Why Iron-Clad Physical Security Protocols in Schools Are Important Now More Than Ever

Right now, the news is full of upsetting news about school shootings and threats directly targeting young students throughout the United States. So far in 2023, Education Week reports there have been 14 school shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths.

That means physical security has to be on top of the list of priorities for school officials. Those presiding over K-12 schools across the country have to make sure that they are on top of the most up-to-date protocols that put safety first.

A new piece for Campus Safety outlines ways schools must optimize their physical security to protect their students and staff.

“As a parent of young children, I hope never to hear these words in the communities I live and work in. However, as a security integrator, I am all too familiar with the ways in which the current paradigm in school safety is falling short,” writes Chris Skinner, the author of the piece. “With that in mind, there are several high-impact steps most schools can take in order to better protect students, starting with some low-hanging fruit.”

Assessing traditional modes of securing a school

One of the main ways to do this is to control and minimize points of entry. One of the recent examples of a flaw in entry points was the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which the shooter entered the building through a door that was meant to be locked from the outside.

“As a general rule, most school policies mandate that exterior doors (apart from the main entrance) remain locked during school hours. However, if employees or faculty neglect to re-lock doors upon entering the building and no automatic re-locking mechanism is in place, there is now an uncontrolled potential point of entry,” writes Skinner. “At a minimum, the correct lock function should be designed for all exterior doors. Ideally, this should also be supported by some sort of credential-based access control, to account for variables like missing keys or disgruntled former employees.”

Embracing new technology

Another point is to keep an eye on the building main entrance.

Skinner looks to the fact that modern weapon detection such as AI-powered sensors are far more effective than traditional metal detectors. These newer systems “allow for much faster traffic flow and avoid unnecessary intrusion.” For instance, he states that a traditional bag search not only holds up traffic flow but, more often than not, results in detecting a harmless personal item rather than a weapon.

“These sensors, as well as other tools like analytics-equipped surveillance cameras, can provide life-saving information. Early detection allows the school and authorities to respond immediately with timely intervention and emergency communication rather than having to respond reactively to shots fired,” he adds.

Additionally, Skinner says it’s crucial that schools leverage modern technology to minimize harm. This can ensure that first responders are empowered to work effectively right away. This requires collaboration. If a school has a system to automatically lock down classrooms or wings of a building, with a video management system (VMS) sending data from surveillance feeds directly to police on the scene, it means everything works smoothly in tandem.

Creating a new cultural paradigm of safety

Finally, Skinner writes that schools must foster a culture that prioritizes safety and security. Schools must bring in outside assessors to monitor risk factors that a school building faces and analyze the preparedness of faculty and school leaders.

“Above all, understand that this type of culture requires more than a one-time investment of money, time, and energy,” Skinner writes. “Rather, it needs to be actively maintained and ingrained into the school’s environment. For many schools and school districts this represents a fundamental shift in mindset.”

As schools nationwide face the ever pressing complexities of modern threats — whether external or internal — they have to invest in comprehensive, technologically advanced and integrated approaches to physical security to ensure the students and staff inside a school can work and study with an ensured sense of safety.

Published by Peter Cavicchia

Peter Cavicchia is a retired U.S. Secret Service Senior Executive, now Chairman of the security consulting firm Strategic Services International LLC. https://petecavicchia.com/

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