Printed from the blog of Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI
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Dec 18 2012

WWYD? Safe and Secure Schools

I have been struggling with this post.  I can’t answer the question the world wants an answer to –

How do we keep our kids safe and secure at school?

There’s debate about access to guns, treatment for mental illness, violent video games, and the breakdown of the American family.  Beyond my own family, I can’t affect a measurable impact on those issues.  But one of my core beliefs is that while I can’t do everything, I can still do something.

The readers of this blog come from so many different walks of life…of course from various segments of the hardware industry – distributors,  manufacturers, locksmiths, spec-writers, but also security consultants and integrators, code experts, architects and specifiers, end users, and others who are not in a related field but have just realized how cool doors can be.  As a group, we represent an incredible body of knowledge.  We can do something.

When you’re in a school, or any building for that matter, and see something that’s not right – tell someone.  If you are equipped to help a school or other facility improve the safety and security of their building, extend the offer.  Last year I helped a school system with a phased lock upgrade that improved accessibility, security, and key-control across the district.  Each school in that district has also been equipped with access control on the main entrance.  We can’t protect every school from every possible scenario, but we can make incremental improvements that could thwart an intruder, or allow safe egress, or prevent the spread of smoke and fire, or create a safe haven.

I would love to hear your ideas about how to improve the safety and security of our schools.  I have seen some creative but non-code-compliant or non-functional attempts, so let’s offer our guidance.  Here are my thoughts.  Please leave yours in a comment and I’ll add to the list.

Main Entrance – Many schools restrict access via the main entrance during school hours.  While the students are entering or leaving school at the beginning or the end of the day the doors are typically unlocked, but additional staff in the entrance area can help to monitor access to the building.  While the doors are locked, a camera monitors who rings the bell for access, and office personnel can assess the person and allow access if appropriate.  An entrance vestibule that directs visitors to the office can act as a second line of defense, and electrified hardware on these openings can facilitate immediate lock-down.

Secondary Entrances – Often there are entrances from the parking lot or playground that are accessed by teachers and staff.  I typically recommend access control on these entrances, so that the time of access can be controlled and monitored.  The days of giving keys to half the town for after-hours use are over (or they should be!).

Emergency Exits -There are additional doors that are not required for access, but do need to allow free egress.  These doors are often “exit only” with no exterior operating hardware, although some facilities prefer a key cylinder on the exterior to allow quick access for emergency personnel.  These doors are often monitored so staff can see if they are closed and latched.

Classrooms – In many incidents that have occurred in schools, lives were saved because of locked interior doors.  Whether students and teachers hid in closets, bathrooms, storage rooms, or stayed in a locked classroom, the doors provide immeasurable protection.  I have used classroom security locks as my standard in school specifications for many years – not just for classrooms, but for just about any room that would have had a regular classroom function lock in the past.  These locks allow a teacher to lock the outside lever without opening the door to the corridor, and have been required by law for California schools since July of 2011.  An indicator on the inside rose or escutcheon to confirm that the outside lever is locked, is extremely helpful.  There are also access control locks that are appropriate for classrooms, which allow immediate lock-down from a central point, such as the office.

Assembly Spaces – Large spaces like the gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, and library typically have doors equipped with panic hardware or fire exit hardware.  These devices may be equipped with cylinder dogging or a trim control that is similar to a classroom security lock, to allow the doors to be locked without entering the corridor.  In a bank of doors, staff may want to limit access through one door or pair, and keep the other doors locked on the pull side, to facilitate quick lock-down if needed.  If the budget allows, electric latch retraction allows for immediate lock-down of these doors.

Visitor Identification – Most schools require visitors to check in at the office, and sign in.  Some require nametags or badges – ranging from an adhesive nametag that basically insinuates that you have been to the office and pronounced ok to roam the school, to a system that scans your license, checks you against a database of sex offenders, and issues a photo badge that must be worn while in the building.  These systems may be a deterrent, or at very least will provide a list of who is in the building if there is an incident.

Drills and Training – Most schools conduct Code Yellow drills and provide training for staff and students regarding what to do in an emergency situation.  This needs to be done regularly, to ensure that notification, lock-down, and moving to a safe location happen as quickly as possible if there is an incident.

Impact-Resistant Glass – I don’t work directly with glass, so I don’t how often new school specifications are calling for any level of impact protection beyond what is required by code.  This may have delayed access to the Sandy Hook Elementary School long enough for help to arrive.  We will never know for sure.

Communication – Many schools have adopted systems to allow them to communicate immediately with staff as well as parents.  The system in our school can send an automated phone call and an email to parents.  These systems become extremely important in a crisis situation.

Security Personnel and Monitoring – I have been to schools that have security personnel and/or cameras or metal detectors.  This may be a necessary part of the security plan for some facilities.  But I don’t think every single school in the country will be, or should be, staffed with armed guards.  Yesterday I went to the winter concert performance at our elementary school, and the school safety officer was in the lobby.  She is a uniformed police officer with a marked police car.  We typically see her a few times a year, and her presence in the lobby seemed ominous to me.  Given the budgets of many/most schools, adding security officers could mean a reduction in teachers.  That’s a tough trade-off to justify.

There are plenty of what-ifs…ways for someone to get around these measures.  I’m not going to list them and unless there’s a reasonable solution, I don’t think they should be listed in the comments either.  Remember – we can’t do everything, but we can do something.  Please share your thoughts.

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35 Responses to “WWYD? Safe and Secure Schools”

  1. J. Peter Jordan says:

    Most of the stuff you talk about is already being done with the exception of impact-resistant glass. “Hurricane glass” in an insulated glazing unit would be about 2 to 3 times the cost of a typical insulated glazing unit, and this is not anywhere near what it would need to be to be rated for ballistic resistance to firearms. UL Level 3 glazing is required for certain openings in federal courthouse design which results in a glass-polycarbonate-glass laminated construction which is about 1-inch thick. This is rated for .44 cal magnum handgun round, three shots. This might have been sufficient to resist the pistols the Sandy Hook shooter carried, but would not have been sufficient for the “high-power” rifle. You would not only have to have the glazing, but also framing (and doors) rated for equivalent ballistic resistance. I am just not sure it’s going to happen.

    Even though I am from Texas, I do not advocate arming school teachers or staff. I think this is inviting other types of disasters that might be even more devastating.

    “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!” OK, let’s think about how many children the Sandy Hook shooter could have killed if armed with a screwdriver (or even a hunting knife). It is time we understand that closing ourselves behind fortresses and arming ourselves to the teeth isn’t the answer. There is no reason for a mother and adult child to have those types of weapons and that amount of ammunition in their home no matter what their mental state was.

    In our time and place the “right to bear arms” makes the same amount of sense as the “right to arm bears.”

    • Lori says:

      Thank you Peter. I agree…arming teachers is not the answer.

    • Lori says:

      I forgot to say…you’d be surprised at how many schools have NOT implemented the security measures that I listed.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is not intended to start a debate- but the fact is that even if the Sandy Hook shooter killed ONLY ONE child, this would be no less devastating. Don’t get caught in the numbers game-one child would have been just as bad. Tell the family of that one child that “thankfully because the killer didn’t have access to a gun and only a knife, your child was the only one killed before he was subdued” and see how they react. This is a made up scenario obviously but just an example. I agree that there is no reason for anyone to have those types of weapons or amount of ammunition, but that will never stop them if they have such evil intentions. The human race is creative, we are the ones who invented guns in the first place. Destroying every gun on the planet would not solve the problem since we are the ones who can creat them. Legal or not, they would be produced and reasonably available (just like marijuana, cocaine, etc). Like Lori says, we should do something to the extent that it is reasonable- it’s not smart to leave a gaping hole in security or life safety measures. But to go to extreme measures to try to guard yourself from every possible scenario, that’s no way to live. Agreed that building a fortress and arming ourselves is not the answer. I personally think it would help if teachers were armed (all of these shooting coincidentally take place in places where guns are banned), but again it could only possibly cut down on the number of deaths, and that’s not a good goal to shoot for (NO pun). This kind of stuff happens every single day; people dying worse deaths than you could possibly even imagine, most of which go unheard. Our problem lies very deep in human nature (see Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel), and may never be solved. We are no more perfect than the shooter, and the only way to solve that is to focus on the only PERFECT person who walked on this planet. Coincidentally, His birthday is coming up. MERRY CHRISTMAS to EVERYONE!

  2. Cda says:

    Maybe classroom doors built tougher?? So they can take a bullet??

    Second exits out if ground floor classrooms? So they do not have to go back into the building ??

    I can see taking some measures, just there has to be a balancing of cost versus threat.

    Like with 9-11 people wanted buildings built with more protection

    I do like the instant communication systems

    • Lori says:

      I agree, there has to be a balance. But there are things that can be done to improve a facility’s plan for very little cost, and some investments that need to be made.

  3. Joel Niemi says:

    Thank you, Lori.

    Many (elementary) schools have a second exit that leads directly to the exterior. While these create more places to secure against intrusion, they would also provide a (literal) means of escape from an intruder within the building.

    • Lori says:

      You’re right Joel. Given the thousands of existing schools, I think every facility needs to evaluate each of their classrooms or other spaces where students and staff congregate, and decide where that space’s “safe haven” is. Believe it or not, there are schools that did not have classroom doors as part of the original design. I am working with one now.

      • cda says:

        the old open concept plan, that was attempted???

        • Lori says:

          It still exists – I was just in one yesterday. The library is a 2-story space with 3 levels of classrooms attached. Not a single door on any of them. The only doors on classrooms are in a wing off the back and in the kindergarten classrooms.

  4. Davis Zellner says:

    Lori great idea.

    One idea- Banks are retrofitting with securable vestibules. The vestibules are of bullet proof glazing and contain 1 way travel paths- 1 in, 1 out. Metal detectors are built into the inside and will automatically lock down the doors if someone is detected to have a weapon. Someone can be locked into either side. I believe these will become standard entrance models for schools. One of the issues is the balance between ingress and egress points- for security you want less ingress for safety, but for fleeing any kind of emergency you want more egress options.

    Designers will need to get real creative to balance security with an open and safe building.

    We also need to keep in mind that guns and explosives are not the only potential threats. Based on the possibilities of other types of attacks I believe every classroom having 2 means of egress is the way to go. No easy answers for sure. I do agree we that we have to figure something and not just for schools. The tradeoff of fewer exits (longer travel distances) for sprinklers leads to problems for those who need to flee work place violence. We need to move away from a “fire is the only hazard model” for all codes.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Dave. I think I saw one of those vestibules in the Las Vegas airport. I’m not sure what the cost of one of those vestibules would be, but the maintenance would be an issue as well.

      You raise another good question…many classrooms have a door to the adjoining classroom. These doors were traditionally left unlocked, but now some facilities are asking for doors that can be locked from either side. Thoughts?

  5. Rachel smith says:

    What a well thought out thorough step by step guide for access control to classrooms. I will be sharing this one as much as I can. I just visited new classrooms for a religious building and was not comfortable with their access control so they will be the first to get. Thanks thanks thanks.

  6. Dan Poehler says:

    I was in the first grade in 1958 and walked 5 1/2 blocks to school everyday. There was no cause for alarm, no fear of harm and no catastrophies that I can remember. The school was open at all entrances. My-my, how times have changed. The question is why are things so different today than they were 50 years ago? Why has our society (USA) become so violent, so destructive? How do we go back to the social fabric that once made America the Land of the Free and the envy of the world? I believe that if we find the answers to these questions we will be taking the right steps to solving some of the social problems that plague America today. Architecture has it’s limitations. It may serve as an aid, but not the cure. Where are you Madam Blue?

    • Lori says:

      I lived out in the boonies of Vermont and walked a mile to the bus stop each day starting with first grade. When we first moved there, I would only pass 1 occupied house at the beginning of my trip home, and then it was a long walk, all alone, to my house. I can’t believe nobody every kidnapped me. It wasn’t 1958, but it was in the 70’s. I walked that far to the bus stop until I started to drive at 16. When I was older I had my little bothers with me, but they probably would have helped the kidnapper load me into the car. I agree with you…the problem is not solved only by improving security and design. But we can take some steps that will help now, while somebody figures out what happened to society.

  7. Thor Mollung says:

    We are really talking about a fundamental shift in how schools are designed. Although technology such as video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection, video analystics etc, etc, are all good they do not address the fundamental issue of preventing the penetration of the schools perimeter (preventing the assailant from gaining access). Most communities are very cautious about too much police, security personnel or even security technology. The issue at hand is “big brother watching” or police/security being able to “monitor” children in the hallways. To most communities its about maintaining a comfortable and safe learning environment. From a security perspective we are really talking about site hardening or preventing the penetration of a schools perimeter by an assailant. Security technology is great however, in most circumstances is passive (not actively monitored) and still doesnt address the issue of preventing an assailants access into a school using auto or semi-automatic weapons. The ideal siutation would be a drop down shield or panel that covers the entire exterior entry vestibule (sets of pairs of doors) and perhaps even the interior sets of openings so that access may not be gained in a lock down scenario. Obvious coordination with law enforcement and municipality responders would need to be coordinated for the identification of police, fire, ems access points other than the main entry and secondary main entry vestibules. Assailant can shoot all day long and not get through a barrier.. Then perhaps protect the first floor class room windows with either laminated bullet resistant glass or retrofit with blast film (3M). Drop down barriers would be activiated from within the main office during lock-down scenariors and can be retracted from the same office. The use of a loud audible sound or siren focused at the entry point could be used to distract the assailant momentarily until barriers can drop.

    A barrier type solution can be retrofitted or designed in new construction (check out You Tube for Bank Teller Line Pop-Up barriers to get an idea of what I am talking about). A barrier solution both secures and delays until police can respond while maintaining the esthetics and sense of “open learning environment” that communities demand.

    Just a thought on my end based on experience in the design of financial data centers and site hardening techniques..

    • Lori says:

      There are so many things to balance here. One issue is that the threat can come from someone who enters the building “legally”…a student, parent, staff member, or authorized visitor.

  8. Jerry Austin says:

    I think back to my youth some 70 years ago. At that time there were no automatic weapons and few semi-automatic weapons in any citizen’s hands. To even possess an automatic weapon required the purchase of at $250 federal permit as I recall. I would not advocate for taking weapons from the general public they might have in their homes for protection. Military weapons are more than mere protection, they are “overkill”. I cannot see why the military style weapons have any place in civilized society. They simply are too destructive in the wrong hands. If someone must have the excitement of firing one of these, they could go to an authorized shooting range and have at it.

    These weapons put out so much lead with such force that any practical barrier can be easily compromised including exterior and classroom doors. Non-traditional entrances can be made where none exist such as using windows, so short of deck steel thickness doors that are kept locked and no windows, I don’t know of any practical way to deal with something such as occurred.

    We have a great thing going for us however. We are still somewhat free and the public sources of information that give balance to the propaganda are still telling the story from both sides. Citizens are in charge of this republic form of government, which was very carefully selected and crafted by our forefathers because it is harder to subvert than other forms. As General Swartzkoff said: “When in command, take charge.” Thinking through problems as massive as we face is not easy work but we have to keep ourselves informed from all perspectives and just do something constructive.

    • Lori says:

      Thank you Jerry. I don’t know why anyone needs the military style weapons either. Maybe the tragedy at Sandy Hook will bring about some change in that respect.

  9. Peter P. Schifferli says:

    The problem with most “Columbine” classroom intruder function locksets, particularly cylindrical and mortise deadlatch versions; is that there is no positive interior verification that the exterior trim is actually locked. Thus the door needs to be opened to confirm that the outside is truly locked, exposing the occupants to possible peril. Some mortise classroom intruder locksets have an interior indicator and/or deadbolt to confirm that the door is locked, I believe Corbin/Russwin offers this function and others may as well. Another satisfactory solution is a mortise deadlock like the Yale 356 which has an interior cylinder to throw the deadbolt and locked status can be verified by just pushing on the outswinging door. My 2¢.


  10. Dave Saltmarsh says:

    Lori, you have great ideas in your post. My suggestion would be to modify the many vestibule entrances associated with entry doors. I believe the basic purpose for these vestibule doors are weather barriers. In lieu of push/pull hardware, standard 1/4″ glass, etc., they could be glazed with 1/2″ wires glass, modified with additional access control, metal detectors, exit devices, and monitored remotely. In the event of a similar occurance, a secondary secured vestibule would slow an intruders progress and increase the opportunity of detection of such a deranged individual; thus save lives. This would be similar to the bank vestibules mentioned by other bloggers.

    In regards to classroom door locks. We currently specify mortise lock hardware with a deadbolt and inside thumb turn that the faculty or student can use to lock the door. In the event someone leaves the room in a panic, the outside handle remains secure protecting those inside.

    Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution for these scenarios. The best we can do is attempt to slow ones progress until help arrives.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Dave. Maybe it is time for us (hardware consultants) to start suggesting locking hardware for vestibules depending on the layout. On the wire glass…make sure the glass meets the impact-resistance requirements of the current codes. Traditional wire glass did not, and is very dangerous. It was only allowed in fire doors because years back there wasn’t another glass product that could pass the fire testing. There are now many products without wires that can be used in fire doors, and even wire glass that is rated for impact. Each piece of glass must be labeled – usually with a small etching. The symbols there will tell you whether it’s acceptable for fire doors and that it is impact-resistant. I’m going to do a follow-up on this.

      I don’t know if the inside thumb-turn would work in a K-12 school. Have you had any issues with college kids locking the doors when they shouldn’t?

      • Monica says:

        Hi Lori,
        Very interesting blog entry and excellent points mentioned.
        Regarding classroom security locks and the problem of teachers not having a key readily available in case of emergencies, a thumb turn is definitely worth considering. To avoid the issue of students locking the doors when they shouldn’t, instead of a classroom function, an institutional privacy function lock could be used (always free for egress, thumb turn inside will lock the outside handle but if held from the inside or not authorized, a key from the outside will always retract the latch bolt allowing to open the door from the outside-Accurate’s number for this function lock is 9143 or 9144, I’m sure other lock manufacturers might also offer this function). The inside indicator idea is a must.

  11. Dave Saltmarsh says:

    Most vestibules that I have seen are not rated so that’s why I mentioned the wire glass. You are correct about the impact resistance but, seeing the wire is a deterent in of self. We have not had any issues with students locking the doors. I do need to mention that the classroom entrances are held open by wall mags, so that might have something to do with it as well.

  12. Mojo says:

    A couple of our local school districts (Texas) insist on using a mortise lockset with thumbturn on the classroom side because “We don’t want teachers fumbling to find their key to lock a security classroom lock.” We have advised, in writing, that we do not recommend specifying a thumbturn on the inside because of the reason citing by Lori above (college kids, upset parents, unruly children).

    Are we about to turn our schools into “prisons”, where we lock our children away for the school day?

  13. Glenn says:

    First things first, thanks to all you spec writers for taking your job seriously and being in one accord in providing safe environments. The problem though is not necessarily with the mechanical or electronic security products in a building. Although helpful and especially today necessary, these elements are always being tested by individuals such as last Friday. Unfortunately as the threats increase these products evolve to stave off these horrific events. And sometimes to our dread they fail causing deep sorrow and affliction. Also, a large measure of responsibilty lies with the facility themselves. I’ve been to many schools and have personnaly seen life safety violation after violation and I know everyone in this forum has likewise. Lori, you have done a stellar job exposing this very fact. It’s clear the root of the problem is #1 violence, #2 enforcing the life safety laws, and #3 lack of funds. Until violence is eradicated it doesn’t matter how strong or clever the lock is the threat will be always be there but if #2 and #3 are dealt with head on violent threats can be reduced. In the meantime, continue channeling your energy into life safty education and enforcement. The rest is up to the Creator.

  14. Bob says:

    This blog should stay with thoughts only concerning hardware, not political opinions.

  15. Jack Ostergaard says:

    We have been designing schools with vestibule security entrances for years. The exterior doors are typically a bank with exit devices. One NL and the rest are DT. Once in the vestibule the visitor is interviewed via a speaker/camera from the office. Windows are often substituted for the camera. If accepted visitors are allowed to enter the office. We use an Apartment function mortise lock set for this with an electric strike. The apartment function allows for exit but the entrance side is always locked unless unlocked from the interior. The electric strike is controlled from an interior desk. The office lobby is divided to prevent the visitor from going futher into the building without permission. This is done with a gate or a door either of which is buzzer controlled – typically a Storeroom function with electric strike. The other side of the vestibule duplicates the NL/DT exit devices. These get dogged down for entry at school opening and the then locked up for the rest of the day.
    The main thing is to talk with the client during the planning phase to discuss their needs, concerns and procedures . If teachers do not have keys then the Classroom Security lockset is useless. And then to train them on how to make the system work. That Apartment function lockset is the perfect function but if it is unlocked then it doesn’t serve it function for which it was intended. If teachers do not have keys then the Classroom Security lockset is useless.
    We cannot design buildings that are not accessible. If someone wants to get in they will – ask any firefighter. We can use ballistic glazing, bollards and metal detectors but at what cost both financial and emotional. But even if we use the security vestibule described above the person that is asking to get in is often a parent and the person making the decision to let them in is an office worker.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Jack. I agree, we can’t prevent access but there are things we can do that will improve the level of security without breaking the bank. There are procedural safeguards that can be put in place without any cost.

  16. Safecrackin Sammy says:

    Multi faceted social issue here with not one single complete solution. But there is a lot that can be done. We spend more on bank and airport security than we do on schools that have our most valuable asset in them. A sticky vistors badge is not making it.

    Physical security has always been and always will be dollars spent to keep what you want against people who want to take it.

    Thousands of good opinions but there were at least two catatstophic contributing factors. First would be entry to the school by simply breaking the glass and reaching in to open the door. Secondly the substitute teacher that couldnt lock the classroom door due to no keys.

    School perimeters need to be hardened with solid egress only doors with no glass. Main visitor entry areas need to have a second bank of solid vestibule doors with mag locks. Visitors must pass thru a seperate bullet resistant man trap area with metal detectors. Classroom doors need panic locks either manual or wi-fi enabled. Glass on these doors should be eliminated or at least have closing shutters to deny forced entry.

    School interiors need to have compartmentalization with locking doors to reduce movement through the school if entry is made.
    Perimeter doors need to be alarmed and monitored from a central point along with a panic button to initiate lockdown and inform law enforcement. Additional “safe room’s” through out the shoool to allow people to distance themselves from the threat if they are left in the open after lockdown.

    Build the pysical resistance to buy those precious five or six minutes for law enforcement to respond and take action.

    I work with a global integrator and I am sure there are people working overtime to bring to market viable solutions to combat future incidents.

    The price of all of these upgrades?

    Alot less than what has already been paid.

    We’re all hurting but we’re all slowly healing.

    Share the knowledge and keep looking for ways to improve the situation daily no matter how small it seems.

  17. Bill says:

    What about improved external egress capabilities from classrooms, in addition to improved ingress deterrents?

    Becomes (obviously) harder when considering multi-story scenarios, but for ground-story rooms it would give improved ability to exit in case of an emergency of any type.

  18. commercial locksmith says:

    always keep contact number of locksmith company with you. they help you in emergency such as lockout, lost keys and protecting important documents in safes.

  19. Cathy Kopp says:

    This is a very thoughtful and informative discussion. Let’s hope that our industry is able to help facilitate change.

    Along the same topic is a discussion taking place in the DHI thread on LinkedIn:

    Possibly this could become a topic of discussion at the next DHI conference?

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