Your top priority is the well-being of your students. You want them to have a safe place to learn and grow, and you also want to protect your teachers and employees, who dedicate their lives to these children. Recent school tragedies highlight how crucial proper security protocols and technology are for all schools, no matter how safe the community. Following national crises, communities look to their schools for reassurance, and those same schools must think of ways they can improve their security and prevent similar incidents.
Yet schools often face limitations in the resources available to establish deliberate, comprehensive electronic security systems. Due to these financial constraints, you must prioritize your school’s needs by taking a look at best practices for school security improvements. By focusing on security devices, centralized checkpoints, better protocols, and public efforts, you will be able to create a security infrastructure that supports your school’s unique needs.
Challenges to Improving School Security Systems
Schools have made great strides in security improvements over the last decade. According to an IES report, by the 2015-2016 school year, about 57% of public schools reported having security on staff, compared to only 42% in the 2005-2006 school year. About 92% of schools reported having an active shooter plan in place, and 93% have regular safety training for all staff. The report also documented schools making significant improvements from a technical standpoint, with 81% of schools reporting the use of security cameras. All these positive changes have helped reduce student victimization and at-school incidents, with only 3% of students reporting such incidents in the 2015-2016 school year.
However, until the number of incidents inside schools reaches zero, there will always be room for improvements in school security. While you may want to update your school’s electronic security as much as possible (who wouldn’t?), you know there are limitations and challenges specific to the field of education that might hinder your efforts. Because of the nature of the education system, you’re faced with challenges related to:
Through the years we’ve consulted with many schools, and through experience, can safely say that all schools—regardless of size—must deal with massive entry/exit volume. It’s not just the amount of students involved, which can number in the thousands. There’s also the issue of a consistently busy front door. Students are arriving for the day, transitioning between classes, heading off-campus for lunch, coming in late, and leaving early. Substitutes and coaches and teachers with irregular schedules are constantly filtering through. Parents are stopping by to drop off items or pick up children. With this much activity, any school will face massive challenges in traffic management and monitoring.
In schools, referents—those the security system is designed to protect—are predominantly children or young adults. Dealing with younger individuals presents a set of challenges not seen in cases where referents are older.
- Students forget and lose their ID cards, and if those cards double as access cards, the cost of replacement can rise quickly. Without a badge, the child may have to check in to be admitted, adding hassle around entryway congestion or tardiness.
- Schools don’t just need to be able to identify who can enter the building but also who can remove children from school. Schools need a quick, accurate way to vet anyone trying to gain access to a student.
The specific building design of a school can often be a roadblock to security. Our Texas climate makes modular building types—in which students attend classes in several separate buildings—popular, as they can provide savings both in construction and heating and cooling. However, these designs can create holes in a security monitoring effort as well as difficulties managing access control. A school may have an open campus, but they wouldn’t want strangers wandering about without checking in. Fencing in the campus still results in blind spots where intruders can enter, which is where security cameras need to be considered.
It’s a regrettable fact that our government institutions don’t always get the funds they need. School security needs to be able to work off of a streamlined, centralized system, but your school may lack the resources to adequately upgrade your security system, or you may need to pitch a detailed proposal for bonds or levies to raise the appropriate funds.
Following any significant national school incident, community members will understandably be concerned and want to know how their schools are responding. However, the challenge here is that you must balance reassuring the community with keeping some vital school protocols secret for the protection of students.
You will no doubt face roadblocks in your efforts to spearhead school security improvements. However, you can reduce or account for those roadblocks with adequate planning. When you’re preparing to assess or update your electronic security system, follow an established set of best practices to formulate a realistic plan that covers the most important aspects of school security.
Best Practices for School Security Improvements
When you’re preparing to approach budget decision makers on school security, having a detailed proposal can often serve to show that upgrades are both affordable and necessary. With a detailed proposal that covers the essential parts of a school security system, you’ll be better prepared to plead your case and gain the funding needed. Focus it on institutional security best practices by looking into the following:
Complete a total system review
A complete security assessment is the first step towards identifying and shoring up weaknesses, fashioning a budget, and establishing the roles of personnel. Your improvement plan should start with a complete inventory of all security protocols, systems, and equipment.
Establish and protect key control areas
Key control areas are primary entry points to the school as well as areas that require additional security, like laboratories with expensive equipment or offices with student records. These points will require additional monitoring. A location will also need to be established to store school video feeds, in case they’re needed in the future.
Implement visitor protocols
Your school should have a computer-supported visitor sign-in policy, which allows you to check IDs and identify issues—like in the case of parental custody disputes. With a computerized system, personnel can quickly verify who is permitted to pick up a student while simultaneously keeping records of activity. Visitor management systems work best with photo ID programs that allow users to view a picture of the individual to compare to the person seeking access to the school. These programs should also incorporate warning systems that enable the individual to identify unauthorized visitors quickly and respond appropriately.
Create an active shooter plan
On-premises active shooters are rare, but they can happen anywhere. Preparation is the key to effectively managing school security even in the worst-case scenario. This starts with an active shooter response plan, which should cover how law enforcement, medical services, and parents receive notifications. It will also establish evacuation routes for students, safe zones, and how key personnel should react in the event of an on-premises shooter. Finally, it should encompass response technology, specifically related to how the school will be locked down to isolate hostile actors on campus. Each point of this plan revolves around the indoor and outdoor technology used to support it—from gunshot identification software to situational awareness systems to fully automatic electronic reporting programs for hostile activity response.
Make security visible
One thing we’ve noticed in recent years is that schools no longer always ask our security systems integrators to do after-hours installation. They want students, and the community, to see the security improvements as they’re happening. Often, having students witness the security system set-up process acts as a deterrent, as students realize monitoring is in progress. It also works well for reassuring the public, as parents see school leadership proactively providing secure campuses.
Any school security system has room for improvement, and by proactively identifying any weak points, schools can close holes in security protocols. By concentrating on these best practices, you can prioritize your school security improvements and offer a safer environment for students. Taking steps towards bolstering your security can also reinforce the community’s understanding of just how seriously you take the safety of those you have been entrusted to educate.