Protecting Your Assets

Security is often on the minds of school administrators. There are many tools from which they can choose to protect their most valued assets — people — from security challenges, even on a limited budget. Here are some approaches worth evaluating, along with other security issues to consider.

Three Levels of Security
A layered approach to security is common in many markets, including schools. The approach notes three layers that need to be protected: outer, middle and inner. “It’s a concept that a lot of people implement, especially people with a military and law enforcement background,” says Paul Timm, PSP, president of RETA Security, Inc., Lemont, Ill., which provides school security consulting services.

SimplexGrinnell, a Westminster, Mass.-based provider of life safety and property protection, covers the layered approach to security in Physical Security Concepts, which is Book Two in the company’s PACE series on Security Basics. Here’s how it’s described. “The outer protective layer may consist of fencing, natural barriers, lighting systems, signs, alarm systems. These controls generally accomplish two related functions: defining property lines, and channeling personnel and vehicles through designated access points.

“The middle layer of barrier protection is usually considered to begin at the exteriors of any buildings on the site. Features may include: lighting systems, alarm systems, locking devices, bars or grillwork, signs and additional fencing.

“The inner layer may itself consist of several levels,” the book notes. “This inner, and final barrier against intrusion will ensure that an intruder (any person attempting to enter a region who at any given moment may not be authorized to do so) will be detected even if the outer and middle layers of protection have failed to do so.

“The security design of the inner barrier layer also prevents the intruder from accessing anything deemed to have value,” indicates the book. “Features may include: window/door bars, locking devices, barriers, signs, access/intrusion/alarm systems, communication systems, lighting systems, safes and controlled areas.”

Security cameras can be used at any of the three layers. If cameras are in your game plan, start with evaluating how the cameras will be used, says Mike Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, Macon, Ga., an international nonprofit organization committed to helping schools and school systems improve crisis preparedness and campus safety. “Whether they’ll be monitored and how often will have a big influence on where they’re located, what you buy and what will be logical to buy,” he notes.

In public school districts, cameras are not commonly used in schools in the outer layer, where they can indicate activity at the property entry points and parking lots. A sophisticated installation at this layer includes access control. For example, says Dorn, “An installation at a Jewish school in Georgia includes cameras and a proximity card to enter the grounds.”

When evaluating the outer layer, Dorn has two thoughts. The first is to consider security at athletic venues. Cameras in these areas allow you to sort out challenges such as fights and prove whether a disruptive person who was arrested was indeed disruptive. The second is the addition of emergency communications for athletic venues. For example, if a gym class is on the soccer field as ill weather approaches, how do you communicate with that teacher to seek shelter?

School districts more commonly use security cameras at the middle and inner layers. At the middle layer, they capture images of people passing through the doorway. Here, Dorn recommends fixed cameras, as they are less expensive than pan cameras and are less likely to get jostled out of position. Camera angle at the installation point is critical to good image capture. Similarly, choose a camera and lens system that accommodates direct sunlight or deep shade, whichever your case might be, as both can impair image capture.

When it comes to installing cameras on the inner layer, Dorn cites five areas to consider. The first is restroom entryways. “Being able to identify who went into a restroom before bullying, a sexual assault or a bomb threat was written on a mirror has been valuable many times,” he observes.

The second area is self-serve food areas in cafeterias, such as taco, potato and salad bars. “A child in a Florida school stole rat poison from an unlocked custodial closet and put it in the salsa on the taco bar,” says Dorn. “A student in Kentucky urinated in a self-serve container of lemonade. It’s not that we have an epidemic of these cases, but we have enough to give it consideration in camera coverage.”

The third interior area to cover with a camera is the main office. “Having audio coverage there is even better,” says Dorn. “After noticing the camera, an angry parent may cool off. It’s important to think of covering a lot of people but also being able to document what did or didn’t happen.”
Dorn also advocates using cameras in vocational areas. If a safety incident occurs, cameras document whether the teacher and students were complying with policies — for example, wearing safety goggles — and thus limit the school’s liability.

Finally, camera coverage in conjunction with remote viewing and motion sensors are imperative for the swimming pool. “If the door to the pool is left unlocked, someone will be alerted if a student enters the area,” says Dorn.

Timm takes an approach to school security that’s different from the layered approach. “Mine is an asset-driven style,” he says. “We define assets, which are people, places and things. Then we prioritize those assets and, hopefully, people are number one. Then I ask what protects people most. It isn’t alarm systems or cameras. What protect people most are access control and communications.”

Things to Consider
Regardless of the approach chosen to protect a school or an entire district, there are two things the experts recommend keeping in mind.

Develop a thoughtful plan: The best place to begin is with a formal, well-documented, comprehensive assessment, from policies to physical security systems to emergency planning. It accomplishes two things. First, it identifies vulnerabilities and how to overcome them in a prioritized fashion, says Timm. The second is you have documentation to support your decision-making should litigation result from a security incident. “The point of a well-documented assessment is to prevent security challenges in the first place but, if one comes up, these details can make a huge difference in litigation,” says Dorn. “For example, if you’re asked, ‘Why do you have a camera here, but not here?’ you have a logical response.”

It’s as much about safety as it is security: Timm often observes that school administrators approach him for assistance in accomplishing compliance-oriented tasks, such as updating emergency plans. This is a valid security need but, again, a comprehensive plan recognizes that security is also largely about safety.

“When we think of security,” says Dorn, “we think of multiple-victim incidents and catastrophic disasters like tornadoes. But typical incidents don’t involve violence. For example, a couple of years ago in North Carolina, a student was killed when she went behind folding bleachers to retrieve something as they were being contracted.” Because administrators had installed cameras in the gymnasium, they showed that the facilities employee had followed training and safety procedures and, in spite of all reasonable efforts, the student still got back there.

“When placing cameras in interior spaces,” says Dorn, “give thought to where they’re going, as you may have greater safety risk than security risk. Do you want to document what most likely won’t happen, or do you want to document what is most likely to happen?”

Whether you choose a layered approach, an asset-driven approach or an altogether different approach, remember that you have options and that protecting people is your No. 1 priority. 

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