Solutions for Safer, More Secure Schools in the Face of Danger

by Ron Baer,
Director of Business Development for K-12, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions

school safetyAs the new school year rapidly approaches and stores promote back-to-school sales for supplies and apparel, K-12 administrators continue to reflect on the deeper issues of student, faculty and staff safety. It’s an unfortunate yet inevitable fact of life in our world today.

We have experienced far too many horrific tragedies and lost lives at American schools over the past quarter century. Even one is one too many. The level of grief and sorrow is overwhelming. The devastation to families and survivors, unfathomable. 

For many of us, it seems like the prospects for light at the end of the tunnel are slim, especially as it pertains to an act of violence. But there are door security solutions that can help. Many are relatively simple and affordable fixes. Others offer highly effective access control and hardened door and glass technologies. In some cases, it’s a matter of adhering to proper procedures, like making sure perimeter doors are not left unlocked or propped open. But no one solution fits all or should be considered a panacea.

Gathering quality information from leading sources and experienced consultants to carefully identify school security needs and explore product advancements are all critical components of achieving a higher level of school safety.

Taking a Rational Approach
Determining the best K-12 door security and access control measures remains a vitally important, evolving and complex challenge. In the aftermath of an attack at a school, even in a distant city, that challenge quickly ramps up to a heightened sense of urgency. School districts can feel pressure – from students, parents, and the community – to just “do something”. The push for immediate action is understandable; keeping students safe and secure is among the primary missions of a school. But reacting with haste should not override common sense. 

school corridorWhat’s required is a comprehensive security plan produced by a cross-functional team of stakeholders based on a thoughtful, carefully established risk assessment that takes into account the threats and vulnerabilities specific to a school and/or district. PASS, the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, offers excellent advice and resources on this critical process. ASSA ABLOY consultants and partners, as well as ASSA ABLOY Academy training professionals, also offer invaluable insights and assistance.

Caution: Some Solutions Are More Hindrance than Helpful
Adding to the complexity in recent years is a market that has become inundated with secondary locking devices that actually make things far more dangerous for students. They do not even provide much in the way of effective security. These devices come in the form of various wedges, bars, or additional latches designed to essentially jam a door in place to keep attackers out. But in doing so, they potentially violate fire and safety codes.

These barricade devices can also enable dangerous hostage situations and prevent school staff and first responders from opening a door. Fire marshals generally will not sign off on these types of devices. And if they will not take on that liability, then neither should a school district.

Another troubling fact is that a 2020 National Center on Education Statistics study showed that “one in four U.S. public schools still lack classroom doors that can be locked from the inside.” This reflects an era when schools were more concerned about burglaries and vandalism and installed doors that could only be locked from the outside. 

After the Columbine High School shooting, schools started installing locks that could be locked by key from either side of the door. Often referred to as “Columbine” locks, they allow the teacher to verify from inside whether a door is securely locked instead of having to risk going into the hallway to test it. While no one can enter from outside when the door is locked, those inside can still use the door lever/knob to exit the room any time, which is required by fire codes.

But as the statistics show, many schools in the country have yet to catch up. While lock conversions can cost several hundred dollars each, they nevertheless provide a basic, common-sense line-of-defense. They are easy to retrofit and well worth implementing as part of a holistic door security and access control plan.

classroom doorBeyond the Lock
It is a security professional’s job to identify specific school needs and recommend the best solutions to address problems or concerns. If attack-resistant doors are the right answer for a school’s location and vulnerability, the correct approach is to deploy a complete opening – including the door, frame, and door hardware – that complies with the 5-aa10 test standards recommended by the FBI’s Active Shooter Report.

These complete Attack Resistant Openings are made of hollow metal construction and extremely resistant glass inserts. They are tested rigorously to ensure that they can withstand an intense four-minute physical attack with the use of hand tools after being shot 60 times with 7.62mm NATO rounds. They are also designed using lightweight materials so small children can still easily operate them during a normal school day. 

Lockdown Procedures
Another common concern we see during consultation with schools is how to properly conduct lockdown procedures. The issue is that the narrative on best practices has changed over the past few years.

Exterior and interior door locks that are always in the locked mode and require a key or digital credential to open are often a school’s strategy of choice despite the educational inconveniences. Today’s best practice is to secure perimeter doors from a central location while allowing interior doors to be locked by staff and faculty using their own situational awareness. This requires providing the correct training for staff along with implementing the correct technologies.

For some urban schools, it is easier to consolidate ingress and egress to just a few doors. For these schools, it may be possible to rely on school resource officers or security guards to control access at the perimeter. An urban environment with few entrances can utilize the right blend of staff, video surveillance and metal detectors to quickly provide the right response during a lockdown.

On the other hand, urban environments that have multiple entrances and exits need an electronic access control system that can be locked down remotely. The Aperio® wireless solution from ASSA ABLOY is a good example now being used in several deployments that provides the flexibility of remote or local lockdown without the cost and complexity of hardwired locks. In both scenarios, these access control solutions tie into sophisticated video surveillance and communications systems that can call first responders.

Suburban and rural schools can also benefit from a technology that offers remote lockdown. However, they present additional challenges since these locations typically contain multiple perimeter openings across multiple buildings. Suburban and rural campuses also tend to build out rather than up. This means a larger footprint encompassing school grounds, sports facilities and parking lots that also need securing.

Regardless of a school’s geographic setting, system redesigns and upgrades can help correct gratuitous master-key distributions and confusing credential policies that have historically cropped up in these locations.

One solution is to implement Intelligent Key Systems with eCylinders. These technological upgrades can be retrofitted into almost any lock – from a traditional school door to a padlock on a chain-link fence. The brass key for these openings is replaced by a smart key. This provides the benefit of an audit trail for accountability and easy credentialing that can be added or revoked using software. It also eliminates costly rekeying if a key is lost. Simply put, if key control is a continuing issue, Intelligent Key technologies will likely be the smart way to go.

classroom lockSchool Settings and Electronic Access Control
Today’s school designs feature more mixed-use indoor and outdoor environments for project-based experiential learning and greater collaboration. New designs also call for increased daylighting and more fluid movement while also requiring solutions that protect against attacks and forces of nature. Configuring and specifying security for more open spaces, more flexible classroom locations and more glass can be complicated. 

cabinet lockElectronic access control (EAC) is an effective way to make the shift more manageable. EAC allows for instant customization depending on the entry or classroom configuration and who needs to be where and when. If a school has the flexibility of onsite control, authorized teachers and staff can nimbly manage access around time of day, facility use, room capacity, and changing situations, including unexpected events.

EAC for office security is another obvious need. It extends beyond staff safety and protecting records and privacy to securing servers, communication equipment and supplies, including nurse’s cabinets where medications need to be safeguarded and discreetly accessed. 

The Importance of Training
Whether it’s an electromechanical or Intelligent lock, electronic access control or specialty door systems, it’s crucial to get things right, from installation to deployment and beyond. That is why it is also critical to include comprehensive training and learning experience resources within a security plan.

ASSA ABLOY Academy exists to serve as a comprehensive training and learning experience resource for locksmiths, integrators, distributors and end-users alike. The Academy’s goal is to ensure those responsible fully understand the many details of how to install doors, frames and hardware properly and securely, and how to operate them correctly. Lives are depending on it; there’s no room for shortcuts. The Academy also puts a strong emphasis on building code knowledge and compliance and offers expert instruction by field-experienced professionals. 

After products are installed, it’s imperative that a school’s entire staff learns the correct way to implement and use these solutions that will yield the best outcomes. Practicing scenarios through drills is important to ensuring everyone knows what to do if the need occurs. Fully comprehending how these products work helps staff understand why they shouldn’t alter the opening with a door wedge or a secondary locking device. If the correct solutions are integrated, and staff executes a response according to plan, these solutions will help keep our schools safe.

school hallway safetyBest Practices for Planning School Security
The best way to land on the right fit of solutions is to establish a broad, cross-functional team or committee of stakeholders to perform a risk assessment analysis and security plan that identifies the needs of the school. Professional security solutions consultants are also readily available to help guide the planning process and to educate teams on the most practical and cost-effective technology and innovative products. 

student safetyAbove all, the goal is to create a positive place where students and teachers feel confident enough to stay focused and engaged. We also want a place where students are relaxed enough to enjoy the school experience on their way to leading healthy, productive lives.

We encourage you to check out the valuable ASSA ABLOY resources for Securing Your K-12 School from Curb to Classroom that offer helpful information and cover the full range of leading door security and access control solutions available today. 

About the author: Ron Baer is Director of Business Development – K-12 for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions