Although schools have always had emergency plans in place, the changing nature of the threats posed to schools in recent years is a stark and sad reality that makes the need for heightened school security crystal clear. What’s not so clear to many decision makers in education, though, is exactly how to go about doing that. And with good reason.

K-12 campuses are typically complex environments. They house faculty, staff, students of varying grade levels, and visitors. While security teams must find a way to strengthen schools against emerging and evolving threats, they also need to remain open and non-hostile environments that foster learning and development. To that end, many school districts are seeking out a more holistic approach, with greater coordination between people and departments. Thankfully, advances in technology as well as a better understanding of how to best leverage them are serving as force multipliers in helping schools deliver more effective and efficient security solutions in K-12 settings.

Schools – The Same but Different

While not every district or school can, or even should, work within the same security template, there are shared strategies that K-12 security professionals can look to in order to reduce risk. The core principles that should apply to these strategies are:

  • Prevention
  • Mitigation
  • Preparedness response
  • Recovery

Consequently, planning measures should include a layered approach to the access control solutions implemented, in addition to upgrading and integrating more modern and sophisticated solutions. Often times, district-wide standards can be adopted to better meet the security challenges that schools face, and it’s clear that leveraging updated infrastructure that includes open architecture and systems integration is a solid way to go in securing the various locations across campuses.

An integrated security system should encompass the entirety of the physical campus and all the separate designations within it, such as parking lots, the building exterior, entryways, classrooms and all the other interior spaces. Together with their professional systems integration partners, each district should assess its specific risks as well as what their budgets will allow to find the optimum solutions tailored uniquely to them.

Since schools are experts in educating, they need to have a systems integrator partner who is an expert in security. The onus is on integrators to define the processes, protocols and procedures that will best support the particular K-12 environment.

The security guidance needs to be comprehensive, have breadth and depth, and communicate effectively to foster understanding with district decision makers on why the solutions specified should be adopted.

For many districts, defined policies encompass emergency response plans and threat assessment plans, as well as physical access control. Strong policies centered on preparedness and prevention will ensure that people know what to do in an emergency.

Modern Technologies Earn High Marks in Schools

Thankfully, modern technology solutions enable a high level of security to be implemented for everything from visitor management to interior access controls and modernized controller platforms, while still facilitating the openness and accessibility critically needed in a K-12 setting.

Visitor Management

To ensure that a potential security risk is thwarted before a perpetrator enters the building, visitor management solutions should be put in place literally at the front door. A visitor management system stationed in a separate vestibule before entering the school itself empowers schools to monitor everyone who enters their buildings, requiring that all visitors check in with the front office, verify their identity, wear a visitor badge or have a pre-authorized QR code, and check out at the front office when they leave. A visitor management system can also keep a watch list and flag entry to anyone who is on that list.

Interior Access Controls

Most schools opt not to have students show their ID cards at the door, but card readers and electronic door locks at exterior entrances are important control mechanisms for teachers, administrators and staff. Credential-based identity helps regulate after-hours access and can ease the security burden during the day as authorized personnel enter and exit campus buildings. Interior electronic access controls are also critically important for some schools, with many opting to put access control readers on every classroom door. In the event of a lockdown, shelter in place or evacuation order (each of which dictates a different response), specialized software drives the behavior of those devices. Some schools are also moving toward mobile credentialing for added convenience for faculty, vendors and visitors, while easing the management burden for security staff. Credentials can be provisioned or revoked instantly over the air, removing the need for a face-to-face visit with the school office.

Platforms to Build On

Controller platforms offer a technology baseline on which to build a strong overall K-12 access control infrastructure. A reliable and scalable open platform helps to establish a chain of trust, with encryption and other key controls reaching from the host all the way to the end device.

Stronger and Safer Moving Forward

Hard lessons learned from incidents that have occurred when there were inadequate security measures in place on campus have taught us all that when it comes to safeguarding our nation’s children, no security solution is too cool for school. Districts across the country are seeking more proactive management of their security infrastructure. They are implementing clear policies and procedures supported by trusted physical access control solutions to enhance student and staff safety.

Technology is allowing them to better manage visitor access and secure interior spaces in the event of an emergency. A firm foundation and a layered infrastructure that addresses multiple perimeters are allowing K-12 campuses to heighten their security while remaining responsive to community needs. Engaging stakeholders in the process and educating them on the how’s and the why’s of modernization will help ensure that teachers, staff, students and parents understand exactly what security measures are being taken and how they align with industry best practices.