Ten years ago, if you were to use the terms “keyless entry,” “electronic lock down” or “panic systems” when speaking to most school officials, you may have been greeted with a look of curiosity or confusion. Now, based on the tragic events of recent history, schools are not only extremely familiar with these terms, but they have likely implemented, or plan to implant, these types of systems.
As someone who has worked with the school industry for a number of years, I can tell you this is not a popular choice, but it is a necessary one. Most people working in schools aspire to create warm, inviting environments— a “prison” feeling, as I have heard some school officials say, does not make anyone excited about following new safety measures. While changes to building security and the flow of traffic throughout the facility may be a complete change in philosophy for some schools, the safety of the children and staff must take precedence. Fortunately, electronic security systems offer many ways to blend tightened security practices with the welcoming environment that schools desire. Here are three common solutions I design for Oregon schools:
1. Keyless entry access control. One of the first things I recommend that schools do is eliminate the use of hard keys, which are nearly impossible to keep track of in a school setting. Instead, key fobs allow for designating and tracking access and scheduling door unlocking as needed. Staff members carry key fobs that allow them access throughout the building as designated by school officials. Most schools can identify one or two key entry points to which all traffic is funneled so that people cannot wander around undetected. Many schools now utilize door entry systems that allow a staff person to speak to and see someone prior to allowing them inside. In front offices, sign-in sheets for visitors and volunteers are now a must, and some schools go as far as to collect ID.
2. Lock down. Electronic lock down systems have become common in schools as part of procedural teachings on dealing with serious emergencies. In the event of an emergency, the ability to have a true lock down in place is essential. If conventional doors are propped or left unlocked, such a lock down cannot be achieved. With an electronic access system, exterior and interior access doors can be immediately locked with the push of a button. All non-entry points should have handles removed or dummy lock cylinders installed to prevent a gap in the lock down effectiveness. Having a staff member run around with a set of keys locking doors in the building when an emergency occurs is no longer a safe or feasible option in most cases.
3. Panic buttons. These are the electronic avenues to an immediate police dispatch during an emergency. Panic buttons can be hardwired in strategic locations or wireless so they can be carried with key personnel. These devices garner quick and targeted police responses to help control a situation immediately. I recommend panic systems that integrate with audio sensors at the site, which allow for dispatchers to inform responders in real time of the events going on inside the facility. Such information is invaluable for law enforcement as they respond to crises.
The three electronic school security solutions listed above are very basic concepts that will surely become commonplace at schools nationwide in the near future, as facilities professionals everywhere try to minimize threats to the safety of students and staff.
This article will also appear in the Oregon School Facilities Management Association newsletter.