Safety & Security
Building Safer Schools
- By Michael S. Dorn
- November 1st, 2016
I recently had a great experience
working with a client and their
architects on a new school construction
project. I sensed that the school’s architects
might not have initially been thrilled that
their client had required them to retain me
to review their plans and provide feedback.
Having worked quite a bit with architects, I
understand and accept that they might be skeptical in this type
of situation. This particular project was complex for a large high
school, with scores of rooms connected by long hallways, multiple
floors and lots of glass.
Realizing that architects are required to balance competing
design objectives and parameters, it is understandable that
they would be concerned that a security consultant would undo
what had taken many weeks to produce. In particular, the design
incorporated an extensive use of glass that
was not only an important design feature, but
supported the school’s learning approach.
By the end of the first conference call, the
lead architect seemed to be at ease after I
pointed out the positive security features of
glass along with ways to help mitigate some
of the concerns relating to active shooter and
terrorist attacks. We also discussed how fights,
abductions, bullying and sexual abuse can be
greatly mitigated by applying the principles
of Crime Prevention Through Environmental
When we had our final conference call with the firm and a
number of district officials, things flowed very well. I was especially
impressed that the district’s superintendent took considerable
time from her busy schedule to participate in the entire call.
This is how safer and more effective schools are built!
Another great team
I was fortunate to be able to bring two truly gifted experts in to
assist me. Because the school will have many indoor and outdoor
athletic areas, I reached out to Chief Russell Bentley. A veteran
school district police chief, Bentley has worked with me on school
safety projects in more than 30 states. He also has extensive experience
as a coach and an official. In my opinion, he is one of the nation’s
top “go-to” people when it comes to security and emergency
management design features for school athletic venues.
I was also fortunate to obtain the assistance of Les Nichols.
Nichols recently left his position as the national vice president
of Child and Club Safety at Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs of America’s
national headquarters to go into private practice in youth protection.
An architect by profession, he has taught me a great
deal as we have worked on projects for Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs.
I have to credit to him for helping me truly understand how
impactful applying CPTED strategies through small changes
in the physical environment can be.
Fortunately, the design already included some excellent CPTED
concepts and security features. There were strong examples of the
use of natural surveillance as well as the application of natural access
control. While Bentley, Nichols and I were
able to provide quite a few suggestions that
will be incorporated into the final design, we
had a good design to work with from the start.
Just as importantly, we had a talented team of
architects and school officials who were eager
to build on what was already going to be a
great school design.
I rate CPTED literacy as a highly beneficial
skill set for any architect. Great
architects can become even better if they
take the time to learn about integrating the
CPTED concepts of natural surveillance,
access control, territoriality and maintenance into their designs.
Utilization of CPTED can help architects design safer and more
aesthetically pleasing learning environments while reducing
liability exposure for their clients and themselves.
Like medical doctors, accountants and other professionals,
architects have a myriad of important skill sets that require hard
work to remain current. Seeing the enormous long-term benefit of
proper CPTED utilization in many K-12 schools across the nation
and other countries, I feel that CPTED literacy increases the value
an architect can provide their clients immensely. Like architects,
school officials who are involved with new construction and renovation
projects can do even better work if they are well versed in
this impactful area.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.