10 (Low Cost or Free) School Security Improvements You Can Make Now
School administrators concerned about security may be tempted to invest in the latest state-of-the-art security technology. Yet, as with most things, the simplest steps are often the most effective. In fact, some of the best school safety solutions involve good policy, open communication, and regular training.
With all of the demands being placed upon administrators, faculty, and staff today, it’s easy to overlook these simple steps. By following the 10 school safety practices listed here, school administrators can potentially save lives, without waiting for grant funding or a larger budget.
1. Keep classroom doors locked during class
Between tardy students and bathroom breaks, teachers may find the requirement to constantly relock and reopen doors a hassle. Yet a locked door is hands-down the most effective way to prevent unwarranted entry into a classroom by an unauthorized person.
In addition to frequent reminders to faculty about the importance of keeping classroom doors locked, and occasional reviews that teachers are complying, it’s important to ensure that all door hardware works. Staff and/or administrators should inspect classroom doors regularly to ensure they latch and lock correctly and that door closers pull doors to a fully latched position. Ensure staff knows to proactively call the office to report doors that don’t function correctly.
2. Keep exterior doors locked and remove potential door props
Your faculty and staff can easily defeat the world’s most secure access control systems by propping open a side door. This breach is one of the most common and problematic security problems that schools face.
A quick and effective solution is to walk the campus every day to perform a visual check that all exterior doors are closed and locked. There’s good reason to do this daily, as plenty of issues can prevent appropriate closing. For example, when air conditioning kicks on for the first time in the season, the sudden positive pressure can reveal broken door hardware.
3. Review the campus Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)
Several states require annual reviews and updates of school EOPs. Training in compliance with the EOP should also take place at least annually. If this is not already happening, or you’re unclear about how to update this document to reflect changes, help may be available free of charge.
Many states offer training and professional advice on what should be contained in an EOP and how to make strategic updates. Reach out to your state’s Board of Education, or city or county emergency management department, for guidance on creating these EOPs. The Department of Homeland Security also offers valuable insight in its Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans. Several states operate state-funded safety centers that provide free security consulting for schools. Because these centers are often burdened with addressing state-wide needs with limited staff, reach out early to schedule a consultation.
4. Test lockdown and/or panic buttons
For schools that have lockdown and/or panic buttons, it is critical to test these regularly to ensure that they work as intended. It may be helpful to have your school resource officer or law enforcement officers stationed at your school participate in testing this school safety procedure because they can advise staff on the appropriate response in the event of an emergency.
It is also important to provide regular staff training on appropriate use of and response to a lockdown and/or panic button. Regular training will ensure new staff members or substitute teachers understand the system.
5. Test your campus intercom system
As with the lockdown and/or panic buttons, your intercom system is a vital part of any emergency response. Test it at least quarterly to ensure emergency announcements can be heard and are intelligible in all areas inside and outside of campus buildings. This includes portable classrooms, gyms, and playgrounds. This is also the time to test the push-to-talk buttons in each area to ensure teachers can be heard clearly by office staff.
6. Ensure exterior doors are numbered
Numbering exterior doors allows first responders to easily locate the closest entry point and speed response in an emergency. As you inspect exterior doors, take note of the numbering to ensure it is clearly legible and not blocked by landscaping or other obstructions. These numbers must also be easily visible from the inside so staff can quickly communicate the location of an emergency.
7. Ensure classrooms are numbered inside and out
Make sure that all classroom doors are clearly and visibly numbered from the inside and outside of the classroom. If a classroom has an exterior window, that window should also carry the classroom number so that it is easily visible from the outside of the building. This facilitates communication with first responders and can speed their response time.
In the event of an emergency, it is easy for a panicked faculty member to forget the number of the room they’re in. Having the room number visible from multiple locations will help staff remain focused should they need to use the intercom or call 911.
8. Encourage local law enforcement to spend time on campus
Strong relationships with your local first responders can be a tremendous safety benefit. In addition to providing a visible presence on campus, this ensures that your police officers and firefighters are familiar with the layout of your campus. This familiarity can speed emergency response time. These professionals may also be able to point out potential hazards that you might not otherwise notice.
Schools build these goodwill relationships in many ways. Some schools offer law enforcement space to work with access to the Internet or lunch. Others might work with the PTA to throw barbecues for the local police officers and firehouse.
9. Check that your key lockbox is up-to-date
Per NFPA standards and International Fire Code, all facilities with secured openings must house a secure key box in an accessible location on campus. However, it’s also important to ensure that the master building keys and access cards located here are up to date. When schools rekey a building for security measures or make the switch to card access, it is easy to forget to update the keys in the key box. Should the police or fire department have to break into a building, rather than using a key, they’re adding valuable time to an emergency response.
10. Review security policies regularly with teachers, parents, and students
Training is the single most important and effective school safety solution. This training should include all faculty members, staff, students, and parents.
When we conduct security exercises, we test for two common situations. One is tailgating, when an individual gets authorized access into the school and then holds the door open to let the person behind them in. The second is asking a student or staff member to let a stranger in via a side door.
It may feel rude to pull the door shut or send a seemingly friendly person around the building to the secure front entry. Yet these measures are vitally important. Provide frequent communication to staff, parents, and students about why these security policies are important—and then test them to ensure these measures are being followed.
The next step
Each of these free or low-cost measures can make a major impact on your campus security today. However, every school faces unique challenges that may impact security. While walk-through inspections and training are a good first step toward identifying potential weaknesses, there’s no match for an objective third-party trained in the latest security measures. If you are ready to take the next step to secure your premises, CRUX can help. Contact us to set up a consulting session today.
Building Safer Schools with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles, Part 1: The Built Environment
During the 2020-2021 school year, 93 school shootings caused death or injury, the highest figure recorded in 20 years. Yet, shootings are not the only danger to impact schools; it’s only the most visible of many potential threats. Responding to these threats—while balancing the multitude of budgetary, behavioral, and other challenges that school staff and administrators struggle with each day—can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, expensive technology solutions aren’t the only solution for creating a secure environment. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles help architects create more secure school environments through simple design decisions.
While good architectural design can’t prevent danger at schools, it is one of many avenues for mitigating the potential for violence. Best of all, when attention is given to CPTED principles early in design, it can be a cost-effective strategy for improving safety. Key site and building layout considerations provide ample opportunities for architects to adhere to the 5 Ds: deter, detect, deny, delay, and defend.
Consider visibility during site planning
Evaluating site plans with a focus on safety often uncovers opportunities to enhance visibility and situate facilities in such a way that people feel safer. This begins with delineating public and private spaces on the site plan. Once this area is appropriately defined, it becomes easier to determine how best to restrict access to the private property. This can be done naturally with landscaping, or mechanically, with fencing and locks.
Determining which of these solutions to use will vary depending upon your site constraints, but each of these options has the potential to impact sightlines if not considered appropriately during the early design phase.
In addition, whenever possible the building should be higher than the property surrounding it. This will assist with sightlines by making it more difficult for potential bad actors to see into the building.
It’s also critical to ensure open sightlines along all pathways approaching the building. Bad actors will be looking for design flaws such as blind spots, dimly lit areas, or design impediments that obstruct the sightlines. Factors ranging from low-lying tree canopies to poorly placed columns, concrete walls, and too-tall shrubbery can all create dangerous blind spots. Distant or otherwise obscured parking lots can also pose a problem.
While surveillance cameras can potentially address some of these blind spots, good design with clear sightlines from the building may provide a much more effective deterrent.
A more secure building layout
When it comes to the building’s layout, access control strategies must be considered from the beginning stages of design. A controlled entry vestibule is an excellent strategy for limiting access, but it’s not the only option, or the only entryway to consider. It’s important to minimize the options for ingress, while still ensuring that occupants have options for exiting in the event of a dangerous situation. Having adequate windows is another critical factor. Windows afford building occupants the ability to see anyone approaching the building, which limits the potential for bad actors to approach unseen.
Good lighting is another effective deterrent. Any potential dark spots within or around the facility can lend itself to criminal activity. The building exterior should be equipped with adequate lighting to eliminate vandalism and other potential threats. Illuminated parking lots and pathways can also reduce the likelihood of risky behavior and accidents on school property.
Building layout should also accommodate strategic placement of positive activity generators. Creating locations where groups of students, faculty, and staff congregate regularly can be an effective criminal deterrent. Strategically locating front offices, open media centers, and other activity generators can help these spaces serve a security function beyond their primary functions.
Clear signage is another factor that is often overlooked during the design phase. While spaces may be laid out to support positive activity, it’s important that this is clear to anyone approaching the space. Visible and concise signage tells people unfamiliar with the environment exactly who is allowed access, where to go, and what can and cannot be carried in. Signage that removes ambiguity about who and what is allowed can minimize the likelihood of offenders, intruders, or abnormal users crossing these boundaries. It also encourages legitimate building occupants to challenge anyone or anything that does not seem to belong.
Secure early insight
It’s not unusual to invite representatives of the local fire department to provide input on school designs or renovation plans to ensure fire and life safety code compliance. It may help for architects to also seek early input from law enforcement and other security professionals to guide their work in creating a secure school design.
Working with security professionals early in the planning process can lead architects to solutions that blend quality design with crime mitigation and prevention. This can help reduce the cost of later decisions that will impact the design and installation of surveillance cameras, access control solutions, or other potential deterrents. The security professional can also provide later guidance around the effective building management and employee training that can further support these design principles, as we’ll discuss in our next blog.
Ready to learn more about how to utilize CPTED principles in your school designs? CRUX can help. Contact us today.
Taking a Multi-layer Approach to an Effective School Weapons Detection Program
As of mid-March, 14 school shootings had taken place in 2022, leaving four dead and 24 injured. However, that metric is too narrow to account for the full spectrum of violence that can happen in schools. While less reliably tracked, stabbings are another fairly frequent form of school violence. And in December 2021, schools across the nation cracked down on security after a series of nationwide bomb threats were made on TikTok.
Because such an enormous range of items can be used as weapons, schools should not rely on one type of weapons detection program to serve as a catch-all. It’s critical that schools use a layered approach, which should include methods ranging from inexpensive, no-tech approaches to emerging high-tech solutions.
School boards planning to implement screening procedures should consider the full range of solutions currently available and implement those that are aligned with comprehensive security goals. Let’s look at how the technology market is evolving to better keep schools safe.
Security starts with human intelligence
In many cases, schools find that they can improve security by making simple procedural changes. “See something, say something” policies are a key example. As simple as it sounds, these protocols should be a primary component of any school weapons screening program. Encouraging students to report what they see or hear may often be the only viable way to know someone is preparing to commit violence to themselves or others. Kids see and hear a lot both during and outside school hours, but schools must provide clear instructions about what to look for and how to report potential dangers.
A tip line can be as simple as a phone number, email address or web form. Making anonymous tip lines available via multiple formats, including smartphone apps, text, email, and online, can be relatively inexpensive. A wide variety of choices exist, both for free and at varying price points. School districts even have the option to develop a custom app to make reporting more convenient for users.
Flexible low-tech solutions
Metal detectors are often the first solution schools think of when considering weapons detection. At present, metal detectors are typically only used in schools with a history of weapons-related violence. The common approach is to use metal detectors at controlled entry points and complement this with manual screening.
Schools are working to balance the security metal detectors afford with public sentiment that metal detectors create an intimidating, prison-like environment. This is where handheld metal detection wands can be useful. Handheld wands also provide flexibility in allowing schools to conduct random classroom screenings or use wands at sporting events.
For the vast majority of public schools, metal detectors may not be the right fit. School administrators must weigh the risk profile against the cost and complexity of implementation. In addition, it’s critical to remember that metal detectors are only capable of screening weapons with metal in them, which means they require supplementary procedures and equipment.
Emerging high-tech innovations
Most schools today have some form of video surveillance technology, but video analytics solutions have come a long way. Modern video analytics software utilizes machine learning along with computer vision techniques to detect weapons and other abnormalities that standard video systems are incapable of identifying. When abnormalities are detected, security teams can be instantly alerted.
School operations planning a technology refresh can add analytics-based products onto an existing system, making video analytics a somewhat more cost-effective solution. Even so, these newer platforms tend to carry a high implementation cost compared to more basic video surveillance solutions. Part of this cost is due to the need for appropriate staff training.
Because video analytics solutions are still fairly new, capabilities vary widely. This makes it particularly important to ask a lot of questions during product selection about capabilities, regular maintenance, and the level of staff training needed to get the most impact from this system.
The newest weapons detection technology solutions are radar-based systems. Because these technologies are just now coming onto the market, it will likely be a while before they are functional and affordable for a school operation, but they are a solution to watch. This emerging technology uses small, concealable signal generators and detectors to detect firearms, including those made of polymer materials, edged weapons, and even things such as canisters that are commonly used to make explosive devices.
Even more intriguing, manufacturers claim that these systems can unobtrusively cover a broad area, such as a pedestrian walkway or a lobby or school commons area. By deploying a radar-based system outside a facility, a threat could feasibly be detected before it reaches the building entrance, allowing security personnel the opportunity to intervene.
A layered security approach
Just as these episodes of school violence feature a range of threats, school weapons detection programs should be layered to more effectively detect potential acts of violence. However, identifying the most effective layers for keeping your school safe is best done with a site security audit.
This is an area where CRUX can help. Our security design and consulting services begin by helping school districts identify a holistic approach to security that includes site assessments, well-considered response protocols, and technology investments that meet your unique needs. If you’re ready to strengthen your schools’ safety, contact CRUX.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 2
The 86th Texas Legislative session, which concluded in May 2019 produced a number of school safety-related bills which were signed into law by Governor Abbott. Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) is the cornerstone bill for school safety. There are nearly a dozen others that also either directly or indirectly address some aspect of it. Let’s explore some of the aspects of the collective bills related to facility hardening and protection from hostile events.
SB 11 charges the Texas Education Agency (TEA) with creating standards for school facility safety. Section 1 of the bill says:
The commissioner shall adopt or amend rules as necessary to ensure that building standards for instructional facilities and other school district and open-enrollment charter school facilities provide a secure and safe environment.
This charge applies to both new construction and to renovations. The rules are to be reviewed and amended as necessary every other year. It will no doubt take the TEA some time to issue the first set of standards. Many of the architectural firms which do school work in Texas have mobilized to provide input to the rule making process.
SB 11 Section 26 requires the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) to create and publish guidelines for securing portable buildings. This is good news. Portables are among the biggest security challenges.
Safety and Emergency Vehicles
SB 11 Section 21 permits bond funds to be used to retrofit buses with security equipment and for purchasing or retrofitting other vehicles to be used for safety and emergency purposes.
To help make things happen, SB 11 Section 20, provides for a school safety funding allotment, with funds allocated proportionally to districts based on average daily attendance. Some districts have reported to us that the actual amounts they expect to receive in the 2019-2020 budget year are very small. The funds may be used for a range of purposes related to facility improvement, safety technology, safety officers, and training. SB 11 Section 25 also calls for the TEA to set up a grant program to “improve and maintain student and school safety.” We have no information yet on what that means.
The subject of people carrying firearms in schools always draws much attention from those on all sides of the issue. The most significant changes being advocated when the legislative session began did not make it out of committee, but some new things are in effect.
- Districts with fewer than 30,000 students used to have less stringent requirements for training of school resource officers (SRO). That has been dropped by SB 11. Smaller districts must now conform to the same SRO requirements as larger districts.
- SB 372 permits open-enrollment charter schools to employ or contract for peace officers or SROs in the same way as school districts, and SB 1707 does the same for the Texas School for the Deaf.
- Changes to the school marshal program turned out to be minimal. HB 1387 removes the restriction on how many marshals a school district may have but makes no changes to the way firearms may be carried or stored or other aspects of the program. Many districts across the State, especially rural districts, have instead implemented or are discussing enacting a guardian program (Texas Govt. Code 411.1901).
The legislative changes have much more to say about emergency preparedness and mental health. We will cover those in upcoming posts