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Passive Ways to Improve School Security

When it comes to securing schools, finding the right balance between safety without sacrificing a welcoming and nurturing learning environment is critical.

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When it comes to securing schools, finding the right balance between safety without sacrificing a welcoming and nurturing learning environment is critical.

The importance of security continues to take center stage as schools defend against things like vandalism, gun violence, and potential on-campus disagreements among parents and guardians – and communities are looking for ways to reduce crime and improve safety while maintaining a quality learning environment.

CPTED – the design concept of crime prevention through environmental design – creates a climate of safety through proper design and the use of passive elements in the built environment. For this reason, schools are starting to consider CPTED strategies to add another layer of security to their sites.

CPTED is achieved by focusing on five concepts:

  1. Natural surveillance: Designing to “see and be seen” (simply put – making sure people can see other people). This can be done through lighting, the elimination of hiding spots, and making sure that as much activity as possible can be seen.
  2. Natural access control: Designing features to inherently limit how people access a site or building. For example, this can include using pavement and landscaping to direct people to preferred entrances.
  3. Territorial reinforcement: Designing to clearly define spaces between the public and non-public while reinforcing a sense of community for those who use the building.
  4. Maintenance: Keeping up with necessary repairs to prevent property deterioration. If something is obviously well-kept and maintained, this sends the message that people are paying attention and protecting the property.
  5. Activity support: Making sure the building is utilized as much as possible. For a school environment, this might involve hosting meetings or community events during off hours so the building isn’t unoccupied for long periods of time.

CPTED Concepts to Reinforce on Your Own

When I first joined the professional world, I learned a valuable lesson while working at a resort. The owner made it a priority for someone – usually me – to walk her dog around the property daily before guests were up, making note of items to fix or clean (while picking up trash or righting a tipped trash can along the way).

That hands-on concept stuck with me – and it’s a great idea to implement in your school district: conducting regularly scheduled walks around your site. This is an efficient, effective way to identify security vulnerabilities and assess current security conditions.

During these walks, there are certain things to think about and look for. Based upon what you find, many of these changes or fixes can be addressed internally by you or a maintenance team member:

  1. Parking Lots/Pavement
    1. Can seasonal parking lots (used for sporting or musical events, for example) be closed during off seasons to prevent loitering?
    2. Is the pavement in good condition? A broken/crushed curb can create a chunk of concrete that can be picked up and used to smash in a window, for example. Is there anything else around the property that could be picked up and used in an act of vandalism?
    3. Does anything obstruct the view from the office to the parking lot/entrance?
  2. Outdoor Facilities & Structures
    1. Can athletic facilities, sports fields, and playgrounds be secured when not in use?
    2. Are sheds or play structures located away from the building to prevent someone from climbing on top of them?
    3. Are dumpsters or storage containers located far enough away from the building or fence to prevent unauthorized access? Are there any play areas directly adjacent to a drive or road?
  3. Fencing/Perimeter
    1. Are there holes in the fencing that need to be fixed?
    2. Is the fence secured to the ground or can it be lifted up?
  4. Lighting
    1. Are all exterior lighting fixtures operational? Are all lamps functioning? Do any need to be replaced? Do the fixtures create glare from the drive lanes?
  5. Building & Site Visibility
    1. Are all areas of the site and building visible from the street? If not, what is preventing visibility – and what can be done to change this? If a police officer is doing nightly rounds, will he or she be able to clearly see what’s happening? Are there areas that need to be visible from the street?
    2. Are the bushes trimmed so no one can in or hide behind them?
  6. Vehicles
    1. Are vehicles parked close to the school? Buses, cars, and trucks parked near the building can provide access to the roof or a window. Are district vehicles secured to prevent vandalism? A lot of damage could be done to several school buses in a short period of time.
  7. Landscaping
    1. Are trees trimmed to prevent someone from climbing up and gaining access to the building?
  8. Entrances/Exits
    1. Are doors and windows easily lockable? (And are they being locked each evening?) It’s important that teachers and administrators take ownership and close/lock windows at the end of the school day. Students may crack open a window during the day with the intent of entering after hours.
    2. Are any items stored in or near vestibules that might be used to prop a door open?

If anyone has been able to access your building before, think about how they gained access – and brainstorm ideas during your walk about what can be done to prevent a similar event.

Watch for any unusual activity. If you notice anything peculiar during your walks, it should be reported to local law enforcement. Make it a priority to conduct regular check-ins with them, and ask if they’ve seen unusual activity (or have received reports about unusual activity near the school).

When to Partner with a CPTED Expert

Sometimes during site walks, you may notice a potential problem that requires professional attention, or not repairable by your buildings and grounds department. In cases like these, consider enlisting the help of a trusted CPTED advisor. They can help you improve security through things like designing and installing new exterior lighting systems or creating a campus landscape design that enhances visibility, reduces maintenance requirements, and minimizes hiding spots.

A CPTED expert can also help you find corresponding school security technology – such as video surveillance and/or electronic access control – to provide another layer of safety to your school environment. If designed correctly, these systems can complement CPTED principles. For example, by creating as much natural surveillance as possible, you may be able to limit the number of surveillance cameras you need to place around your school.

If you implement regular site walkthroughs as part of your security plan, you’ll likely be able to implement many of the CPTED principles listed here on your own. Shive-Hattery can help you improve school security, prioritize initiatives to improve student and teacher safety, and create site-specific walkthrough plans you can conduct on your own