School Safety Planning: PROTECTION



Prevention | PROTECTION | Mitigation | Response | Recovery | Rebuilding

In the world of school safety there are six different, yet equally important parts, when holistically applied create an adequate school safety plan to efficiently protect America’s children and our country’s educators while physically located on the grounds of their educational environment – and furthermore, accounting for each category of safety planning can assure proper protection against future liability concerns that a school district might have after a life-threat emergency has taken place. As you can see from the information above those six parts are PREVENTION, PROTECTION, MITIGATION, RESPONSE, RECOVERY & REBUILDING. For the purpose of our 2nd installment in our series dedicated to SCHOOL SAFETY PLANNING we will be breaking down the protection aspect of properly securing your educational environment for the inevitable threats that can take place on school property.

The protection aspect of safety planning has more to do with insuring maximum physical protection of a school’s educators and students in the event of a life-threat emergency than it does with programming or preventative measures to reduce the risk of an incident arising. So, when we think of protection for a school, whether you’re an educator reading this, a local LEO or an on-sight SRO, we need to understand what minimum standards of physical protection a school should be accountable for providing to its inhabitants.

"The protection aspect of safety planning has more to do with insuring maximum physical protection of a school’s educators and students in the event of a life-threat emergency than it does with programming or preventative measures..."

OKDI believes there are 5 main components that make up minimum, physical standards/categories of protection, and believe they should all be collectively represented within any existing educational environment and incorporated into the plans for all new construction of schools if optimum safety and protection against future liabilities is part of your school’s safety planning – these categories are: Access control/Camera Systems, immediate notification, physical barriers for entry, hardened classroom entrance ways & exterior first-floor glass, and mass-communication ability.

With the remainder of this post we will break down each category of protection in a little more detail to provide you with a resource for understanding what each piece is and why each piece is important for the overall protection of your educational environment:

1.      Access Control & Camera Systems:

The vast majority of school districts across America have implemented the use of access control systems to control the flow of traffic in and out of a building but many of these systems already in use are not near secure enough to keep schools safe from deliberate and forced entry. There are many different providers of access control technology and hardware but not every company is created equal, but in general most industry related companies who specialize in access control and camera systems provide the same level of protection but currently will only meet the level of specified need that a school is requesting for their building (understanding the level of protection desired currently is on the school administration to define). Granted, the main purpose of an access control system is to control the flow of traffic in and out of a school on a regular day, however, these systems are immensely valuable in protecting against an Active Shooter/Killer attack and for thwarting possible acts of violence because they can act as the first line of defense in keeping the “bad guy” out when he/she is planning to attack a school or do harm to someone located inside. As a school administrator charged with the safety of your physical building site/s it is important you contact a trusted school safety consultant or our team at OKDI to help with designing the best style access control system for your educational environment’s needs before having any upgrades done to your entrances and exits or before building a new learning environment because of the complexities associated with safety planning.

Camera systems are a given nowadays but the connection of their live feed to a local dispatch center or third-party monitoring company is currently something sweeping across the nation as a leading practice for school safety. If you are adding new cameras to an existing structure or building a new school it is important to consult with a school safety professional or our team at OKDI before purchasing anything because there are advancements in camera systems for schools happening at a rapid rate nationally and for the money you’ll be spending it’s best to make sure you understand the advantages and drawbacks of every option you have available to you.

*Author’s Note: When looking to have work done on your access control systems it is vitally important to add ballistic rated or safety rated glass/laminate to reinforce the entrance way points of access. In many cases a criminal has gained entrance into a building through the act of shooting or breaking out the exterior glass in an access controlled area and walking right in to carry out the attack. Another leading practice I’m seeing nationally for access controlled areas of entrance into a building is the added feature of creating a second wall of glass doors or adding another physical barrier for entry before giving a visitor access to the hallways and the school building. By adding a second layer of protection before giving your visitors full access to your building you are creating what’s known as a man-trap which can at best be a first-line of defense for blocking someone totally from entering your building or at worst serve as a means to delay a criminal’s attempt at getting to victims inside. Remember, in life-threat emergencies, seconds matter and seconds save lives.


2.      Immediate Notification Technology/Hardware:

School based systems in which an immediate notification of a current or emerging threat is occurring by communicating an alarm directly and/or indirectly to Law enforcement and educational staff in real-time. These systems range greatly in style from “hard-press” technology based solutions used in fixed locations or represented through the wearing of fobs to send out the alarm, to app based solutions designed to send and receive signals through the use of a smart phone, computer or tablet.

a.      Hard-Pressed initiated systems: These systems are typically used in fixed locations throughout an educational environment or can be located on the persons dedicated with the responsibility to send out an emergency alarm. These systems are useful because there they cut out the “middle-man” between the environment in alarm and the dispatch center or third party monitoring facility they are connected to. These systems range from key-fob based functionality where a teacher, administrator and/or faculty member would have the device located on their body somewhere, to a fixed delivery system with emergency buttons located behind call boxes fixed to a structure within the reach of someone in an emergency fleeing from an area of danger.

b.      App based initiated systems: These systems for instant alert are growing in popularity due to their wide-spread availability and cost effectiveness. These systems work through a program/app downloaded to your smart phone and act as a “middle-man” to dispatch and other local first-responders associated with the program. In essence, in a life-threat emergency the user would pull out their phone, find their app, open their app, find the proper alarm prompt and then be connected to a server which would then send a signal to the local dispatch center or “associated users” that an alarm is happening in the particular school environment. Some of these applications can pinpoint the location of the threat much more accurately than others but still fall short of giving detailed information about the threat or the proper details needed to mitigate the threat in a precise location from within a building. A major plus to these apps is the wide-spread alert going out not only to the local dispatch centers but to all on-duty and off-duty first responders in the area within a 5 mile radius.

*Author’s Note: Having an immediate notification system and associated set of protocols is beyond important for every educational environment; however, there are drawbacks to both technologies working independently of one another. There are definite disadvantages to just having an app based system at your school if you can afford to have both types of alarm systems - In an emergency it is unrealistic that someone being shot at or in the middle of an attack will have the ability to pull out their phone to access an app in time to positively affect the outcome of the Active-Killing, but they may be able to access a conveniently placed “panic-button” located somewhere on their path to safety as they flee from danger. Also, in many educational environments it is against school policy for teachers and/or students to carry their cell phones on them at all times so this is a policy that would need to be addressed with the addition of app-based notification systems. The positive sides of an app based system are lower costs and the widespread ability for many people to possess the ability to notify authorities of an emergency no matter their placement within school or outside of it. Also, through the use of an app, which gives off a particular signal differentiating an Active-Killer event from another type of emergency, officers en-route have a basic understanding of the protocol they need to use when arriving on scene and in many cases can start to mitigate the emergency before further lives are put at risk.


3.      Physical Barriers for Entry:

Physical barriers may be of two general types, natural and structural. Natural barriers include mountains, cliffs, canyons, rivers, or other terrain difficult to traverse. Structural barriers are man-made devices such as fences, walls, floors, roofs, grills, bars, or other structures that deter penetration. If a natural barrier forms one side or any part of the perimeter, it in itself should not automatically be considered an adequate perimeter barrier, since it may be overcome by a determined intruder. Structural barriers should be provided for that portion of the perimeter, if required.”

When deciding on what physical barriers for entry will work best to incorporate into your school’s safety planning it can be a tall order; fencing, pre-caste concrete barriers, bollards and other manmade/environmental walls are examples of different types of structural barriers but depending on the current terrain around the school and the particular traffic flow needs you have for busses, pick-up and drop-off lanes and your current parking lot layouts it’s best to consult with a safety professional before adding any physical barriers of safety to your educational environment. Fire code restricts some aspects of placing and building physical barriers for entry, so be sure to check with your local fire authorities before implementing any additional barriers of protection.

*Author’s Note: Grant money is getting tighter and tighter for school safety related needs these days despite many people’s desperate pleas otherwise. When you are thinking about beefing up your physical barriers for safety it is often a good idea to try and raise the money form within the community for physical changes to your school environment as opposed to going after grants which will help in other more vulnerable aspects of your safety planning. I recommend this route for fundraising if available because it affords local families and businesses the opportunity to have a structure named after them or in some cases I have seen schools allowing the company who donated the funds for a physical upgrade to advertise on the structure which helps strengthen neighborhood bonds and partnerships with the local community even more. Physical barriers for safety are important for schools to take into account but not before other aspects of physical protection categories are already accounted for and in place.


4.      Hardened  Classroom Entrance Ways & Exterior First Floor Glass:

This is a relatively new term in the security market and can be used to identify what goes into protecting any space within a school that houses valuable property or persons. In most cases the valuable property are students, teachers, administrators etc. The current state of door systems in educational environments allows an Active Shooter/Killer access to the classroom within 10 seconds of an intruder’s first attempt because there are vulnerabilities littered throughout a standard entrance way, from the locks used to the door hinges and frame, from the vision window/s to the door material consistency a shooter can gain entrance with minimal effort with today’s standards entrance ways. There are different levels of protection that a door can be rated up to, but for the most part, across America, schools are falling short in the protection of their classroom entrance ways. Most shooters do not try to get through a door if it is locked, however, there have been instances when “bad guys” have been successful at gaining entrance to a locked classroom by going through the vision window, but soon enough violent offenders will figure out that by hitting the vision glass with their weapon or another tool in their arsenal they can gain immediate entrance without expounding much effort.  Doors can be reinforced in a myriad of ways but in general they need to be reinforced in several key ways - the lock system needs to be lockable from inside the classroom and should be mortise in nature, the latch protection of that lock can be guarded and protected from the outside to protect against shots fired or latch tampering, the use of continuous hinges make the door less likely to be removed from the frame during a breach attempt, reinforcing vision windows with safety rated glass or laminate substitutes create “break-out” protection as a bonus as well as added bullet resistant protection, and through hardening the consistency of the door itself with an inner-layer or surface mounted ballistic material to ensure shots won’t penetrate the door itself and give rise to ricochet possibilities within a classroom are all ways to create hardened classroom entrance ways.

We touched briefly on the need to reinforce your entrance/exit ways with ballistic rated or safety related glass and/or laminate in the author’s notes from the discussion on Access Control Systems, but now we’ll briefly discuss the need to do the same thing for all first floor windows accessible from the line of sight of a possible intruder or active-killer. Without a doubt, in the not so distant future, someone or several people will attempt to simultaneously attack a school from within its walls and from outside looking in. Quite honestly, if a shooter wanted to kill a large amount of people, cause extreme amounts of chaos, and get away with the crime without being caught, all he/she would need to do is drive up to a classroom and step out of their car and attack the room, then get back in their car and drive away well before authorities were notified or school officials had any time to react. This future crisis can be totally averted if schools used safety glass or laminates on the majority of their first floor windows. Fire code dictates that egress must be possible from inside of a room to the outside world, but I have been all over America and have found many instances where schools have painted their windows shut either on purpose or by accident or have installed windows without the ability to be opened, both of which fire code officials have let slide. So when it comes to protecting your first floor glass to a higher degree there are ways to create partnerships with local law enforcement and fire officials to aid in creating the best plan possible for how to reinforce your first floor glass without breaching fire code.  

*Author’s Note: The most important aspect of protecting kids and educators in their learning environments are the addition of hardened classroom entrance ways; almost every mass-killing or serious act of violence that has taken place in America’s educational environments has been the result of the killer gaining continuous access from one classroom to another with minimal effort because there were no attempts made by the schools to reinforce their classroom entrance ways. If a “bad guy” can’t get to continuous victims during an attack then the effects of an active-killer event can be lessened dramatically or in some cases even averted all together.


5.      Mass Communication Ability:

One of the largest hurdles for educators or law enforcement to jump over during a life-threat emergency is the passing of information from people in the know to those who need to know. The world of technology is making it ever easier to bridge this gap by continuing to make the passing of information easier and more fluid, even in real-time and during life-threat emergencies. In today’s world an administrative office no longer needs to rely on a PA system to pass information on a school wide basis, whether it be to request a student report to the office or specific instructions on a class-by-class basis about what steps to take during an evacuation form a threat, man-made or otherwise, mass communication technology is revolutionizing the way school staff can communicate building wide during an emergency or during a normal school day. The technology on the market today makes it easier than ever to not only communicate to a classroom from an administrative area, but from predetermined law enforcement personnel to selected classrooms too in the event that a school is in a state of crisis. And, not only can communications be had from the administrators and LEO’s to classrooms, but classrooms can now communicate back with authorities during any manner of emergency, both in an audio format and/or visual return. When coupled with backup generator systems, the ability to mass communicate with people inside a structure makes rescue efforts and/or search and rescue efforts all the more doable thanks to two-way communication through today’s mass communication systems. The benefits of an up-to-date mass communication system are far too numerous to list here but certainly create added value for a school regardless of their capability to assist first responders during an emergency. 

*Author’s Note: The right mass communication system can make the everyday needs of school administrators, staff, educators and students much simpler and more efficient, from routinely displaying updates, to changes in the school day, to communicating directly to classrooms without having to blast messages over a loud speaker, these new systems make life easier and safer simultaneously.

Access control/Camera Systems | Immediate Notification | Physical Barriers for Entry | Hardened Classroom Entrance Ways & Exterior First-Floor Glass | Mass-Communication Ability

The information found within this informative post is meant to give you as the reader a little more insight into the value and operational advantages of adding physical protection pieces to your educational environment during your on-going school safety planning. Every physical safety enhancement found above works best when incorporated into a full plan of incorporating all aspects of physical safety found within this document. There are pieces of physical safety that are proven to be more protective in nature than others, and most industry experts would agree that adequate access control, immediate notification technology and the physical protection of classroom entrance ways are the first three pieces a school needs to address in order to be dramatically safer and less liable for damages in the aftermath of a life-threat emergency in your district. These three pieces of physical safety are starting to become industry standards for the construction of new schools (a major win for kids’ safety nationally but tough currently financially for schools) across the nation, although not entirely, which means that in the near future if there is an attack at your school and the administration has not made strides to add these levels of protection to their building's safety they will be acting with negligence (I don’t say this to put administrators in a corner, I say this because you all need to know the reality of where the world is heading with regards to protecting America’s educational environments) and be found liable for the potential loss of life unlike anything we have seen before in the judicial system.

Stay Safe, America! 

Author:  Mason Wooldridge  National School Safety Expert  Co-Founder of Our Kids Deserve It


Mason Wooldridge

National School Safety Expert

Co-Founder of Our Kids Deserve It

Jessica CirulliComment