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Back to School: How Can We Increase Security for Students and Faculty?

Why Schools Need Better Security

During back-to-school time each year, the Sandy Hook tragedy, and other recent school shootings, as a sad reminder for educational institutions around the country. Years after these terrifying incidents, school security continues to be a serious concern for parents, students, faculty, and citizens in general. We have learned that, if something like a mass school shooting could occur in Newtown – a city where violent crime was rare, it can happen anywhere. While Sandy Hook is a tragic example, it’s hardly the only one. In fact, 2018 was considered the worst year for school shootings, with 24 separate incidents resulting in death or injury of 114 students.

Is your school building prepared to adequately handle an active shooter situation? It’s important to have security systems in place that help prevent a serious threat to campus safety. Though there has been a lot of talk about special classroom security locks and barricade devices, these measures often create other problems. Let’s take a look at this issue and some better solutions for school security.

The Problem with Classroom Intruder Locks & Barricade Devices

Following tragedies, like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, parent groups, and school boards began looking into innovative security hardware. Some classroom lock and barricade devices have been advertised as possible solutions. However, specialized intruder locks have some serious design flaws which should not be overlooked.

“Keeping children safe is the goal of both sides, but opponents of the new security methods being proposed say they violate a number of building codes as well as Federal Accessibility Laws.” – Campus Safety, Classroom Barricade Devices: A Dangerous Violation of Federal Laws

Concerns for School Security Can Lead to Violation of Fire & Safety Codes

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), retrofitting a classroom door is complex. Many of the devices currently advertised would actually be in violation of fire and life safety codes. According to these codes, classroom doors must always allow:

  • Safe egress from the room;
  • Unlocking from outside the room using a key or master lock credential;
  • Unlocking from the inside without using a key or separate tool and without special knowledge or effort;
  • Opening from the inside, without griping, turning or twisting, in keeping with ADA standards for accessibility.

Requirements for Add-On Security Devices in an Educational Setting

For safety in emergency situations, the NFPA also reminds schools, that retrofitted locking or barricading devices must:

  • Not require opening the door for use;
  • Provide a release mechanism for unlocking at the same height of latch release hardware, like lever handles and panic hardware;
  • Not affect the factory-made door closer or panic hardware;
  • Be possible to unlock from inside the classroom even if engaged remotely;
  • Be in accordance with NFPA 80 when affecting fire doors.

A good general rule of thumb is that any additional security device cannot block or obstruct free egress along the fire exit route. Occupants of a classroom must be able to safely escape in emergency situations and first responders must be able to gain access to care for and protect students.

“Locking means must be capable of being engaged without opening the door so as not to broadcast to persons in the corridor that the door is about to be locked against entry… The locking means is not permitted to modify the door closer or panic hardware, a safeguard conspicuously absent from some of the unproven hardware being touted as a school security solution.” – NFPA, Classroom Door Locking Against Unwanted Entry

All staff must be appropriately trained in engaging and releasing the device as part of lockdown and emergency evacuation drills, as outlined by NFPA 101 Life Safety Code®.

How Can Schools Improve Safety and Security?

The fire and safety codes are clear, and the requirements for additional locks or barricades to keep intruders out are strict. Most retrofit security products, though they may be advertised for use in schools, do not respect these important restrictions. Yet, the threat to school safety seems to be growing.

5 Ways to Improve School Security

So, how can schools increase protection for students, faculty, and staff? Let’s look at some security solutions that are appropriate for an educational facility.

1. Video Intercom Entry Systems

In standard school buildings, intercoms are installed in every classroom to allow communication between teachers and the main office, but intercoms can prove valuable beyond this function. Schools are increasingly installing video intercom, buzz-in devices outside of main entrances. – and complementing them with video surveillance equipment. This type of access-request system gives administrators and staff time to verify the identity of guests and deny entry to any unauthorized person. Security measures such as this help school staff prevent potential danger before it even enters the door.

2. Access Control Systems

Educational facilities should have a limited number of entry points which can be monitored and controlled by responsible personnel. Advanced access control systems can be customized to fit the needs of virtually any school or university. Relying on access cards, key fobs or biometric data, such as fingerprints, an access system identifies each person trying to enter the building. Anyone who does not have proper authorization to enter is must wait until personnel verify their identity and remotely unlock the door. The system can be programmed to limit access to certain users, specific areas of the school or campus, or during set hours and days of the week.

With controlled access, for example, a school could program the system to block entry for students who have graduated or who have been suspended or expelled. Similarly, a college campus could restrict access to computer labs at night and during summer break. Dormitories can restrict access only to the students living there and have a real-time report identifying who entered and when. The system could be used to grant faculty and staff access to parts of the building, while denying access to students.

For a controlled access system to be an effective security measure, however, students and teachers must use it properly. This means entering the school in an orderly fashion and not holding the door open for others. Specialized automatic locks can be used to secure the less strictly controlled entry points and emergency exits. By stressing the importance of student safety, a school or university can get everyone on campus to cooperate with the set protocol for managing the access system.

3. Bullet-Resistant Protection

Additional security equipment which does not infringe on safety or handicap accessible codes is available for schools. For example, bulletproof doors were recently installed on classrooms at a pre-K – grade 8 school building in New Jersey. Other schools are turning to bulletproof glass to help protect students in case of gunfire and inside active shooter threats. Some are undertaking bullet-resistant entryway renovations, adding protective window shades or films, or following the development of deployable bulletproof curtains.

4. Adopting New Security Measures in an Educational Setting

Whenever new access systems, security protocol or locking devices are adopted, administrators should ensure that staff and faculty are familiar with it. Training should be provided to understand how and when to implement the new security measures. It should also be clear what each figure’s important role is. Everyone needs to know what is expected. Written protocol and lockdown drills can help assign responsibilities.

5. Lockdown Drills

In order to safeguard child occupants, school staff members should regularly review training for lockdowns and active shooter threats. Lockdown procedures should be defined for each campus building and should clearly outline each staff members’ responsibilities. The goals of regular drills are to:

  1. Define the role and tasks for each staff member;
  2. Outline the lockdown protocol for students;
  3. Give school staff the chance to use locking devices in a realistic setting;
  4. Build confidence of everyone on the school campus in implementing lockdown procedures.

School Security Security Guidebook

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Review this clear guide of basic information for school security. It addresses the need for tighter security measures and how that can be achieved with controlled entry systems. Our handy guidebook also has helpful tips and practical security measures for universities and schools. It highlights relevant building and fire safety codes for educational facilities and classrooms.

Learn more about the Advantages of Keyless Entry for College Campuses.

Professional Locksmith Services for Educational Institutions

When it comes to the safety of hundreds of children, you can never be too careful. And preventative action is key.

Great Valley Lockshop boasts more than 30 years of experience assisting colleges and universities in making their campuses safer for students. Schedule a consultation to discuss workable solutions for improving university security. Contact GV Lock at 610-644-5334 or request a quote here.

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