Parents should not have to worry about the safety of their children’s school. But they still do. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 7 percent of students report skipping a day of school during the school year because of safety concerns. That number has risen in the last decade, nearly doubling.1 This isn’t surprising given that students in schools today face threats that many of us would never have thought about decades ago: from concerns about attacks by outsiders to acts of violence perpetrated by those inside the school, learning communities face an increasingly complex problem. That’s why safety is top of mind for security directors and school leaders.
In order to keep their students safe, schools are enacting safety measures that better secure campuses while keeping learning front and center. By using technology to take proactive steps in protecting students, school administrators meet both of these goals.
Building Safer Learning Environments
One key step to a safer school environment is fostering a strong sense of community since this measure gives students a voice and support. All students should feel comfortable speaking with teachers and administrators about any issues. Moreover, training teachers and other community members to recognize the signs of mental health issues can also act as an early-warning signal to make sure students who need help are given it in a timely manner.2 While such training takes time, creating an environment that fosters learning while protecting students, employees, visitors and other community members can be achieved with a few changes.
Here are some other simple security measures to better safeguard your community:
1. Construct a secure perimeter. Fencing makes any approach via a non-secure path more obvious, but a fence that is difficult to cross is ideal.
2. Enact a strong visitor management program. Controlling who enters and leaves the building is imperative, but managing parking lot areas should also be explored. Policies should be written and enforced.
3. Regulate all entrances. One central entrance is best, but all entrances must be monitored. If this is not possible, classrooms should have locks, ideally with a sturdy center mullion. Door handles and push bars should be flush with the door to prevent them from being tied together to hinder law enforcement or emergency exit.
4. Leverage technology to screen visitors and control access. Video intercoms can enable schools to determine the identity of visitors prior to allowing them into the secure area and can help administrators avoid face-to-face contact with an individual who might have ill intentions. Electronic access control allows schools to more easily control auxiliary exits and entrances.
5. Install a security system. These systems offer schools more control over perimeters and can include panic alarms and video monitoring for the central office and classrooms that further safety precautions. By alerting authorities to a potentially dangerous situation more quickly, schools can increase their ability to manage possible threats.
6. Increase situational awareness. Be especially alert to what is going on during arrival and dismissal times, when security must be lowered due to the volume of students and staff moving through the school. Awareness at all times is essential, however. The sooner a threat is detected, the faster it can be addressed.
7. Work with a strong team. Schools are unique, and not all security management companies understand how to create a secure environment that focuses on learning. The right team can make this easy.
8. Periodically reassess security. The right security plan should grow with the school. As students mature and the needs of the district change, the right security plan should be flexible to address these needs and to integrate new technology as it becomes available.
9. Alert community to the security plan. Awareness that a security plan is in place can thwart an attack before it starts. It can quell the fear for uneasy students and parents. By bringing the community into the security plan, it can increase confidence and peace of mind.3
Security Standards in Action
One school that’s successfully enacting many of these security standards is Bennett Day School in Chicago, Ill. As Kate Cicchelli, the chief academic officer and principal, puts it, “In a secure environment, learning flourishes.” She goes on to say, “You want the security to be ironclad and invisible.” Cicchelli is deeply invested in the academic success of her students and, with the help of Tyco Integrated Security, Bennett Day School has created a secure yet open environment where learning can flourish in the heart of Chicago.
TycoIS worked with Bennett Day School to understand its needs and create innovative solutions that would allow the school to create a strong learning environment for years to come. Learn how schools can leverage technology to better manage their security by watching the Bennett Day School’s journey.
1Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2013, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6304.pdf.
2 “Keeping Schools Safe,” EDC, http://www.edc.org/newsroom/articles/keeping_schools_safe.
3 Brad Spicer, “11 Components of a Secure School Front Entrance,” Campus Safety Magazine, http://www.campussafetymagazine.com/article/11-components-of-a-secure-school-front-entrance/P2.