Preparing for the Unknown
Sue Corrick, EMEA Product Manager with Allegion UK, discusses the balance between school safety and security - and how to factor in the unexpected.
Security and safety in schools is high on the agenda for parents, students, teachers, facilities teams, governing bodies and local education authorities. When it comes to schools, everyone has a role to play in the implementation of an effective school security strategy, but balancing safety and security can be a challenge.
There can be a lot of focus put onto implementing well-rounded, strong security strategies, but this doesn’t always account for unexpected situations. Being well prepared starts with understanding the building and its physical requirements, as well as its inhabitants and their specific needs.
It’s been said time and time again, but there really is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to safety and security. This is particularly relevant when it comes to schools, as there are no two the same. Therefore, whilst the school building itself needs a bespoke and meticulous security strategy, its inhabitants must also be considered.
Anti-social behaviour amongst pupils
School pupils, teachers and all those on-site should be intrinsic to any safety choices made. It’s almost impossible to have a fully successful protocol in place if the people within aren’t taken into consideration.
Focusing on pupils and their needs in particular, it can be difficult to be prepared for any type of situation, especially when certain situations can’t be predicted. One specific case which demonstrates these kinds of occurrences is when pupils become involved in anti-social behaviour.
This raises a number of issues pertaining to both the security of the premises and the pupils’ safety. If children are to attempt to (or succeed in) leaving the premises without permission - for example - this fabricates further security and safety challenges that may not have been accounted for.
Recognising grey areas
To prevent pupils from leaving the premises, there may be a temptation to padlock fire escapes or position the push-pad emergency exits higher on the door so that the children cannot reach them. However, this then raises questions about fire safety. It seems as though there’s no one single answer - especially when individual situations will have their own backgrounds and contexts.
For example, if pupils routinely leave school without permission through an emergency exit, the school will have to carry out a risk assessment in partnership with local safety code experts to see how to safely reduce unauthorized exits. One option would be to ensure an unauthorized exit does not go unnoticed. Others may include layered security. A careful evaluation of each situation and a clear understanding of what’s important to ensure student safety is essential.
Addressing internal risk
There’s an increasing pressure to ensure external security measures are in place and in good working order. Physical perimeter security and effective access control are at the heart of any successful school security programme, but creating a safe and secure environment requires significant planning and internal security and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Schools which focus on keeping potential risks outside the premises can easily forget about risks that may occur from within. Children who have been left without an adult’s assistance may unwillingly put their own safety at risk if they are to wander into an area they’re not supposed to enter, such as a supply room or classroom laboratory with cleaning chemicals. Visitors, contractors and employees who have been authorised to enter the site may invite certain risk, including theft. Yet, the majority of people on a school campus have good intentions and it’s important to have an environment that allows parents and others to be part of the school community.
Tackling internal security and safety from all angles is complex and requires a holistic approach. However, designing effective internal security and safety procedures can be overwhelming for school officials and they will need help from qualified experts as well as input from teachers and parents. Any plan also needs to be pragmatic, consider financial resources and prioritise implementation.
Increasing awareness and preparedness
While unexpected situations such as escape are incredibly difficult to manage and understand, there are certain solutions which may help to leverage an element of preparedness.
Electronic access locks or pincode hardware are options for many schools, as they can help to provide the additional security needed for areas that require further supervision. Consider high risk areas such as supply cupboards or science classrooms that possess hazardous chemicals and the challenges that come with the inflow of access. Spaces such as these can be controlled with electronic access in a way that only authorized personnel (and those they supervise) can enter, while still providing the flexibility for multiple people to access without a physical key.
Delayed egress systems are a solution commonly used in the United States. If a pupil, employee or visitor should attempt to exit the building, an alarm is triggered and a fifteen-second delay allows staff the time they need to respond. The hardware is linked to the fire alarm and therefore provides a system override during a fire emergency. These systems are yet to be CE marked to the required standard that many check for here in the UK. The UK is still waiting on the harmonisation of BS EN 13637 (the standard that specifies the requirements for the performance and testing of electronically controlled exit systems) after recently being revised. The revised standard is now set to go through a CEN review process, meaning it could be at least another year until the standard is published and these exit devices become CE certified.
With this in mind, the importance of staff training cannot be understated. Ultimately, for a building to minimise risk, multiple security measures may need to operate in conjuction, with staff tying those security measures together. Schools should work in tandem with the systems they have in place, and for this, staff need to have a clear understanding of the procedures and systems that are being used.
A high level of understanding about a building and its users is incredibly important, however, with schools often calling on expert guidance before taking decisions about security protocols and systems.
Ultimately, it’s about balancing safety and security so that a building and its inhabitants are protected. As when security might be impeding on safety (or safety on security), it is probably time for schools to accept a helping hand.