School leaders and authorities need to consider making building security a top priority, says Simon Osborne, commercial leader of safety and security company Allegion.
If we were to look at building new schools, or revamping old schools for that matter, it would be right to think that most, if not all, of the budget and focus would go towards creating buildings that are the best possible learning facilities for the pupils and teaching staff.
Indeed, from RIBA’s own 2016 study and report, “Better spaces for learning,” the measure of good design is based upon ventilation, colour, lighting, acoustics, thermal comfort, visual interest, pupil sense of ownership, simplicity and flexibility. The main highlights of the report, picked out by RIBA themselves, heavily emphasize building schools that enhance the teaching aspect of school life, including statements such as:
· Good design is about creating cost-effective environments that help drive up educational outcomes, enhance teacher-and-pupil-wellbeing, while limiting future running and maintenance costs.
· Good school buildings have a significant and positive impact on pupil behaviour, engagement, wellbeing and attainment.
· It pays to invest in good design. It has a positive impact on school staff’s productivity, with the most comfortable and well-designed schools demonstrating a 15% increase.
To concentrate on these facets is all well and good, but little attention is given to the other side of a school building. What I am alluding to here is the security of the facility itself.
When we delve into the history books, it shows us that schools are not immune to being attacked, and of those schools that have been unlucky enough to be a victim of violence, some have had serious, high-profile and tragic outcomes.
It’s these cases that show how poor security measures are are letting down school occupants. Victims are often left with deep trauma to deal with, while fear can have a debilitating effect for those involved, potentially lasting a lifetime. This is why we ask, if such a tragedy were to happen in the future, would this be considered a well-designed school?
To best prevent attackers from gaining access to school premises, or to lessen the impact and damage they can possibly do if they do manage to make it into schools, it is time to take school security seriously.
From the industry point of view, there are numerous door systems and hardware solutions that can now enhance the building’s security, as well as increase operational efficiency and management.
Access control solutions are now widely available in the door hardware market with a wide range of functionality. One of the most useful functions for schools, though, is the ability to permit entry during a designated period of time, and then lockdown those entrances automatically after that period of time has passed.
In practice, this means that when teachers and pupils are going in and out of schools, during mornings, breaks and lunch times, entry points are opened automatically and locked to outsiders after.
Remote Lockdown Systems
One of the most difficult parts of being a school caretaker or facilities manager is locking down entry points, simply because of the sheer amount of entry points there could be to a school.
To minimise the chances of unwanted intrusion, schools would benefit from having a central electronic remote locking system. Access control solutions can now be linked to all doors within a building and locked at the touch of a button. Control can also be given to other users within the building, so that responsibility can be divided between teachers, maintenance staff and office staff, if need be.
External security doors need to engage properly to be effective at stopping would-be intruders getting through. However, pupils oftenleave doors ajar or not latched fully, either because they haven’t been taught to close the doors or, perhaps for younger children, they don’t have the strength to close them.
A simple fix for this situation is to use latchbolt monitors. These work by sending a signal to a central monitoring station, giving confirmation of when the door is shut and secure.
Electronic Panic Exits
Panic exits have long been purely mechanical to allow users safe and secure exit from a building in a state of emergency and, combined with an outside access device to provide a simple means of accessing the door externally. However, there are now electromechanical exit devices on the market that can integrate with electronic access control systems to allow monitored safe and secure access.
One of the latest innovations is the Briton 571 EL panic bar, which utilises an electronic motor to operate the door lock. This means the device, is able to work with digital access control systems from the outside, but also operate as a mechanical panic bar from within the building.
Effectively, this makes the panic exit points safer and more secure as you can add access control measures to those points, whether it is for pupils, teachers or both.
Delay No More
Understandably, security often falls to the bottom of the pecking order when budget is being distributed on the school estate. Unlike our neighbours in the U.S., high- profile school violence cases in the UK are few and far between. Ultimately, this results in less awareness and importance placed on this issue.
However, we should not wait for a next occurrence before we take action as it will be too little too late.
At the end of the day, to learn and work in a safe and secure environment – one where we know we have the means to protect our occupants to the best of our ability can only add to the conduciveness of learning.
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