Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Access Control Goes To High School

emergency school door exit

PHOTO © ANTOS777

Between 2013 and 2015, there were 84 shootings in K-12 schools, according to Everytown For Gun Safety, a research organization that tracks gun violence.

The U.S. Department of Education says that about 15 students die at school from gunshot wounds every year.

Thefts and assaults are also problematic in schools. In 2012, for instance, there were more than 1.3 nonfatal victimizations of students aged 12 to 18, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Center did not note how many of those victimizations were committed by outsiders that entered the school. There can be little doubt, however, that outsiders were responsible for some meaningful share.

In response to these kinds of violent incidents, school security directors are working to tighten up security, especially access control security that can keep outsiders out and perhaps prevent some violent incidents inside.

Randy Braverman is director of campus safety at Oak Park and River Forest High School, district 200 in Illinois. It is a huge school with 7,500 students and one million square feet of buildings and property.

“I’ve been here for four years, and we’ve put together a good safety program,” Braverman says. “We have 34 security officers and a school resource officer (a police officer assigned to the school).

“We meet with representatives from the police and fire departments monthly to go over fire and security issues.”

The school drills with both the fire and police departments regularly, covering actions such as evacuation and hard lockdown. “We drill both police and fire on the same day so both departments are here,” Braverman says.

Access control, of course, plays a significant role in Braverman’s wide-ranging security program.

door propped open with chair

PHOTO © STACEY NEWMAN

Alarming. School security directors are continually working to tighten up security, especially access control to keep outsiders out and prevent some violent incidents. Access control is a wide-ranging security program, which includes technology that carries out hard and soft lockdowns, to propped door alarms and school-wide card swipe access systems to provide firm control over who can come and go.

“I think the biggest access control challenge in K-12 schools involves keeping students from propping doors open and letting outsiders in,” Braverman says. “We have to train everyone about this. If you see a door propped open, close it and report it.

“If a person you don’t know wants to come in, don’t let him or her in.”

Braverman has security officers on patrol outside looking for propped doors and people that don’t belong on the property. “It’s important for security to know who is on the property,” he says.

He has also installed an access control system that covers all the doors. “An alarm goes off when a door is propped open,” he says. “We want everyone to swipe in and out. If a door opens without a card swipe, an alarm goes off and my phone and all of the officers’ phones receive an email and text to check the door. We also have cameras watching the doors and who is coming in or out.”

At the main entrance in the front, Braverman has installed a front entrance trap. When a visitor enters the trap through the unlocked outside door, an officer speaks to the individual through a window asking for the individual’s driver’s license or other photo ID. The officer also asks questions about the nature of the visit, while checking a list of known sexual predators and another list of court orders prohibiting visits from parents. If the interview and checks pan out, the visitor receives a badge that says clearly this is a visitor. Teachers will stop anyone without a visitor’s badge.

“We keep the individual’s driver’s license,” Braverman says. “That ensures he or she will come back to check out, letting us know the person is no longer in the school.

“Again, we need to know who is in the building. It isn’t just to keep people who shouldn’t be in the building out. If there is a fire or some other kind of emergency that causes us to evacuate the building, we have to know who the visitors are to make sure they get out.”

NEW ACCESS CONTROL ATTRACTIONS

near field communications on mobile devicesNow you can use a technology called near field communications (NFC) to enable smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to replace smart cards or keys.

The solution requires NFC enabled phones and apps as well as NFC readers and an NFC identity management system.

HID Global has been providing these systems for several years. With that system, users download an app to their phones and register the app. The system administrator then issues mobile IDs.

The advantages of NFC include replacing access cards and the hassles they cause. Students always lose access cards, which can be expensive and time consuming to replace. Very few students lose their phones, and when they do, the responsibility for replacing a phone falls to the owner.

The phones can also be disabled remotely from the administrative office should you need to bar someone from the facility.

For users that don’t have smartphones, smartcard’s can be enabled to access NFC-controlled doors.

The various communications that include confidential user information can be encrypted to ensure privacy.

Tightening Up

Has Braverman tightened up the system in response to recent shootings and other violent events in schools?

“Every year, we review the program and look for ways to tighten,” he says. “But we check constantly to make sure all of the equipment is working. Do the alarms go off when they should? Are the locks working? We test all of them.

How about the public address system? At the beginning of every year, Braverman sends messages over the public address system and then asks teachers if they heard the messages.

Braverman has automated technologies that he puts through the paces, too. “I have a software program that executes a hard lockdown at the push of a button,” he says. “Numerous things happen all at once: The outside doors automatically lock, and no one can get in. All the access control readers shut down for all cards except those held by police officers.

“We also have red strobe lights in the pools, gyms and band areas. So if teachers don’t hear the lockdown message, they see this message to go into hard lockdown.

There are red strobe lights outside around the school. Those tell people to stay away from the school in an emergency.

Finally, an automated message goes to the police station.

“We also have a soft lockdown procedure,” Braverman says. “If a danger in the community might come our way, we ask the gym classes and any other classes being held outside to come in. We make sure the doors are locked. The teachers continue to teach, but no one moves around the building – just in case we would need to go to a hard lockdown. An automated public address announcement sets the procedure in motion.

“I like pre-recorded messages. In an emergency, people are nervous. They may not be sure about what to say. In addition, voices can be nervous. Our automated messages play in a calm voice.

From technology that carries out hard and soft lockdowns to propped door alarms and the school-wide card swipe access system, Braverman has taken firm control over who can come and go at Oak Park.

That’s the way it has to be in our day and age.

OAK PARK COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES

Communication technologies support access control. “We’re always looking for good communications technology,” Braverman says. Right now, we’re considering a communication device that works with two-way radios. Our radios go into a base system and override others in case of emergency, but sometimes you can’t get through.

“The system we’re looking at uses a control device that communicates through sensors located around the building. With this system, a security person could report an emergency by hitting a button to override other communications and asking for help.

“We’re always looking for good technology. We have to have good radio communications so we can respond as quickly as possible to calls for help.

“And we test it constantly. For instance, we once had to install new repeaters in our building after the police and fire departments tested their ability to communicate in our school, and they couldn’t communicate well enough. Last year we put in a new system, and now any emergency responder can talk to fire fighters, police officers and us.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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