How to Start a School Security Program

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On the surface, a school’s mission to teach, nurture, and educate children seems clear enough. But a safe and secure environment is just as important – and a necessity – in order for children to learn.

School security is top of mind for everyone: parents, faculty and staff, administration, school boards, and students. Because every school and student body is different, there is no one-size-fits-all security solution. Even within one district, individual school buildings have unique floorplans with distinct student schedules and flow. But there are three basic things every K-12 school can do to ensure a safe, secure learning environment:
 

  1. Control and monitor access (primarily through access control technology).
  2. Establish lockdown procedures to secure classrooms and designated areas during an event.
  3. Install video surveillance systems to monitor key locations and student flow.

 
Investing in Access Control Systems
Access control systems are a common first step toward creating a safe and secure K-12 environment, offering the ability to secure access points and prevent unauthorized access to a school building. From one central location, you can monitor, manage, and respond to door alarms and pinpoint doors that may have been propped open.

An access control system can also provide a reliable, traceable log that indicates who has entered the building (and when). These systems even allow administrative staff to immediately “turn off” access badges if necessary to prevent entry. When volunteers, visitors, or contractors need to enter the building, temporary badges can be issued to only allow access for a certain period of time. You can determine how long the cards remain active, the hours of the day they can be used, and what sections of the building they can be used to access (specific rooms, storage closets, server rooms, etc.).
 
This technology eliminates the hassles and security issues associated with keys as well. In a district with several schools – each with several entrances, and dozens of rooms inside (all of which need controlled access), keys can quickly get out of hand. In the not-so-distant past, it wasn’t uncommon for teachers and staff to issue extra keys to parents, helpers, or even students who stayed after hours. Those keys can be lost, copied, or shared, and used on any day at any time. An access control system eliminates this problem.

More sophisticated access control systems may incorporate visitor management, which gives you a way to register, badge, and track visitors. By scanning a piece of identification displayed by the visitor (a driver’s license, for example), visitor management systems can run background checks before the access control system issues a temporary ID badge. This information is captured and can be used for reporting and auditing, analyzing traffic patterns, etc.

You can also use access control systems to track school room usage. When analyzing access control logs, for example, if you notice that no one has accessed the locked storage room on the first floor for over a year, that may mean that the items inside are no longer needed. Instead, you may be able to repurpose that room and turn it into something more valuable for students and staff.

Establishing Lockdown Procedures
Most K-12 schools have implemented some form of lockdown procedure. Depending on the situation, these procedures can include locking doors, clearing hallways and common areas that can’t be secured, moving away from doors and windows, and sheltering in place. Different procedures should be created for internal lockdowns (where exterior doors are not locked, and an intruder is inside the building) and external lockdowns (where exterior doors are locked, and a potentially violent situation may unfold outside the building).

Staff and student training are key to successful lockdowns. Make sure everyone in the school knows what the term means, and how to react in internal and external lockdown situations.

Lockdown procedures can also involve your access control system – the technology allows individual doors or the entire building to be locked within mere seconds. When combining a lockdown procedure with an access control system, intruder access can be delayed, giving authorities more time to get to the scene and achieve a peaceful resolution.

Installing High-Tech Video Surveillance
Video surveillance systems can deter bad, potentially violent behavior, as well as monitor active areas of a school building and provide notifications of movement in certain areas at specific times. They also document chronological events, which can be recalled when necessary to review incidents for more information.

Most systems can be monitored, managed, and controlled remotely via a web browser. Events can be viewed in real time, or you can access archives and watch recorded footage as needed. Today’s camera systems can also integrate video analytics. Through software, IP-based cameras can be used to search for an object, track a moving target, identify geographic location, or detect suspicious activity (such as someone approaching a back door or a package in a normally empty hallway).

Taking the First Step
Not sure where or how to start? A good place to begin is to discuss potential security challenges, and analyze how you operate your building. What types of policies are currently in place for locking doors, loaning keys, verifying visitors before they enter, etc.?

A security evaluation can help you identify potential problem areas and the solutions to address them for improved security. Schools of all sizes and in all locations – even in small towns and rural areas – are putting security at the forefront to avoid potentially dangerous situations for students and staff. If implementing several security solutions at once isn’t realistic based on your budget, you can still make improvements by implementing security solutions in phases.

By following the suggestions above, you’ll be on the path to creating an educational environment that supports quality teaching and learning without worries about security and safety.

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"As an electrical engineer, I am a problem solver. Today’s electrical engineer is more than just designing power systems, lighting, fire alarm systems, communications systems and security. I enjoy investigating existing conditions/problems and searching for the best possible solutions. When clients come to me with their electrical challenges, they become my challenges. Clients may look for qualified electrical engineers, but they expect electrical engineers that engage and align to their business. Sound technical knowledge and effective design are necessary but there is much more required for today’s client. And that is what makes this engineer’s career interesting, challenging and changing."

Jake Henkle, PE

Electrical Engineer