Security tips for school administrators

Oct 10, 2006 3:45 PM

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President Bush today called experts together after three deadly shootings at schools in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania (see
In panel discussions led by members of Bush's Cabinet, speakers said the best response is basic: get parents, school leaders, students and police to work together.

"Our first line of prevention is really having good intelligence," said Delbert Elliott, director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence in Boulder, Colo. He said schools should encourage kids to speak up when they hear classmates boasting of violent plans. The Bush Administration, compelled to respond to the violence of the last two weeks, said a public sharing of ideas would help because the nation is suddenly focused on school safety.

With school security top-of-mind, here is a checklist to help school administrators determine potential weaknesses in campus security, from Patrick V. Fiel Sr., a public safety adviser specializing in education for ADT Security Services Inc.:

* Does the current security plan protect every access point? A combination of intrusion detection, access control and video surveillance provides the strongest protection for access points. Intrusion detectors can warn of attempted break-ins. It may be appropriate to use electronic access-control systems (cards and readers) on entries dedicated to administration, faculty and staff. Video cameras also can be mounted at critical access points to provide both a real-time and documented record of who entered a building and when.

* Does the school have a visitor-management program to help prevent unauthorized persons from gaining access? A strong visitor-management policy can help keep unwanted persons off a school campus. All visitors should be required to check in at the school office. At elementary schools, which usually are less open than high schools, the office door can remain locked with an intercom and video camera mounted outside. This will allow school officials an opportunity to check a visitor's identity before granting or denying entry. High schools should include a visitor badging system. After signing in at the office, all visitors should receive a temporary credential to wear while on campus. If all teachers, staff, administrators and visitors wear identification badges, any adult without one will stand out and be open to challenge.

* Does the security plan take into account community (non-school-related programs) activities on campus? Extracurricular activities, such as community forums, Boy Scout meetings and church services, take place in late afternoons, at night or during weekends when few, if any, school officials are likely to be on campus. It is easy to forget that school security is not an eight-hour-a-day job, but one that requires attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Available technology -- intrusion control, access control and video surveillance -- can play a major role in helping protect a campus when school employees are gone.

* Does the security plan take into account fringe time periods when students and staff are arriving and leaving? The hectic activity that surrounds the start and end of each school day (and passing periods), gives students a chance for mischief and for unwanted people to sneak into the school. These are times no staff should be in the classrooms or office. Put teachers and administrators in the hallways, at the entries and on the playgrounds where they can monitor events.

* Are computers, athletic equipment and student records secured properly against theft? Technology can help protect equipment and records. Computer and science labs may benefit from an access-card reader mounted outside the door, allowing entrance only to appropriate teachers and administrators. Electronic article-surveillance tags can be attached to portable items. That way, for example, an alarm would sound if there were an attempt to remove a laptop computer from the room. Student records are best kept in a core office space without windows and only one entry.
* Is there a video-surveillance system monitoring, recording and storing video of vulnerable areas? Realistically, few schools have the ability to monitor cameras continuously. But there should be a policy that provides for a regular check of live and recorded video. Also, recorded video should be kept for at least 30 days.

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