom Door Checklist, “should” is used throughout. However, based upon building codes, life safety codes, fire codes, and federal, state, and / or local laws and regulations that are applicable to a particular school, these requirements may be MANDATORY. Always check, and comply with, all applicable building and fire codes, life safety codes, and laws, regulations and other requirements.

The U.S. Department of Justice 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are applicable to classroom doors.

Mobile Credentials

The Locksmith Ledger contacted Scott Lindley, General Manager for Farpointe Data for his comments on the efficacy of credentials in enhancing school security.

Now, as schools and campuses are learning how to protect card-based systems, such as their access control solutions, along come mobile access credentials and their companion readers which use smartphones instead of cards as the vehicle for carrying identification information.

Many school authorities perceive that they are safer with a card but, if done correctly, mobile access can be a far more secure option with many more features to be leveraged.

Handsets deliver biometric capture and comparison as well as an array of communication capabilities from cellular and Wi-Fi to Bluetooth LE and NFC.

Anything a card credential can do can be replicated by a smartphone credential.

However, smartphone credentials can take advantage of new technologies not available with cards. For instance, as Suzi Abell of 3xLOGIC writes in the September 14, 2018, issue of the Security Industry Association (SIA) newsletter, “A credential – supporting two-way communication with active notification capabilities – can be leveraged to send automated or ad-hoc notifications to users. Add location services and geo-fencing capability, and you can send notifications only to those people who are within a specific geographic area. And you can further target those notifications to specific people.”

By using location services, administrators will define how near to the door a person must be to request access. A mobile app that functions as the user’s credential and provides two-way communications with a central monitoring station will also provide a path for two-way emergency communications.

For example, a teacher leaving the building at the end of a late night class on the way to her car can quickly and easily ask for assistance or notify security of a potential issue remotely via the mobile device in her hand.

Farpointe Conekt

New generation smartphone-based implementations, such as Farpointe Data’s Conekt system, reduce installation costs.

For instance, some older mobile systems force the user to register themselves and their integrators for every application. Door access – register. Parking access – register again. Data access – register again, with each registration requiring the disclosure of sensitive personal information.

The Conekt system provides an easier way to distribute credentials with features that allow the user to register their handset only once and need no other portal accounts, activation features or hidden fees. Users don’t need to fill out several different forms.

By removing these and additional intrusive information disclosures, they have also eliminated privacy concerns that have been slowing down adoption of this technology.

All that is needed to activate the credential is simply the phone number of the smartphone. It avoids setting up multiple accounts and eliminates sensitive personal information from being available for hacking.

sSecurity administrators have more avenues to ensure safe and secure environments for students on campus. The cards work in concert with access control systems, video surveillance and mass notification capabilities.

Farpointe Data’s Conekt System will eliminate the hardware costs of re-keying and the immediate revocation of cards, keyfobs and PINs from faculty, staff, and students without having to manage locks. They reduce the manual labor of managing and replacing keys as well as re-keying door locks.

An EAC system will keep visitors and specific employees/students out of restricted areas. The organization will no longer have to rely on manual or paper-based visitor management after the fact. With a visitor management system that is integrated with badging and access control systems, the organizations can now control guests. Access control privileges can be assigned to authorized guests and guests tracked to specific locations.

Additionally, the organization will now maintain a list of people who are not allowed into a facility, whether for security, guardianship/custodial rights, personnel restrictions or other reasons. If they show up, the new system will automatically “red light” them.

Hostile intruder situations have emerged as serious threats to school safety. Often, these threats may require an emergency lockdown or shelter-in-place procedures, which are the opposite of a school evacuation process. Many schools are looking to augment their ability to lockdown the facility.

The latest advances in facility security have been shown to go a long way in helping to maintain perimeter access and intra-facility movement during an emergency.

Access control systems have become an increasingly popular way to enable the lockdown of a facility in the case of an emergency. Moving to more networked openings with the ability to lockdown from a central location can help put their emergency management plan into action.

Further, a reduction in lockdown time signifies an improvement in emergency preparedness. It also assures that perimeter and intra-facility access has been optimized for both performance and security, resulting in increased security for students, employees and visitors alike.

Vehicle Barricade Systems

Delta Scientific Corporation produces, sells and installs high-security vehicle barricade systems, parking control equipment and guardbooths. Delta’s seasoned field technicians will train the site staff on how to safely operate the barrier system.

Keeping pedestrians safe, protecting structures from accidental or intentional automobile crashes, and force protection (keeping employees and visitors from harm) have always been campus safety concerns. A wide variety of campuses find peace of mind through the use of barriers, barricades and bollards for vehicle-based physical access control at their perimeters.

Bollards, benches and planters made of cement are losing favor because when hit, the exploding cement can act like shrapnel, resulting in many injuries. Another common planning deficiency occurs when designers choose non-certified barriers or barricades. Certified equipment has been tested and proven to work under extreme conditions, giving planners the confidence they rely on.

Today’s barriers and bollards are capable of stopping and destroying a truck weighing up to 65,000 pounds and traveling at 50 mph. Such barricades can be raised or lowered at will to stop traffic or let it through.

In an emergency, the thick steel plates or bollards pop out of the ground within 1.5 seconds.

Quite often, vehicle access is required temporarily. Parking for the football game, a grand opening for the new wing, freshman matriculation day and open houses are temporary events needing only a temporary solution.

Fortunately, such equipment now exists in the form of portable, towable barriers. These barriers can be deployed quickly and effectively, even in places where it’s impossible to excavate for a permanent foundation.

Able to be deployed in 15 minutes, they can quickly protect facilities and people from vehicle attacks and accidents. These mobile crash barriers can be towed into position by a medium-sized pick-up truck or equivalent. 

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.