Ask the Expert

This month's expert, Brad J. Wilson, explores ways to maintain a secure school campus

Today’s school security directors are plagued with many of the same challenges faced by local law enforcement departments—drug sales, weapons possession, theft, vandalism, arson and gang violence.

To prepare for these problems, every K-12 principal needs to have a security management plan to handle crime and, ideally, prevent it from occurring. That plan should begin with a risk assessment to identify potential weaknesses in campus security. The assessment should be completed with the assistance of an outside security system integrator with years of experience working with schools.

ISSUE:What are some of the most important elements to review and address during a risk assessment?

SOLUTION: Begin by limiting the number of access points—the fewer the better. Make use of low-tech measures, such as fencing, gates, locks and lighting, to help control entry to the campus and buildings. Look to video cameras, intrusion detection and electronic access control to provide an added layer of security.

Next, create a visitor management plan. All adults— faculty, staff and visitors—should be required to wear an ID badge while on campus. Visitors must check in at the office and present a photo ID that can be swiped through a visitor management system that compares the visitor’s name to a national sex offender registry. If the person is cleared, the system will print a temporary badge.

It’s also important to protect valuable equipment from theft. Computer and science labs, athletic training and music rooms, and auditoriums are among the many sites on the typical school campus that contain equipment and instruments valued at many thousands of dollars. These areas should remain locked when not in use. And consider the added protection offered by an access control system that will only allow appropriate teachers and administrators to enter during off hours.

Remember to share information. A networked video system can be viewed remotely, which allows district security personnel to monitor what is happening on multiple campuses. Also, that video can be shared with local law enforcement in case of an emergency situation.

Finally, think outside the classroom. Plan and maintain landscaping so bushes and trees do not block views of the campus from the street or provide a convenient place for students to hide weapons or drugs. Also, make sure to eliminate building features that allow access to upper stories or rooftops, such as fences.

ISSUE: What are the next steps to take after a school has completed a risk assessment?

SOLUTION: After a thorough risk assessment, make the changes necessary to safely secure the campus. Then, consult with faculty, staff, law enforcement and parents. Be sure to include input from students since they know more about what is happening on campus than any other group. Finally, put a plan into writing and practice it regularly. Make sure everyone knows what his or her role is during an emergency.

Be sure to add a mass notification system to the plan. If an event occurs before school starts, it will be necessary to immediately phone, e-mail or text parents and students warning them to stay away from campus until further notice. Also, the system can help keep parents informed if an event occurs during regular school hours.

Reader Question: I am a principal of a 640- student middle school. Our problems generally center around the locker pit where students gather before, between and after classes, and sometimes include weapons, contraband and fights. I don’t have the manpower to constantly watch over this area. Do you have any ideas that could help?

SOLUTION: Gathering spots, such as cafeterias, courtyards, play fields or locker pits, tend to be where problems arise. Here are a few key areas that should be studied when working toward a solution for your campus.

Provide the right space. Students will come together, but physical structures can be used to control the size of the groups. Flower beds, pathways, walls, tables, benches and other structural objects are ways to manage the amount of space available. Ideal group sizes are between 10 and 15 people with separation space between groups.

Control access. Access to gathering spaces should be controlled through the use of fences, gates and doors. Supplementing physical security features with electronic access control can minimize staffing requirements and provide information about access to the area during non-authorized times.

Get detailed. In the last few years, surveillance technology has been introduced that can provide better image detail than high-definition TV. Controlled gathering areas can be monitored, and events recorded. Even if a faculty member is not present, problems can be viewed clearly, and responses handled prudently.

Each campus has unique characteristics that should be reviewed with a trained and experienced system integrator to produce a comprehensive plan. They will be able to provide you with information on current technology and provide solutions to meet your individual needs.

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Security Today.

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