Safety

School Access Control

The ringleaders gathered a number of students from the senior high school class — enough muscle to lift a car. It was a compact car, but still it was a car. They waited until night and then inched the car up the wall of the single-story high school building. Another group of students waited on the roof. As the car’s front bumper appeared, they lent their strength to the effort and dragged the car onto the roof.

Next, they rolled it across the roof to the edge of the opening for the school’s interior courtyard. Then they pushed it over the edge, crashing it into the open space below.

Paul Timm, president of RETA Security, Inc., a security consultancy with a specialty in school security, tells this story to highlight the importance of complete access control in schools. “This happened back in the mid-1980s,” Timm says. “It’s important because it points out that access control measures goes beyond doors.”

In addition to doors, continues Timm, you have to control access to roofs, air intakes, vacated interior rooms, classrooms when not in use, after hours access to school areas during basketball games and community meetings, and other areas that might provide access to an intruder or be subject to vandalism.

As far as vandalism goes, sooner or later, certain students will grow curious about an out-of-the-way or forbidden area and take a look, perhaps endangering themselves or committing vandalism.

“Think about the electrical cabinets,” Timm says. “They are a big problem. No one should have access to a breaker box where it is possible to turn off the electricity and the lights — whether as a prank or as an attack.

“Check on air-intakes, offices, custodial closets and boiler rooms. In fact, all internal areas that are not in use, including classrooms, should be secured.

“Use barriers to protect areas around parking lots and in front of school entrances. I recently saw a story about a car drifting through a parking lot onto a playground, where it hit a student. Parking lots need barriers to keep the cars in.”

Vehicles can run through entrances, too, usually by accident. The media has many stories about drivers that crash through the doors of stores while trying to park or pressing the gas with the car in forward instead of reverse. Timm urges administrators to use barriers liberally to prevent such accidents.

Closing the door

Of course, doors are important, too. “One of the main drivers for controlling access through doors is to slow down intruders, while allowing people that should have access to enter,” notes Brett St. Pierre, director, education solutions with HID Global.

St. Pierre also recommends drilling or practicing lockdowns that might become necessary in the case of an active shooter or other dangerous intruder.

“Classrooms haven’t used traditional access control means,” he says. “But today it’s important for teachers to be able to lock the doors — quickly — from the inside.”

Another way to lockdown classrooms is an electronic classroom locking system that can be controlled from the principal’s office. “There is a big debate about this,” St. Pierre says. “Some schools prefer office lockdowns to be sure that all the rooms are locked.

“The other side of the debate focuses on what happens if you hear a gunshot. If the office locks the doors too soon, people will still be in the hallways trying to find shelter. A teacher, however, can lock down a room after ensuring that all the students are inside.”

Card access control

In today’s environment, the problem of keeping intruders out of schools has taken on special urgency. Does that mean purchasing and installing card access control systems for all of the buildings in a school district?

“In today’s K-12 world, there is not a lot of funding available for electronic access control systems, which are expensive to buy,” says St. Pierre. “There are some large districts that manage to get funding through bond issues or grants.

“Districts that do find this kind of funding typically look to video surveillance cameras or access control, especially if there has been a recent incident.”

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., took the lives of 20 children and six adults, continues St. Pierre, schools across the state began to find money for school security systems.

Every year, school shootings focus educator’s attention on the importance of access control — and other security measures. In 2014, for instance, Wikipedia tracked 40 shootings at K-12 schools and colleges. Twenty-seven people died in those shootings.

It can happen anywhere. Lock your doors.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

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