- By Michael Fickes
- June 1st, 2011
It’s all too easy to forget about emergency technology until an emergency erupts and you need it. But what if it doesn’t work because it hasn’t been maintained? Imagine how you would feel if you raced to the side of a heart attack victim with a defibrillator only to find that it did not work.
Today, safety and security depend on a host of advanced technologies, and facilities directors and security staff must add maintenance of these technologies to their to-do lists.
Technologies used in a K-12 school might include a card access control system, defibrillator, fire alarm and life safety systems, mass notification systems for parents and video surveillance. Lower technology items might include exterior and interior lighting, flashlights and emergency supplies that would support a group of people forced by an emergency to stay in the school.
How do you go about checking and maintaining these devices and technologies?
The easiest way to check the system is to read the audit reports for the system. If you own the system and it is housed in your building or a district building, you can print the audit reports yourself. If a third party provides the system and monitors the alarms, that party will also provide you with audit reports. All you have to do is ask.
“The reports tell you who entered what door at what time,” says Paul Timm, president of RETA Security, Inc., a Lemont, Ill.-based security consulting firm specializing in educational facilities. “You can check off the doors that were used as you read. If the reader at the delivery door is never used, it could be down. Look for unusual uses, too. If the same person opens different doors six times a day, you might ask why?
“The burglar alarm system gives you audit reports too. Look for exceptions there. And check the code used to activate and deactivate the system. I see schools that use the same four-digit code for years. That’s not good.”
Timm also suggests checking with the vendor if you think you are experiencing more than a normal number of false alarms. It’s important to take false alarms seriously, he says, noting that law enforcement often calls building security about alarms it believes to be false. That might be an assistant principal, who might decide to run down to the school and reset the false alarm, only to find that the alarm is for real. “You have to worry about sending someone who is unprepared to handle a situation like that,” says Timm. “If you have a false alarm problem, get it fixed.”
If you installed the system to be able to lock or unlock all of the doors quickly in the event of an emergency, be sure to check that feature.
Lighting may not be an advanced technology, but it is an important technology. Burned out lights create dark spots where vandals and criminals prefer to work.
If you have a security staff, the officers can check the lights — interior and exterior — every day while patrolling. “I would ask everyone to participate,” Timm says. “Ask the faculty and staff to report lights that have burned out or been damaged. Send emails out occasionally asking if they’ve seen lights that need attention — or noticed areas where lights should be installed.”
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the landscaping. Every year, trees grow taller. This year when the leaves come back they may block some of the lights. Time to prune them back.
Depending on the number and kinds of lighting you have to look after, it might also be worth scheduling formal lighting inspections a couple times a year. Check to make sure each light works. In addition, look around, inside and out, for dark areas that need additional light.
You might also appoint a special lighting inspection team once a year: a student, security officer and a facilities department representative. Have the group tour the grounds, evaluate the lighting and turn in a report.
Fire and Life Safety
Fire and life safety systems manufacturers train and certify third parties to inspect and test systems on a regular schedule mandated by the fire code. But that doesn’t mean the systems will work when there is a fire. It is also important to check out the people that will read the alarm panel or monitoring screen when an alarm sounds.
Can they identify the area of the school where the alarm has gone off? Is it the chemistry lab? What emergency steps does a fire in the chemistry lab require?
State laws typically require all K-12 schools to carry out a number of fire drills per year. “In Illinois, we have three fire drills per year and one must be approved by the fire department,” says Timm. “We also have to carry out one lockdown and one shelter-in-place drill every year.”
For the drills to come off without a hitch, it is probably a good idea for facilities people and security officers to practice with tabletop and real-time drills before the officially required drills take place.
In K-12 schools, the main mass notification system for students is tested daily when the announcements come over the loudspeaker. Like any technology, that system should receive regular preventive maintenance attention.
But schools, today, also keep a mass notification system for parents at the ready. It could be a web-based system or a system maintained by the school district’s main IT department. Experts say that regular test messages sent out to parents — labeled as a test — can explain the system to parents and help ensure that they understand that a message that arrives over this system is serious.
Testing is also important practice for the school staff assigned to communicating with parents when there is an emergency and the system has to work right.
Video surveillance systems typically come with an offer of preventive maintenance contracts carried out by the installer. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to test. What if the software controlling the tour through the cameras develops a glitch and the system starts to skip a camera. Someone has to notice that and call for maintenance.
It is also important to test the pan-tilt-zoom mechanisms that are likely on some of your cameras. When intruders enter the building, you’ll need those controls to maintain camera contact with them.
Defibrillators, Flashlights, Battery-Operated Radios
All told, there are probably a dozen or more fire, life-safety and security systems and subsystems that you have to check regularly. Does the defibrillator work? Do enough people know how to operate it that it can be used at any time of day?
Do you have enough emergency flashlights? Do the batteries work? Do you have extra batteries? What about the battery operated radios you may need in the event of a power outage? Is the portable generator fueled up? Do you have an emergency supply of fuel? Can you think of any more questions that must be answered about your emergency gear?
All of these vital safety and security tools must get into your preventive maintenance software application or other scheduling system. There is no other way to guarantee that the equipment will work when it absolutely has to work.