Improving School Security with Modern Technology


Students do more than learn when they’re at school. They make friends. They socialize. They develop, they change, and they grow. The many hours that students spend in school are some of the most formative of their lives, and it is important to provide them with a safe environment to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. The reality is that there are those in the world who would do us harm, and far, far too often they select soft targets—our schools—as their target. This creates a unique and difficult challenge: how can we protect our kids and their schools without turning them into spaces that feel more like prisons than education centers? Is it possible to turn a school into a fortress, keeping out the bad things, without sacrificing the environment that makes it feel like a school?

The answer is yes. Modern technological advancements have laid the groundwork for security innovations that are both highly effective and relatively unobtrusive. By studying and understanding areas of interest, implementing better perimeter controls, limiting points of entry, and utilizing high-quality camera systems, schools can assert more control over who may enter and exit the building and verify the identities of those who do so.

Limiting Access via Controlled Entry

One of the most critical issues that schools must address is ease of entry. It is simply too easy for unauthorized individuals to enter a school. Back and side entrances are often unsecured. Students and teachers stepping outside for “just a minute” frequently prop open doors. Even a locked door might be opened from the inside to allow a friend to enter without scrutiny from the main entrance. Both students and staff are often guilty of holding open a door!

Obviously, this is a problem. Multiple entryways create multiple paths for a potential intruder to gain entrance to the building, and, unfortunately, this is a vulnerability that many have exploited. By gaining entrance through a side door, intruders avoid the scrutiny that comes with passing through the main entryway—doors adjacent to the main administrative office in most schools—and instead gain immediate access to the interior of the building.

In order to prevent this type of unauthorized intrusion, it is critical for schools to restrict access to a single point of entry—an idea that will require some amount of buy-in from both students and faculty. No more allowing side doors to be propped open. No more back door entry for late arrivals. Establishing a single point of entry is perhaps the most important step toward improving school security. Requiring all would-be entrants to use a single entrance not only allows you to effectively control who enters and exits the building, it also creates an area of interest upon which to focus additional security measures—a major improvement over the distributed security necessary to secure multiple entry points. Staff must be firm when they vet visitors requesting entry: “Who are you? Who do you wish to see? What is your business here today and does the person you wish to visit know you are coming?”

Once you have consolidated to a single point of entry, securing that entryway is essential. If you’ve ever watched a police or prison drama (or seen Braveheart), you may have heard the term “sally port.” This refers to a secure entrance with two sets of doors that can be locked independently, and is a common feature in both medieval fortresses and modern police stations and prisons—which is to say, it’s an idea with quite a bit of staying power. By using a sally port, schools can require visitors to enter through the administration office, providing an added measure of access control and preventing entrances from being left unsecured.

Door stations are a typical addition to a modern sally port, and generally feature tamper-proof audio/visual intercoms to allow communication with someone on the inside—in this case, likely an administrative staff member. In order to gain entry, the person on the inside must release an electric strike to unlock the door and allow them to enter. Once inside the office, all visitors must now be prepared to justify their presence in the school—and to be captured on video doing so. By deploying high-quality cameras throughout the entry point, schools can now better identify intruders, track unusual behavior, and establish documentation of exactly who has walked through the door.

Areas of Interest and Appropriate Security Measures

Ultimately, this is what ties everything together. An Area of Interest (AoI) methodology considers the type of school you have, potential incident areas, the security risks associated with each, and the security objectives associated with each. Identifying areas prone to bullying, drug activity, or other hazards shouldn’t be difficult—and by limiting access to a single point of entry, you’ve already established the most important area of interest.

Here, it’s important to understand your objectives. Not everything is a worst-case scenario, and there are a wide range of potential hazards that a school might face. Trespassing, loitering, bullying, assault, parental custody concerns, break-ins, kidnapping, car accidents, and even sexual predators are all valid concerns in the immediate vicinity of a school. Surveillance may be able to help deter some of these things from happening. It may also be able to help identify both victims and perpetrators. Depending on the specific solution you choose, it may even be able to do more.

Today’s surveillance capabilities go far beyond what was possible even just a few years ago. We are no longer forced to rely on human recognition—many of today’s cameras come equipped with embedded video analytics, offering real-time incident detection that can help identify and even prevent potential threats. Smart motion detection, loitering algorithms, glass break detection, and even aggressive behavior detection are just a few of the things that are possible today, and each can be programmed to immediately alert law enforcement or other authorities when necessary. Some solutions that involve video analytics, intrusion systems and glass break may also include pre-recorded statements via a speaker system for after-hours announcements to deter potential criminal activity both inside and outside the building. Deciding what capabilities are necessary and where they should be deployed can put the finishing touches on a comprehensive security solution.

Simple Solutions. Modern Methodologies.

Though the technology behind door stations, audio/video analytics, and tamper-proof intercoms may feel high-tech, the ideas supported by these modern innovations are, at their core, very simple. By implementing common-sense measures like restricting access to the building through a single, closely monitored entryway, we can put schools in the best possible position to protect the students within.

Bruce Canal is Business Development Manager, Education, Axis Communications, Inc.

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