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Architects Take a Comprehensive Approach to School Safety


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Bulletproof School EntrywaySchools looking at new construction projects are increasingly expecting architects to come to the project with a comprehensive approach to security. This takes different forms in different school settings. For example, while elementary schools are guarding against intruders, high school security officers are more preoccupied with their own students being a possible source of violence. Universities, with their sprawling, open campuses, are among the most vulnerable education settings. Architects are not only faced with the challenge of designing school buildings and settings that serve the programmatic requirements of the institution, but also need to consider security concerns, and how the building’s design can support a comprehensive security strategy.

A Good Security Plan Covers More than Just Bullets

News coverage of active shooter events tends to result in communities and administrators fixated on bullets and shooters. But Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards isn’t eager to rush into erecting ballistic barriers. “By the time you have someone in the building, the tragedy has already happened. You’ve missed many opportunities to prevent it. But a lot of what’s going on, and a lot of the thought processes, policies, and strategies that have come into place, really fixate on how you contain an active shooter until the authorities can get there.”

Jim wants his clients to think beyond bullets. School security is not limited to stopping a gunman. Security means there is a plan in place and protection available for any number of scenarios, including fire, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, lock down triggered by a nearby robbery, or even an angry spouse or estranged violating a court order. According to Jim comprehensive ballistic security “is part of a bigger package of policies and procedures, and how schools handle emergencies. Provided that a school is properly staffed and trained, then all they really need is a way to control access and be sure that all visitors in a given building an be channeled through controlled entryways.”

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Comprehensive Security Goes Beyond Bulletproof Glass

Rather than fortifying buildings with bulletproof products, Jim and his staff recommend a comprehensive approach that integrates good security products, a great security plan, and well-trained staff. Jim suggests limiting physical keys and key codes–so that no one has more access than their job demands–and using materials like bullet resistant fiberglass panels, bullet-resistant acrylic door glazing, and block wall construction that people will not perceive as bulletproof and therefore not find foreboding.

Components of a comprehensive security plan can include:

  • controlled building access: limit building access to a single point of entry; consider electric strike plate locks and an access control system
  • remote communication between staff: intercoms, walkie-talkies, computers, land-line phones, or cell phones
  • a security plan: outlines what needs to be done for different types of emergencies and delineate staff responsibilities in the case of a lock down, shelter-in-place, or evacuation
  • staff training: both initial orientation and annual reviews and refreshers

Plans will vary depending on each school’s particular security needs and the challenges each school faces based on building design and setting. The work of developing a comprehensive security plan begins with the building’s design.

In the following video webinar, President and CEO Jim Richards discusses school security fundamentals:

Architects Strive to Prevent Crime through Design

In the redesign of Sandy Hook Elementary, architects have used the landscape, grading, and overall building shape as a means of protection before anyone steps foot inside. Within the building, architects further protect students by placing classrooms toward the back of the building and in wings which can be individually and remotely locked down. These security features are nearly invisible: Students and staff enjoy an unobstructed view of the natural setting and the semi-private school courtyards–providing ample light without risk of intrusion–without ever having to think about the functional security goals of the school’s comprehensive defensive design.

Total Security Solutions isn’t just a glazier installing someone else’s pre-fabricated units, or a fabricator cranking out cookie-cutter doors, frames, and transaction windows. Every Total Security Solutions barrier is a complete, custom solution designed to meet end-users’ goals and mesh with their comprehensive security plan. The Architect’s Resource Kit available from our online resource center will quickly bring you up to speed on bullet resistant materials and design fundamentals. Our security design specialists can help you sort out the details on how a comprehensive security plan fits with your next school project.

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