- By Michael S. Dorn
- February 1st, 2006
The building was constructed in the 1950s when architects and school officials were far less concerned with security issues. The interior courtyard was enclosed when a new wing was added. This design was also not focused on security issues, and to make things worse, a series of L-shaped banks of lockers where installed creating blind spots in this already difficult to supervise area. To further compound matters, an energy management program designed to save the district $200,000 a year, in part by the use of dim lighting, creates an eerie feeling for staff and students. While the district has achieved the desired cost savings, they have done so at a considerable price when combined with the other problems mentioned. Students do not feel safe.
We took a particularly close look at this building while working with the rural Kansas school system that is trying to improve the level of safety in its schools. The installation of security cameras had done little to reassure students. The maintenance director had worked with the principal to develop a series of renovations designed to make the facility more welcoming to students. The school board had decided that this should be a priority though available funding is scant. As the maintenance director outlined his proposed projects, I was impressed. One by one, the changes he suggested all happened to be in agreement with the principals of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED.)
In order to increase the number of available parking spaces, the maintenance director had decided to change the orientation of cars in the lot. By turning spaces in this manner, he will also create far better natural surveillance because administrators will have a clear line of sight between vehicles. Though he has never had any training in CPTED, he is a very creative individual with a solid knowledge of building construction and is clearly gifted with intuition.
Unfortunately, these types of consulting projects don’t always leave school officials with thewarm fuzzies for me and other consultants who do this type of work. They often find themselves with a long list of repairs and other projects that create a drain on their limited available resources.
When we outlined the proposed projects that included replacement of the dim lighting, we began a brainstorming session with the rest of the building assessment team. When the principal advised that he had more lockers than he needed, I suggested they remove the L-shaped lockers to create more space for students and to eliminate many hiding spots. I also recommended prominent use of bright colors on support pillars and a mural or two to make the area appear larger and brighten the atmosphere.
One existing feature in the school that will remain is a wonderful flag display in the area where most of the indoor renovations will occur. A teacher who helps coordinate the school system’s exchange student program decided a few years ago to make foreign students feel more welcome by hanging their flag from the ceiling. The display now represents the diverse group of students from around the globe who have attended the school and, of course, includes the American flag. This display is a visible reminder of the school’s sincere efforts to help these students blend into their school and community. The teacher was delighted to learn that his efforts also help to make the school a safer place by creating pride and a bond between students. It is truly a wonderful experience when safety efforts coincide with efforts to create a warm and pleasant environment.
The superintendent, board members and other school officials who are working diligently to revamp the district’s safety strategy were delighted to learn that their efforts to create a warm and welcoming environment will also help to address their safety concerns. When they finish this process, they will have a school the community will be proud of, students can connect to and a heightened level of safety. Do any of your schools need a cosmetic makeover that also serves to make them safer?
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.