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Improving internal security and preparing for the unknown

Sector expert, Sue Corrick, discusses how to balance safety and security in schools, and what to do when the unexpected occurs

Posted by Julian Owen | May 15, 2019 | Security & safety

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 on 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 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 - no two are the same. Therefore, whilst the school building itself needs a bespoke and meticulous security strategy, its inhabitants must also be considered. 

Tackling internal security and safety from all angles is complex and requires a holistic approach

Anti-social behaviour amongst pupils

School pupils, teachers and everyone else 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 every type of situation, especially when certain situations can’t be predicted, such as when pupils become involved in anti-social behaviour. 

This brings up a number of issues pertaining to both the security of the premises and pupil safety. If children were to attempt (or succeed in) leaving the premises without permission, for example, it may raise security and safety challenges previously unaccounted 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, where children cannot reach them. This raises questions about fire safety. It seems as though there’s no one single answer, especially when individual situations have their own backgrounds and contexts. 

For example, if pupils routinely leave school through an emergency exit without permission, the school will have to carry out a risk assessment - in partnership with local safety code experts - to see how to safely reduce unauthorised exits. One option would be to ensure an unauthorised 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. 

When it comes to schools, everyone has a role to play in the implementation of an effective school security strategy

Addressing internal risk 

There’s an increasing pressure to ensure external security measures are in place and in good working order. Physical perimeter protection 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. 

Schools which focus on keeping potential risks outside the premises can easily forget about risks that may occur within. Children left without an adult’s assistance may unwillingly put their safety at risk if they were to wander into a prohibited area, such as a room with cleaning chemicals. Visitors, contractors and employees 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 allowing 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 solutions 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. 

Sue Corrick

Increasing awareness and preparedness

While unexpected situations, such as escape, are incredibly difficult to manage and understand, certain solutions may help leverage preparedness. 

Electronic access locks or pincode hardware are an option for many, as they can help provide the additional security needed for areas requiring 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. These spaces can be controlled with electronic access in a way that only authorised 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 US. If a pupil, employee or visitor should attempt to exit the building, an alarm is triggered and a 15 second delay allows staff time 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 in the UK, which 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 set to go through a CEN review process, meaning it could be at least another year before the standard is published and these exit devices become CE certified. 

Being well prepared starts with understanding the building and its physical requirements, as well as its inhabitants and their specific needs.

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 conjunction, with staff tying the measures together. Schools should work in tandem with the systems they have in place; for this, staff need to have a clear understanding of the procedures and systems used. 

While a high level of understanding about a building and its inhabitants is incredibly important, some situations may require expert guidance. 

Fire safety officials, contractors and specifiers, may be able to offer direction when it comes to situations that seem difficult to address. Companies specialising in security can also be part of your extended team and offer advice on security and safety solutions. Ultimately, it’s about balancing safety and security, so that a building and its inhabitants are protected. When security might be impeding on safety or vice versa, it may be time to accept a helping hand. 

Sue Corrick is both a school governor and EMEA product manager at Allegion UK

 

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