Spotlight on Design for School Safety

In 2018, school shootings on K-12 campuses reached an unprecedented number with 82 recorded incidents. Many parents, teachers, and students are understandably searching for the best solution to ensuring educational facilities are safe and secure. Though many people have suggested arming teachers and hiring armed security to surveil campuses to prevent school shootings, education design firm, DLR Group, does not believe that hardening schools will make them more secure. Instead, they suggest a design approach that facilitates relational safety through human connection, environment, and technology. Chris Gibbs, AIA, DLR Group K-12 Education Leader explains DLR Group's approach to design and school safety.

Why doesn’t hardening schools make them more secure?

So much of the creation of safe and secure school environments is related to the feeling that students and staff have while they are in the building; I’ve heard students say they feel less safe at a hardened school that uses obvious security measures to keep armed shooters out. Many hardening strategies, such as metal detectors and lockdown hardware, do not consider the emotional aspects of feeling safe in school and, in many cases, result in the opposite effect.

Instead of hardening schools, what strategies or tenets should schools adopt to make their campuses more secure?

The role of positive relationships between adults and children is critical in the creation of safe and secure school environments. These relationships can be supported in numerous ways through various programming activities like interdisciplinary projects, small group book studies, and large group service projects, and can also be addressed through the design and configuration of space. Designing warm, welcoming, and open places promotes a sense of comfort and acceptance for all occupants. Additionally, the carefully integrated involvement of community in and around any particular school supports the shared responsibility—and ownership of responsibility—for a safer school facility.

How can design facilitate human connections?

As education continues to evolve, the design of space to support those varying learning initiatives must evolve as well. Designated spaces for small group tasks, and large group spaces with extensive transparency, promote the development of community within a school where students trust each other, and trust teachers and adults. These spaces allow for students and staff to find the most appropriate space to connect with each other, either formally and casually, in a way that encourages students’ ownership of their activities while being visible, and therefore, supervised.

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