Simple and Inexpensive Measures Could Increase School Security, Says AASA Research

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A new study suggests that many schools could enhance their security at little to no cost. For example, while two-thirds of all districts lock public entrances to buildings, a third reports that exterior doors are occasionally or often propped open. Also, 11 percent of schools lack a functional safety committee to review policies, programs, responsibilities, issues, and needs.

The 2008 National School Safety Study was researched by security vendor Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and school security consulting firm RETA Security.

Conducted online with 445 AASA members between June and August 2008, the survey's focus was to identify potential threats and determine action items to ensure the security of school systems. Overall, schools are doing a decent job, researchers said, considering the budgets they have. However, in other instances, more needs to be done.

The survey found that almost 60 percent of school buildings have no "panic" exit devices installed in strategic locations, which represents a potential violation of fire and life safety codes. Fifty-eight percent of respondents report that all interior and exterior doors can be manually locked from the inside; no respondents report the ability to quickly lock down classroom, office, and gathering-room doors electronically in the event of an emergency.

On the positive side, nine out of 10 respondents affirmed that their schools have written crisis procedures addressing protocols for fire, weather, medical emergencies, and violence. Seven out of 10 reported that students and staff are periodically surveyed about their perception of the extent to which bullying is present in the school community. More than 85 percent of respondents said they require all visitors to sign in and receive a badge. And three-quarters of respondents possess systems to communicate with parents in case of emergency.

Researchers offered these low-cost/no-cost recommendations for improving security:

  • Improvement and/or enforcement of fundamental building access practices, such as: visitor management (controlling access through measures involving sign-in/sign-out and requirements to display identification while moving about the property); staff IDs (visible badges or uniforms that identify school personnel such as faculty, staff and substitutes); student pick-up (clearly identified areas and documented procedures that address student and guardian accountability); and a closed campus policy (all exterior doors are closed and locked when the facility is occupied, requiring visitors to enter through the main entrance and sign-in at the main office).
  • Formation of a functional safety committee composed of administrators, teachers, parents, and emergency responders that meets on a regular basis (such as once a semester).
  • Development of security practices that govern third-party use of facilities.
  • Routine dissemination, training, and drilling of emergency procedures such as lockdown.

"It is important for schools to place first priority on improving the areas of access control and communications," said Paul Timm, president of RETA. "Demonstrating that there are low-cost, common-sense measures each school district can implement is a significant first step in providing a safer learning environment for students, staff, and visitors."

Now the participating organizations are developing plans for how to leverage research findings. The plan may include regional training initiatives for AASA members, to encompass programming for areas that need no additional resources. Grant funding toolkits will also be provided to educate administrators in the area of state and federally funded formula and competitive grants for which their districts may be eligible. Grants such as these can be used by the schools to upgrade security with integrated security, access control systems and monitoring technology.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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