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Mar. 21, 2017

Improving School Safety Through Construction

As project executive of Rockford’s educational group and as a parent myself, I think of schools, students and staff day in and day out. Aside from strict deadlines and tight budgets, there are hundreds of considerations that go into planning for academic spaces and, in my opinion, ensuring the security and safety of the students is the most important one.

We’ve been fortunate to partner with SecureEd’s president, Jason Russell, and his team on a number of projects, including one we recently completed for Potter’s House High School. Secure Education Consultants (SecureEd) is incorporating safety planning into educational environments across the country. Their team specializes in designing emergency preparedness plans and critical incident training for schools, childcare centers, and businesses. We’ve leveraged the expertise of Jason and his team to bring the construction of safe spaces for today’s youth to a whole new level. And we’re doing so more cost effectively, bringing expert consultants like SecureEd in before construction has even started.

Below I’d like to share an excerpt from an article of Jason’s that was published by SouthEast Education Network. In it, he highlights important spatial and behavioral strategies for building a secure educational environment. Jason’s full article is available to read here.

People Operate Security Measures

In the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, educators have moved to provide more secure entrances to their schools. This trend has evolved into almost a copycat approach as officials scramble to try to secure their buildings. The shooter in that case, Adam Lanza, shot out a side window of the locked front entrance to gain entry, where he killed 26 people – including 20 children – before turning the gun on himself.

In the aftermath of that shooting, I worked with a school district where administrators built vestibules at entrances to provide an extra layer of security, but more importantly to allow people in the front office to make assessments of visitors. Staff members need to be aware of warnings signs, such as body language or rapid breathing that could be signals of bad intent. And most importantly, they should not be afraid to question people about their reasons for wanting entry.

Consulting a security expert even before swinging the first hammer allows the integrated emergency planning approach that works best for all, and sometimes even saves money. Remember, architects are experts in design; we are the ones with expertise on the best security features and materials to use.

Security Considerations

The key when designing an emergency plan is to make sure it is built to ensure performance.

Questions to ask:

  • Are there adequate exits?
  • How would a lockdown work at your school? Sometimes, doors don’t have locks because of fire codes. Or, requiring the use of a key to lock a door can be difficult because under a high stress situation, the fine motor skills needed to operate a key in a lock are compromised. Is there a way to lock doors from the inside? Or, can they be locked from a central location during an emergency?
  • Think about windows and window trims. Instead of one window, you can break it up into three and then use shatter-resistant glass and film. Or, you can put trim on windows in a specific area of a door to guard against breakage to gain access to a door handle.

By laser-focusing on security features when planning these upgrades and construction, school districts can realize cost efficiencies. A security firm can help administrators know where features are necessary, and where they may be superfluous – that is where strong consulting and planning works for everyone.

Now, more than ever, it is important to change the culture of architects and construction firms to have a security company like mine at the table right from the start. By allowing security experts into the process, we can help focus resources, possibly contain costs, and most important of all: create the safest school we can for our children.