The Power of a Layered Approach to Safety

In a perfect world, every school would have an unlimited budget to help secure their schools. In reality, schools must prioritize what budget they have while navigating the complexities surrounding school security and lockdown.

As technology and safety practices become more intertwined, it is important to seek a balance between security and accessibility. Layered security has been identified as a recommended practice for securing schools. This approach provides multiple security controls from the outside property line to the building perimeter to the classroom, all to help protect students and staff.

It also provides a step-by-step process for schools who are not sure just where to start or what to prioritize.

Start With the Layered Approach
Few schools can implement electronic access control (EAC) throughout the entire property at one time. For most — if not all, it is constrained by budget, time or other available resources. By using a layered security approach to secure the building from the outside-in, you can gradually add access control to improve safety and security throughout the school while first prioritizing and protecting vulnerable access points.

Among other reputable organizations, the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) has outlined best practices and guidelines to help effectively secure a school. Perimeter Openings The perimeter is the first place PASS recommends schools start with when upgrading security. An effective perimeter layer should be accessible yet secure.

EAC can play a significant role in achieving this seemingly conflicting goal. A single-entry point should be clearly marked and lead to a secured vestibule with forced entry resistant doors and glazing. Electronic surveillance and remote locks secured from a central location, like the administrative office, can help control visitor access and deter intruders.

After securing the perimeter main entrance, focus efforts to implement EAC on other exterior openings based on ranked categories: high-traffic, secondary and tertiary. These smaller categories can feel less daunting. High-traffic perimeter entrances include bus drop off/pick up areas, public event access to gyms or auditoriums, assembly areas and delivery doors. These doors are often unlocked at various times throughout the school day, or after school hours, and EAC is highly recommended at these access points.

It can provide a higher level of centralized, remote control and create additional peace of mind. In addition to locking these entrances remotely, locks can be set with schedules to ensure seamless accessibility at the appropriate times. Secondary perimeter entrances are often used for access to the building in limited circumstances, such as employee entrances or access to and from playgrounds. These openings should be carefully controlled and never left unlocked except under ADA and fire safety requirements.

Doors that are often propped open to circumvent locking should be considered and prioritized for adding EAC. Credentials can be used by staff or the appropriate visitors when deemed necessary, which helps control and track who has accessed the area and when. This can also prevent students from accessing these areas without permission, especially if they can only be accessed by individual credentials. Finally, tertiary openings exist mainly as emergency egress and are not intended to be used to access into the building.

Therefore, these openings may forgo EAC, or be one of the last areas to consider upgrading. In general, these doors should always be locked and only allow egress.

Interior layer. Another area to consider applying EAC is high-security or sensitive interior openings, such as administrative offices, nurses' offices with medication or health records, data or record storage rooms, and laboratories with chemical closets or other potentially hazardous materials. Not only do EAC solutions help limit access to only authorized individuals, but it can also provide an audit trail of who has entered the area and when. Additionally, credentials can be deactivated quickly in any case, such as stolen or lost credentials or employee separation.

Cross corridors and compartmentalization.When considering areas to secure, you may not think of cross corridors as the next place to include EAC. Cross corridor doors in schools, when closed and locked, can provide an additional layer of security by compartmentalizing the building.

As an example, a corridor connecting the gym locker rooms to the practice field may need to be unlocked on certain days when sports practices occur, but not allow further access into the school building after school hours. By compartmentalizing this area and locking it automatically on a schedule, it helps prevent unauthorized access to the entire school but also helps allow the right people access to the right areas, at the right time.

Classrooms. Although it is often cost-prohibitive to put electronic locks on all classrooms, there are proven increased security benefits. In the Robb Elementary Interim Report, it was stated that the teacher in Room 111 had “no recollection of ever receiving a lockdown alert or any memory that he undertook the special effort needed to get his classroom door to lock before the arrival of the attacker.” All rooms can be remotely placed on lockdown without a key or card but can be accessed by select authorized staff or first responders.

Since the locking happens remotely, students and teachers don’t have to worry about approaching the door or if anyone has the right key or credential to lock the door at all. While this is generally the last layer of defense behind the aforementioned categories, the investment can have a great impact on peace of mind.

Benefits of electronic access control and the layered approach. EAC provides several benefits that can help create efficiency, increase overall campus security and provide peace of mind to students, staff and parents. One benefit is increased control over the property. The status of doors equipped with EAC solutions can be monitored and controlled remotely. This can be especially useful during lockdown as each door can be locked at the same time with the press of a button. It relieves staff from approaching doors to lock them — or at the very least, can help give them valuable time to react in a stressful situation knowing that the perimeter layer is secured.

First responders can still be granted access during lockdowns, which can also save precious time. Additionally, doors can be set to lock on a predictable schedule if needed. With EAC, it is easier to add or delete users immediately, rather than tracking down keys or rekeying doors, allowing increased security and efficiency. Plus, many credentials cannot be duplicated, lost or stolen like physical keys.

Visitors and substitutes can be granted temporary credentials with more restricted access. Reducing the number of keys issued reduces the probability of incurring the cost of rekeying exterior doors. Data tracking poses a huge benefit with EAC. As technology becomes more accessible, gone is the anonymity of brass keys—data can provide insight on who accesses what door, when, and how often.

Real-time centralized monitoring can show whether doors are closed, latched or locked, and instant alerts can be sent to the right people when something is not right or a lockdown has been initiated, providing better and clearer communication.

Implementing a layered approach to school security is crucial for creating a safe and accessible learning environment. While schools may not have unlimited budgets, you can prioritize and gradually add electronic access control to vulnerable areas. By adopting a layered approach to school security, schools can enhance safety, efficiency and peace of mind for students, staff and parents.

This article originally appeared in the May / June 2024 issue of Security Today.

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