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Safety special: The key to safeguarding

Justin Freeman from the Master Locksmiths Association offers expert advice on security for schools and universities

Posted by Stephanie Broad | July 11, 2016 | Security & safety

Learning environments are intended to be welcoming and accessible – capable of inspiring and motivating those within their walls and the wider community around them. They are public buildings, with facilities – be they educational, recreational, or sporting – for community use. The inherent challenge in designing and managing a school or university building is in ensuring that it is open and accessible whilst prioritising the safety of pupils, staff and visitors, and deterring theft, unauthorised access and vandalism.

Communication is key

At the outset, it is important to establish an effective strategy to ensure that issues relating to security and safety management are addressed and maintained in a systematic and logical manner. Critically all staff, and in some cases students, should be aware of this strategy and understand their role within it. 

Schools and universities are complex buildings. They are required to have adequate escape routes and doors that operate effectively in the event of an emergency, with the correct signage, emergency exit lighting and panic hardware fitted. Determining this can be a complicated and time consuming matter and those with responsibility should receive relevant and frequent training. 

However, it is all too easy for another member of the team to inadvertently take on security and safeguarding responsibilities without realising. An example we see frequently when visiting schools and universities is a staff member having placed a padlock on an emergency exit door to prevent people from opening it unnecessarily and causing a nuisance, without realising they are making themselves legally responsible if people are unable to exit a building in the event of an emergency. 

Safe security 

Emergency routes and exits must lead as directly as possible to a place of safety, so that in the event of danger, premises can be evacuated as quickly and as safely as possible. 

The number, distribution and dimensions of emergency routes and exits required is determined according to the use, equipment and dimensions of the premises and the maximum number of people who may be present at any one time. Importantly, emergency doors must always open in the direction of escape to aid those evacuating the building. 

By their very nature, escape doors may also be vulnerable during break-ins. For this reason, it is acceptable to have extra locks on escape doors – as long as they are fully operational and can still act as escape doors when the building is occupied. If they are bolted, deadlocked or chained, the person responsible for these doors could be prosecuted in the event of a tragedy. 

Emergency exits should not be confused with fire doors. Fire doors are designed to hold back fire away from emergency exits for a set amount of time. Adding additional locks to fire doors will compromise how the fire door performs and could lead to prosecution of the responsible person. 

An MLA locksmith will be able to advise on safety requirements for fire doors and emergency egress routes –arranging a fully comprehensive security review by an MLA locksmith on an annual basis can help shape your security strategy.

Access all areas 

School and university buildings are excellent venues for clubs and groups to meet, but if the building is being used by individuals separate to the institute, it’s important to consider the extra security risks. This is especially important if the meetings occur out of hours or continue through holiday periods. 

The best way to ensure the building is as protected as possible is by creating a holiday security plan and investing in a master key system. The plan should include information and instructions on access routes, alarms and the management of keys. Additionally, the use of master key systems will ensure that only access to the designated areas is granted.

Caught on camera 

Not only does CCTV detect crime and vandalism, it works as one of the best deterrents to would-be criminals. Those using CCTV report incidents of poor and antisocial behaviour drop dramatically after installation. In addition to outside security threats, CCTV cameras improve behaviour within schools and universities. 

As nice as trees and shrubbery look, they can provide areas of cover for intruders and lead to blind spots on CCTV footage 

Review your security on an ongoing basis

Setting up an excellent no holds barred security system is a great starting point – but upkeep is equally important. A broken lock or damaged door may go unnoticed by staff but can provide an easy in-route for a criminal. 

Things to look out for include wear and tear to doors, windows, roofs, wall cladding, alarms, locks and any other parts of the building which could offer unwarranted access. 

Another aspect to regularly review is the number and locations of alarms. Does the building needs extra alarms? If so, where? For example, placing extra alarms where expensive IT equipment kept is an excellent idea. 

Keep expensive kit out of sight as much as possible. Having your IT suite upstairs is a good start as is securing equipment together, or to desks, or indeed having a dedicated secure storage room for the equipment – this may sound extreme but it does provide additional peace of mind. 

Site boundaries are highly relevant when considering security risks. Gates should be fitted with strong locks and fencing should be substantial. Again, both should be checked regularly for damage and deterioration. 

Finally, don’t forget about greenery. As nice as trees and shrubbery look, they can provide areas of cover for intruders and lead to blind spots on CCTV footage. Ensure that they are trimmed and maintained regularly and check that the perimeter is clear from bins or structures that could help criminals to gain access. 

If in doubt, seek advice 

It’s important to ensure you not only provide a good level of security, but also meet insurance requirements. If in doubt, contact a professional MLA-approved locksmith who can offer advice and can carry out a security and safety assessment on all locks and access routes, advising you on suitable fittings. 

MLA-approved locksmiths undergo strict vetting, regular inspections and are able to provide advice based on knowledge and experience. They can recommend products that are fit for purpose as well as provide professional installation and maintenance services. 

Justin Freeman is Technical Manager of the Master Locksmith Association

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