Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Keeping Students Safe

school access control

PHOTO © KHONGTHAM

It is difficult for students, teachers and administrators to come to terms with this dangerous new world in which we live.

It is a world where everything will probably be fine. Even so, it is vital, today, for teachers, administrators, school security professionals, and even students to take potential threats seriously. What if something does indeed go terribly wrong.

All of us have seen it in contemporary news reports: someone shows up at a school with a gun and starts shooting, taking a terrible toll, often in lives.

Again, it probably won’t happen at your school, but if we have learned anything from recent events, we have learned that it can happen at your school. We’ve also learned that those who prepare have a decent chance of surviving.

Consider this: in the recently ended 2017-18 school year, 35 individuals died by gunfire in U.S. schools. Education Week calculates that the year recorded more deaths from school shootings than any other year in recent decades. These are bad numbers, and teachers, administrators, and students must prepare to protect themselves should an unspeakable horror one day arrive at their schools.

There are many security preparations to make. One of the most important involves school security technologies, such as access control, video surveillance, and mass notification.

Another technology might include metal detecting scanners at school entrances. While some schools do employ metal detection, others have rejected the concept, saying that it is important to deploy security in a way that does not make a school seem like a locked down prison.

So, let’s put metal detection aside for now and focus on access control, video surveillance, and mass notification and how such technologies can help to avoid or at least abate lethal problems.

What’s New in Access Control?

“In the area of access control, there is new thinking in terms practices,” says Paul Timm, a school security expert and vice president in the Chicago offices of Facility Engineering Associates. “For example, we used to leave the gym unlocked as a convenience for an outside group that wanted to use the facilities. That’s considered unsafe nowadays. Today, we give those who need access a card to get to get in. We program the card reader so that the access cards will work only during a short window of time.”

Another change: Today’s smart phones typically have bluetooth capabilities as do modern access control systems. Users simply present a blue-tooth enabled phone with an appropriate software key to a blue-tooth door reader, and the door opens. “Convenient blue-tooth access technology is coming into wider and wider use today,” Timm says.

Teachers, administrators, and staff will probably be equipped with access technology that will let them through a side door. Students arriving on time won’t need access cards. A security station at the front of the building can vet visitors arriving after the start of school as well as late arriving students, faculty, and staff. The security station can buzz these arrivals into the school or issue temporary access cards that will enable them to gain access through the doors, which are now locked.

News About Security Cameras

Video surveillance cameras are also coming into wider use thanks to improving video technology. “Everything today is IP (Internet Protocol),” continues Timm. “Camera deployment used to be restricted by cabling, but IP cameras give us opportunities to plug and play through Internet connections.”

Timm also notes that today’s cameras can see further and provide sharper images. Some also provide 360-degree views, enabling surveillance of entire, large areas with single cameras—instead of several.

“Video analytics have been improved, too” says Timm. “Today analytics can notify security if there are people in an area of school where no one should be. The technology does that by picking up motion and activating a security monitor in the security center. Analytics can also react to noises and activate a monitor.’”

In addition, cloud storage of video allows mobile access to video. “First responders, administrators, and teachers can access video by way of the cloud,” says Ron Baer, director of business development—K-12 in the Smyrna, Ga., offices of ASSA ABLOY, a leader in door and access control security technologies.

Mass Notification

Emergency mass notification techniques have been refined in recent years. “Thanks to mobile phones, mass notification can involve all stakeholders in a school—teachers, administrators, and students, as well as fire and other emergency responders,” says Baer. “Parents can and should be on the system, too.”

During a school mass notification emergency, continues Baer, administrators must control messaging. Today’s technology enables them to send messages in different formats to different audiences—by phoning, texting, emailing, and social media received by students, faculty, parents, first responders, and others.

It’s also important to send the right messages to the right audiences. “For example, parents need to be included in messaging so they know there is an emergency,” says Baer. “However, it is important to add information that parents might need. For example, during certain emergencies, it might be important to tell parents not to come to the school where the trouble is, but to gather at a re-unification point away from the school, where students will be taken.”

Active Shooter Precautions

Traditionally, security professionals have recommended responding to an active shooter by locking rooms and hiding below windows, but that advice has evolved in recent years into a response dubbed ‘Run, Hide, Fight.’ While these steps aren’t necessarily sequential, the idea is to run away when violent trouble erupts. If you can’t run, then hide. If you can’t hide, it may become necessary to fight. Throw things at the shooter. Hit the shooter with a stick. While fighting be aware that opportunities to run or hide may become available.

“A recent refinement to this thinking involves planning ahead and drilling or practicing,” adds Baer. “Do you know where you will run? You should practice several escape routes, and use the safest, given the circumstances of the emergency.”

Baer also describes a more comprehensive response format that has been labeled ALICE.

An ALICE response begins with “A” for “Alert,” meaning alert law enforcement that an emergency is underway.

Next response is “L” for “Lockdown.” Lock all the doors except a single pre-established entry point for the police or other first responders.

Then comes “I” for “Inform.” Notify law enforcement as well as building occupants about the emergency.

Admittedly frightening, “C” stands for “Confront.” Occupants find makeshift weapons and look for opportunities to confront an attacker, without taking undue risks.

Last in this ALICE string of responses comes “E” for “Evacuate.” Get out and get others out and away from the site. Professionals recommend training that surveys all of the possible ways to exit the building.

Finally, administrators, faculty, and students shouldn’t live in fear of being attacked. Nevertheless, all must recognize that their worst fears could one day materialize. Being ready will help those caught up in an emergency to survive.

It may be frightening to have to practice these steps but it could be worse than frightening to fail to prepare.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of School Planning & Management.

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