In 1984, the National School Safety Center established the third week of October as Safe Schools Week. The goal of this program is to motivate policymakers involved in education and law enforcement, as well as students, parents, and community residents, to advocate vigorously for school safety. This includes keeping schools free of crime and violence as well as weapons and drugs, improving discipline, and increasing student attendance. Many resources were shared last week in an effort to support the Safe Schools Week initiative.
There are many factors that affect school safety, such as mental and behavioral health resources, dedicated law enforcement officers on school property, communication and response planning, training and drills, as well as physical security. While few of us involved in the security industry are well-versed in all aspects of school safety, many of us have decades of experience in security, including the options for improving existing security measures, as well as compliance with the code requirements that affect door openings.
Recent news reports have questioned the motivation behind the security industry’s involvement in improving school security in our local jurisdictions and across the country. It’s important for the news media and communities to understand the ways in which we are using our expertise and the reasons why we invest our time in these efforts. In many cases we have worked with the same facility managers for 10, 20, even 30 or more years. In the 1980s we helped facilities comply with the “new” accessibility standards. As the years passed, and product developments were introduced that would benefit their facilities, we assisted with upgrading key systems and adding electronic access control. If problems arose with their existing door openings, we advised on appropriate solutions, all while helping to ensure that their facilities continued to comply with the adopted life-safety codes.
As the need for increased physical security in schools has grown, those of us who are experienced with locks and other security measures have shared our expertise. We have surveyed existing conditions and made appropriate recommendations – in some cases a lock upgrade was needed, but often the changes involved procedures, training, drills, and possibly rekeying and/or key distribution. Virtually every classroom door is installed with a traditional lockset, and in many cases those original locks remain in place throughout the life of the building.
When schools lacked the funding required to address today’s security needs, some members of the security industry helped to secure federal, state, and local grants to be used for access control systems, security vestibules, cameras, and other security measures. When educational resources, best practices, and consistent standards did not exist, we helped to create that documentation and shared this information throughout our networks. When the building code and fire code requirements that have helped to ensure life safety for decades were threatened, we supported the code officials in maintaining and strengthening the model codes and their enforcement.
Several of the recent articles suggested that the security industry is involved with school safety and security funding and education in the interest of selling products. While we do advise schools to maintain a level of security that will deter access without hindering egress, our motivation is to help protect students, teachers, and administrators. We support the needs of people with disabilities, so they may freely operate the doors. We take an all-hazards approach to door openings within school buildings, including the requirements for fire doors which are designed to deter the spread of smoke and flames. All of this is done while maintaining a positive school environment, conducive to learning.
Although each school shooting amplifies the desire to immediately heighten security, experts in the security industry often cite statistics which show that school shootings are relatively rare events. We encourage school administrators to slow down and make well-vetted decisions rather than reacting in fear, and we provide resources to help districts find the necessary funding. Those of us who work in this space are painfully aware that physical security will not prevent every school shooting, but we strongly believe that each school should have security in place which will provide an appropriate level of protection.
When we educate school security and safety teams about the dangers of non-code-compliant retrofit security measures, joined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), and other organizations, we are not “protecting our turf” as one article suggested. We are protecting our children, their teachers, administrators, and all other occupants of our schools. I am proud of the role we play in securing our schools.