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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