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Schools today are charged to provide an environment that is both safe and conducive to learning, which can be difficult considering the range of security incidents and challenges they face, including bullying, fights, graffiti, theft and more.

In addition to working within often tight budgetary constraints, a main challenge is to provide the highest level of security in an aesthetically pleasing way that doesn’t make students feel as if they are in prison.

While these two needs may seem mutually exclusive to some degree, that doesn’t have to be the case. School security can be achieved without building 20-foot walls or putting barbed wire around the perimeter.

The key to balancing the security and learning environment can be found in the four pillars of a good school security strategy, namely people, practices, technology and physical environment.

A mobile app or text notification system could be used to alert students and staff of potential problems

Situational awareness

One of the most effective measures to take is to educate staff and even students to learn to be aware about their surroundings and adopt the 'If you see something, say something' mentality.

In an emergency, time is of the essence, so the speed of response becomes critical. Educating staff and students to recognise potential problems and report them is a good first step. Augmenting this with mobile apps and/or texting capabilities, for example, that allow someone to send a photo to school security or law enforcement for quick assessment and evaluation, can speed response even more.

A mobile app or text notification system could also be used to alert students and staff of potential problems and provide instructions on what steps to take in order to remain safe.

By providing real-time situational awareness about potential responses, these types of technologies can reduce the number of armed guards or resource officers needed to patrol a school or campus, which also makes students more comfortable and able to learn in a non-prison-like environment.

Security best practices

Every school should establish a set of security policies and procedures and ensure that staff and students understand what to do if they suspect a problem or if an incident should unfold at the school. However, too often, schools may not know where to start when seeking out best practices. And once these policies are in place, there may be confusion about how to audit them to ensure people are properly educated.

The NFPA has begun work on a school security standard that would address a range of issues schools face on a daily basis

A number of organisations are available to aid with this process, such as the Partner Alliance for School Safety a group founded in cooperation with SIA (Security Industry Association), which provides resources and tools to help schools and security professionals evaluate and establish the best security protection for their buildings.

These guidelines and best practices are designed to help schools spend their often limited funds on the right security solutions. Safe and Sound Schools provides downloadable school security toolkits, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has recently released the NFPA 3000 Active shooter response guidelines and has begun work on a school security standard that would address a range of issues schools face on a daily basis.

The key takeaway is that the information is out there, and the organisations mentioned above are excellent resources for helping schools create safe, secure and learning-conducive environments.

Technology in school security

The second thing that needs to be considered is how technology can be brought to bear to contribute to school security. Video surveillance with video analytics can be deployed to monitor areas at certain times of day. For example, once school starts, there shouldn’t be a lot of activity in the parking lot or in particular areas around the school.

For these situations, intelligent cameras with video analytics can be used to detect activity in those areas of interest to alert school security that something may need their attention. This might be a vehicle entering a lot or driving against the normal traffic flow, which may simply be a parent arriving to pick their child up early, or it could be something worth following up on.

It’s been shown that using lighting at night can deter crime
Radar detection is ideal for perimeters, where a device can be set up unobtrusively to alert when someone enters a particular area

In any case, this is something that should be brought to the attention of someone who can quickly assess the situation and determine what, if any, response is needed. Because the goal in a potentially dangerous situation is speed response times. The faster you’re able to detect something using technology, the faster you’re able to respond.

Therefore, being able to identify something happening in a parking lot and alert school resource officers could provide 30 seconds or a minute head start for response, which can get the school into a lockdown situation and get first responders on site more quickly.Facial recognition systems and providing access through smartphones could help create a more welcoming and secure environment for students, staff and parents

After-hour monitoring solutions

Monitoring buildings and facilities after hours presents a different set of challenges. For sporting events, the National Center for Spectator Sports and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi provides best practice guidance for sporting facilities and events not only just for universities but even including those at high schools.

It’s been shown that using lighting at night can deter crime. However, it can be expensive to keep a building and grounds illuminated all night, every night. To mitigate these concerns and potential costs, there are video cameras available with extreme low-light capability that allows them to see in near-dark or in some cases complete darkness. This allows a school to save money by turning lights off while achieving a level of surveillance performance similar to daytime deployments.

Radar detection

Another technology for effective school security, both during and after school hours, is radar detection. This is ideal for perimeters, where a device can be set up unobtrusively to alert when someone enters a particular area.

Radar can be deployed with a single PTZ camera, which can track whatever has been detected to provide real-time situational awareness for a school resource officer or law enforcement to investigate to determine the potential threat, if any, related to the perimeter breach.Following the four pillars of school security can ease the process while improving the effectiveness and efficiency of securing educational facilities

More often than not, schools are faced with issues that are not necessarily the worst-case scenario everyone fears, such as how to identify parents and others who are authorised to pick a child up from school early. In this instance, facial recognition systems and providing access through smartphones could help create a more welcoming and secure environment for students, staff and parents.

Lighting and landscaping

In addition to technology, one of the things that can contribute to a safer school environment is environmental design. CPTED provides four basic principles, one of which is natural surveillance, which follows a 'see and be seen' philosophy. In other words, when people know they can be seen, they are less likely to commit a crime.

The main points in this general principle are lighting and landscaping. For example, a school doesn’t want to block potentially vulnerable areas with landscaping, so the height and thickness of any potential landscaping elements should be carefully considered. In general, openness and visibility should be the guiding factors.

Securing physical environment

Another aspect of the physical environment is maintenance. If a window gets broken but isn’t fixed right away, that tends to invite vandalism. These are just two of the guidelines CPTED offers for creating a more secure environment that doesn’t feel like a prison.

In general, finding the right mix between maintaining security and providing a welcoming, aesthetically pleasing and learning-conducive environment can seem like a difficult – if not impossible – task. Following the four pillars of school security can ease the process while improving the effectiveness and efficiency of securing educational facilities.

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Scott Dunn Senior Director of Business Development, Axis Communications

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