In the Know: School Security

Managing Safety and the Ideal Learning Environment

Designing a school requires a balance between creating a successful learning environment for learning and keeping students safe. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, the nation’s attention was once again drawn toward school design and the roll glass plays, whether beneficial or detrimental.

A Collaborative Approach

Jay Brotman, managing partner at Svigals + Partners, the New Haven, Conn.-based architectural firm that designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, believes that glass is an essential element in a school, as it can provide resistance to intruders while also improving visibility.

“Before we design a school we sit down with the town or the school board and ask them what the most important aspects are that they want to see in their new school,” he says. “The goal of all these projects is to make a wonderful nurturing environment for our children, who are the future of our country. We want to make sure that is the most important consideration and one aspect of that is a place that feels secure and safe.”

Brotman says it’s important to design in layers of protection so the school is still open and accessible to the community while providing different levels of security. Brotman also suggests that architects limit the areas that need to be observed and monitored. One way to do this is by limiting the number of entrances, while incorporating glass to improve visibility.

“You want to make sure that, from the inside of the building, you’re able to see out. Having the appropriate amount of daylight for the children and being able to see out into the community are two design elements that work hand in hand,” he says, adding that if someone knows an area is being observed they are less likely to do anything inappropriate.

Brotman says that for the Sandy Hook Elementary School redesign, his firm used ballistic glazing to create a vestibule at the front entrance. School Guard Glass was used to create protected areas for students. It’s a laminated glass product that prevents entry and delays action, which Brotman says is a critical defensive factor.

“These things are over in minutes. The longer we can delay the perpetrator, the less damage will be done,” he says.

Conventional glazing products were used through the rest of the building.

The Right Tools

Brotman suggests that any school considering retrofitted security solutions should consult an architect and have a team come together to analyze each building to see what solutions are right for each individual school.

“Each one of these schools should create a master plan and have all these tools available. There needs to be some sort of clearing house of tools available … You really need to have a holistic viewpoint for every project,” he says. “To me, whatever you can do to maintain or increase glass area is important. It will create a safer school, not only from horrific and tragic events such as schools shootings, but for bullying and other minor events that go on every day. The more open and accessible these schools are internally, the more successful they will be in having their students becoming wonderful members of our future society.”

Brotman says that while he’s seen discussion about school security, the funding hasn’t followed it in many places and, in most school districts, bud-get limits play a huge role in the level of security that can be provided. He said that lack of funding is forcing some schools to turn toward inappropriate measures that act only as bandages, rather than addressing the entire culture of the school.

While there are currently no codes for school security, Brotman says there are good guidelines such as “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED).

“There needs to be a wider shared knowledge of the tools, practices and guidelines so that you don’t need to have a code,” he says. “Codes are about life safety and they’re very specific and well researched. It’s difficult to create new ones. If these guidelines are looked at and followed you’ll find that safe environments will be developed.”

According to CPTED, lighting helps people feel safer and reduces the opportunity for being a victim of crime by surprise or ambush. The goal of lighting in this guideline is to make a space unattractive to offenders.

“Making spaces uncomfortable for criminals can be accomplished through the proper placement of windows, adequate and appropriate luminance and removal of obstructions to enhance sightlines,” reads the guideline, referring to lighting as a psychological deterrent.

While lighting has this effect, it also benefits the school through energy savings and improves students’ wellness.

A group within ASTM is also working on school security guidelines and specification called, “Mitigation of Armed Aggressors in Educational Institutions” according to Tom Haines, mid- Atlantic regional sales manager for Graham Architectural Products.

“A group of volunteers from the security segment are putting together specs and guidelines to have the best practices/what to look at when trying to harden schools systems,” he says.

The task group is a joint effort between ASTM F12, Security Systems and Equipment, and E54, Homeland Security Applications. For glazing they are evaluating ASTM E2395, which provides multiple options and is mostly mechanical, rather than human-driven for more consistent testing.

“The most important factor that we under-stand today is that wellness is a vital aspect of what buildings can contribute to communities …,” says Brotman. “Access to daylighting and views of nature are critical. We have to use the tools we have and various window systems so that we can have both a healthy and secure learning environment.”

Added Control

Access control is another security solution making its way into schools nationwide. With the ability to grant access to an area electronically, access control technology gives schools another level of safety without compromising on aesthetics.

According to Ron Baer, director of business development for K-12, and Benjamin Williams, director of electromechanical solutions for Assa Abloy, which is based in Stockholm, Sweden, it’s important for architects to identify different security zones when forming an access control plan.

“Once you identify these zones, often in concentric layers, you can begin to prioritize based on the needs for each area,” says Williams.

Another consideration for schools and architects to keep in mind when designing an access control plan is knowing who will man-age the system.“K-12 is trending toward centralized (district) control of the access control for the property perimeter and exterior building openings,” says Baer, “while access control interior openings such as classrooms and offices are controlled locally by each school site.”

Data management is another important consideration, according to the men. They say centralized management of primary data sources will become a standard in K-12, as it has in higher education, to avoid data redundancy and data inconsistencies.

Both say determining the best way to increase security with minimal disruption to the education process requires a safety and security committee.

Schools usually prioritize security for the building perimeters, including main entries, visitor vestibules and secondary entrances, as well as interior spaces such as classrooms, administration, human resources records, healthcare areas and technology areas.

There are different levels of access control, which depend upon the specific needs of each opening.“This typically is defined by the way in which the locking device interacts with the access control system,” says Williams. “Recent innovations in access control technology have made it practical to put electronic access control on most doors, including glass storefront and Herculite glass type openings.”

While access control options may exist for most doors, budgets force many schools to prioritize.

“We typically see most schools implement a site-wide security plan that is broken down in to smaller projects that are implemented over time. This allows schools to then plan and budget based on the complexity of the work being performed,” says Baer.

According to both Williams and Baer, there is an emerging trend to extend and redefine a new protection perimeter at the classroom level in combination with traditional perimeter applications.

“K-12 public school districts and elite-private schools are in the early adoption stage of deploying large-scale interior extended access control (EAC) systems, similar to what took place in higher education ten to 15 years ago,” says Williams. “Now in higher education, it is not uncommon to see EAC on every interior opening of many buildings. This trend is supported by the use of wireless solutions, which limit the physical changes to the opening, in turn making it easier and more affordable to implement access control at the classroom level.

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