For K-12 educators, facility directors and planners, school security for K-12 has become a critical issue as schools across the Country work to ensure they are prepared for any eventuality. Certainly all the appropriate actions and responses have not been formulated, but we can and we must be prepared as professionals to recommit to review and consider measures that can make a difference while permitting schools to retain the look of creative learning environments and not fortresses. At many contemporary K-12 facilities, security protocol for visitor access is in place at the school utilizing typical visual “vetting” and subsequent manual release of an electromagnetic lock at the entrance door. However, schools need to be aware of the risk of an unauthorized person to be able to gain access directly into the internal corridor network of the occupied school and the classrooms. This type of incursion can overwhelm all the measures in place designed to detect and deter unauthorized access at defined perimeters. Currently in most schools, the primary premise of contemporary security systems concentrates on the surveillance, detection and reasonable deterrence of unauthorized entry. Reasonable deterrence most typically translates to a locked door, and often to assist in the visual vetting process glass is present in both the door and the surrounding wall system. This glass may typically be either tempered or heat strengthened for safety reasons upon breakage, but it possesses very little resistance capability.
The search for solutions and new measures to safeguard the K-12 environment from unauthorized incursions and their negative impacts is reaching full speed. It has been an important educational premise to treat schools with special care to nurture creativity and the learning process; it would almost be unthinkable to take steps backward and move towards more correctional-like environments. To understand where improvements may be necessary it is important to consider the state of contemporary K-12 security. Currently measures may include any number of layered active and passive measures that focus on being able to identify a potential event and communicate and react to it as quickly as possible. Generally, security measures should afford school administrators more time to assess the situation, communicate with interfacing agencies, and notify occupants of the facility. Minutes, indeed seconds, can be critical in these assessments and interventions.. Disrupting the timing or progression of a potential event before it escalates is an inclusive part of an effective tiered strategy. Passive security measures can be simple things such as direct visual access from administration areas to the front door, access drive and parking lot and beyond and redundant communication features to quickly relay the event to authorities and school occupants. Active security measures include numerous types of physical safeguards such as restricted access doorways, metal detectors , secure areas or vestibules and even the use of supplemental armed security.
Although certainly not foolproof, one of the most direct but least invasive methodologies incorporated into contemporary security protocols for school access is the use of a security vestibule. This convention upgrades the ability to more fully evaluate every visitor of the school prior to granting direct access into the internal corridor network of the school. The security vestibule can augment the closed circuit interface process where direct visual access to the front door is not available. With this architectural configuration, all core hour visitors must use this designated location and are tentatively cleared and first routed directly into a secure or unsecured portion of the administration office of the school where they are credentialed and granted or denied access to the interior of the school. This strategy may now need to be revisited.
The configuration of this inner secure area as open to the interior administration area will undoubtedly be under greater scrutiny by administrators and designers. “Hardening” of this inner secure area by the use of concrete masonry walls and bullet resistant glass to detain the visitor from further entering or exiting the building if the need arises may need to be considered. This potentially new secure inner area effectively removes the face to face vetting of a visitor by school administration and both protects them and access to the interior of the school by destructive intrusion. The use of bullet resistance glazing for this hardened interior vestibule can be accomplished without unreasonable cost and it can be visually compatible with other glazing. Locations for this new hardened secure area could include adjacent main entries to buildings similar to current configurations or at a separate “visitor” location where they have the ability to be more remote from the administration area or “front door” of the facility. Other layered protocols can still be added to the sequence such as drivers license data base checks and/or metal detectors. Precautions against destructive intrusion should additionally be reviewed at primary entrances for potential hardening, but notably main entry doors to the facility should be evaluated for inclusion particularly where they are associated with any new hardened secure area. This process will undoubtedly take much thought and discussion, but the best overall security strategies remain the ones that incorporate multiple layered and redundant protocols. The inclusion of hardening select building elements should be considered as an augmentation to those comprehensive strategies. Any protocol that provides additional minutes or seconds of time to has the potential to save lives.