After much of the shock, anger, and outrage has passed following the tragedy of school shootings; I believe it is time to take an apolitical look at making real and lasting improvements to school security. Now is the time for a meaningful discussion on school security addressing only one topic, securing our schools. This article will merely scratch the surface of the many approaches to securing our schools and protecting our children, the answers are complex and require in-depth research, planning, and review.
The first problem is that most school buildings are not designed with security in mind from the beginning. Many of our schools are located in older buildings that have been subject to multiple physical expansions in response to student population growth. This leaves us with difficult to manage security in labyrinthine buildings. The second problem is budgeting. When schools spend money on expansion or renovation there is generally small budgetary allocated for needed security. The primary focus is, as it should be, on education, sports, and arts facilities leaving little room for the expense of security systems and fixtures. However, administrators do not ignore the need for an increased budgetary security allocation.
Security can be expensive; however when we don’t take an in-depth look at security throughout the design process the cost increases by a factor of three to four. Some of these solutions will require physical renovations, some require electronic security fixtures, and some require additional staffing. Sometimes implementation will require all of the above, however, this is the road to achieving effective school security. Schools and school districts should assess their risks and vulnerabilities; then plan improvements to correct vulnerabilities. Administrators should consider phasing in improvements to allow for funding, and procurement lead times. However, Phase 1 (assessment and planning) should begin immediately.
Employing security design concepts, when opportunities for renovation or new construction exist, can greatly reduce an aggressor’s capability. Even relatively small changes and additions to school infrastructure can improve the security environment. Concepts such as “Defensible Space” and “Natural Access Control” when designing new facilities or renovating existing facilities can greatly reduce an aggressor’s ability to access the campus. If we designed the main office area, from which access to the campus is granted, to allow segregation from the student population while enabling direct engagement and vetting of visitors; we gain the ability to identify threats early with the lowest threat exposure, thus enabling us to take appropriate steps to reduce danger. The reception area then becomes the front line of the school security battle. Additionally, by providing for lockdown zones that extend beyond classrooms and into hallways and wings we can achieve a more effective and efficient lock-down and evacuation. This method would also restrict the aggressor’s freedom of movement stripping him of his ability to freely wander hallways, and reducing the time it takes for police to locate and eliminate threats.
Integrating these design concepts along with other physical and operational controls will enhance school security, provide tangible improvements to our children’s safety, and hopefully prevent the most serious and terrifying threats imaginable.
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