As back-to-school season ramps up, so too do security efforts from school districts. We get several calls from school administrators to complete last-minute security preparations as the summer winds down. In last year’s post on Why Security Professionals Oppose Classroom Barricades, we look at classroom security. Specifically, we examine the debate over quick-fix classroom barricades. These devices have gained recent popularity, but they often violate fire codes. In that post, we discuss how they violate fire codes, as well as some ideal school safety measures schools can take to make classrooms safer within the letter of the law.

In this season’s school safety-related post, we focus on exterior school security. We offer many solutions to help keep your school secure. School staffs have their hands full with the number of visitors they keep track of every day. Furthermore, the size of many schools makes keeping an eye on the entire perimeter difficult, if not impossible. Here, we wish to help address these issues, as well as some tips for keeping the wrong people out of your school both during and after school hours. Let’s start with one of our most popular ways to help monitor school entrances.

Use High-Quality Cameras to Monitor Popular Entrances

We often install cameras as part of a security plan in commercial settings. In many of these settings, we install cameras in order to record events that happen outside an empty office. However, installing cameras as a means of improving school safety brings a different dynamic into play. School security measures revolve more around what happens when the building is occupied than when it is empty. For this reason, staff should have a way of monitoring entrances to a school effectively in real time. The more detail a staff member can see when looking at a visitor, the better chance of catching any potential threat to those inside. Dependable cameras that provide a high-quality image help staff members tremendously.

Our post on The Differences Between Analog and IP Cameras examines the two most popular camera technologies. Analog cameras certainly provide a more budget-friendly option. However, IP cameras deliver a better picture, allowing users to zoom in on recorded or real-time images. For high-security applications such as schools, we recommend cameras that offer high-definition viewing at the very least. For doors that specifically require close monitoring, high-quality IP cameras give you the best picture and performance. We often install cameras to help school staff follow through with our next step, which involves allowing or denying entry into the school.

Allow Staff to Control Access to the Building Efficiently

An employee uses an AMAG electronic card reader at work. Access control systems, such as this card reader system by AMAG, helps control who has access to different areas of your school.

We recommend using intercoms and electronic locking options to keep important areas of the school secure. When used with cameras, electronic entry systems can allow staff members to immediately grant access to visitors after taking a look at them. Audio intercom systems (as well as audio/video intercom systems) also provide a means for visitors to communicate the reason for their visit. The opportunity to see a visitor, have that conversation, and then allow or deny access from the front office helps staff tremendously.

During a busy school day, security often gets compromised due to the large number of people entering the building. During hectic mornings, employees can have trouble keeping an eye on everyone coming through the school. At these times, main doors are often left unlocked to allow for staff and student arrival. Adding access control to other areas of the building can help improve school safety at these times. If a visitor attempts to sneak into an off-limits section of the school after entering during the morning rush, this system will stop them. However, it will not stop someone with a credential from opening that same door.

The same goes for exterior doors. Teachers and administrators can use their credentials to utilize staff-only doors, while parents and the general public cannot. This adds both security and convenience. Teachers do not have to carry around keys that could get lost or copied to enter these doors. Administrators and janitors will not have to try to keep track of which key opens which doors, and which personnel have which keys. These features make both access control and intercom systems an effective way to add security to any school.

Install Proper Security System and Panic Equipment

Of course, complete school safety doesn’t begin and end with your front door and lobby. Most schools use security systems to alert authorities to break-ins after school hours. However, not every school does so efficiently. For example, many schools use motion detectors to cover large areas. While motion sensors certainly have their place, glassbreak detectors often activate an alarm before a burglar even enters a school. In areas with double-hung windows, you may also consider installing individual window contacts.

An Interlogix glassbreak detector.

Glassbreak detectors, such as this one by Interlogix, often detect potential thieves before they enter your school.

We recommend taking measures to keep thieves out of schools entirely, not just catching them while they walk around after breaking in. Feel free to look through our Alarm System Components page to see what we offer for security system equipment. Additionally, a well-designed security system also offers options for immediate alarm activation. Panic devices allow workers to call for help even when an alarm is disarmed. Our post on Panic Button Options can point you in the right direct in this area.

You should also consider how people use different areas of a school during this process. Our security systems allow for breaking larger systems down into smaller parts, called “partitions.” This allows users to arm sections of a building while leaving other areas disarmed. Schools can benefit greatly from this ability. For example, you can keep different blocks of classrooms armed even during evening activities at the gym. The more areas of your school that can remain armed even while the building is occupied, the less chance you have of someone taking advantage of a basketball game, dance, or other school function to commit a crime at a different part of the school.

Use the Proper Lock Equipment to Secure School Doors

We discussed the importance of installing proper locks in our post on Improving Employee Security in Your Business. In that post, we focused mainly on choosing robust, “Grade 1” levers for your business. When it comes to school safety, using the highest-quality hardware should be a no-brainer. Additionally, schools also face the challenge of choosing the proper lever functions as well.  A lever’s function determines how and when a user can access a door. An “passage” lever, for example, does not have a lock on it. This makes it a non-option for exterior installation. “Entrance” function levers are the most popular type of exterior levers. This type of lever stays unlocked after one person with a key has unlocked it. After that, users can lock the door from the inside with a button or from the outside with a key.

Less frequently-used doors, however, may call for more secure lock functions. Storeroom locks stay locked at all times, which requires people to use a key every time they wish to enter. This ensures that people cannot go through the door and leave it unlocked for others. A building’s less popular doors are always at a greater risk of being left unlocked at the end of the day. Storeroom function levers minimize this risk. We always recommend keeping the purpose of each exterior door in mind when installing locks. This chart by major lock manufacturer Allegion runs down the most basic lock functions and provides descriptions and illustrations for each as well.

A chalkboard welcoming students back to school.

Adding school safety measures before the start of school can help staff and students alike feel safer and more secure as the new school year begins.

Creating a Complete Plan for Exterior School Safety

We hope that this post has created a conversation starter for beefing up school security measures. We know the complexities and emotions associated with issues of school safety. If you have any questions about the material covered in this post, please do not hesitate to contact us. We have worked with schools and offered a variety of solutions to shore up exterior school safety. In addition, we provide free site surveys to examine any vulnerabilities and make recommendations of our own. Together, we can help you create a plan to keep the wrong people out of your school. In turn, this will keep the right people — the employees and students who will be walking the halls again shortly — feeling safer doing so.