Striking a Balance

Striking a Balance

Lockdowns 101: Learning the best practices for training protocols and access control

Striking a delicate balance between security and functionality has always been a challenging objective for school administrators, who have to consider several factors in an attempt to make this possible. The ease by which students venture across a campus throughout a school day coupled with the concern for safety and well-being can make this a daunting task.

And this is especially true in the event of an incident: school security staff must identify the best possible way to comprehensively secure the facility in a moment’s notice. A combination of policies and procedures that help guide educational institutions can be essential in achieving this goal, but in many instances, these aren’t enough.

A National Center for Education Statistics study in 2015-2016 asked schools whether they had drilled students during the current school year on the use of selected emergency procedures. About 95 percent of schools had drilled students on a lockdown procedure, 92 percent on evacuation procedures and 76 percent on shelter-in-place procedures.

Despite the fact that this study was conducted three years ago, the number of students experiencing these drills was quite high. What’s missing is more information on how these occur, best practicing their effects on response and preparedness of actual incidents.

Not Only for Active Shooters

What’s the old saying from Benjamin Franklin again? “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail?” It is commonly quoted for a reason. When I was in school, I remember having regular fire drills, where each month (or even every couple of weeks), we would hear the fire alarm start to ring and we would quickly line up with our teacher and were led to a designated area.

There, we would wait until an announcement came over the crackly PA system that it was safe to enter the building. The thing about these drills was: we were ready. We felt prepared. And we knew what to expect and where to go.

When a school begins to implement lockdown or shelter-in-place drills, it is essential that they are practiced not only with an active shooter mindset, but also with the idea that students need to prepare for bad weather, threats in the area (such as a suspicious person or person of interest wandering within a certain distance of a school) or any other myriad of reasons. Drills of all types are essential to the success of an emergency response and lockdown procedure.

Lockdown Chain of Command

Similar to ensuring that different drills are performed regularly so that students and staff know what to do, it is also important that faculty and staff members know who is authorized to implement this procedure. For example, if a teacher and the students are outside on a playground and see a suspicious looking person hanging around, they have to know who to reach out to in order to have that person questioned. This can be clarified through teacher in-service training days and communicated throughout the school year in an effort to ensure all parties are aware where things stand.

Another crucial aspect of the situation is being able to gather kids and staff members to get them away from the playground as quickly as possible. This practice of what’s called a “reverse evacuation” ensures that all parties involved understand how they should behave in any given situation. This can be critical in the event of an external threat, harping on the fact that students and staff must be able to return to a building for their safety in an organized fashion.

Technology cannot teach this; training protocols can. Even though the human element is critical for these procedures, technology is essential and must be the central component of a lockdown effort.

The Benefit of Access Control Technology

Years ago, securing an educational facility meant locking and unlocking doors during school hours by hand. In my school, facility management or janitors would go from door to door taking large chains and padlocks off some of the interior doors that wielded crash bars. Teachers would be able to unlock the school and their own classroom doors, but had to carry around a large key ring wherever they went that also included real keys to computer labs, libraries, the gym and exterior doors.

Not only was this methodology costly to maintain, but it was also dangerous. “Open” campuses that allowed free flow for students and staff could fall victim to those who were unauthorized to be on school grounds, posing a very serious threat.

Now, access control management systems can allow operators to not only set rules by which doors are locked or unlocked at any given time, but also provide levels of access based on different roles. For example, a teacher can use their access card or even a mobile device today to open learning labs, libraries or teacher’s lounges — wherever they are authorized to be.

Additionally, in the event that a member of the staff is released from their duties and demonstrating signs of disgruntlement, the centralized management of access can potentially protect a campus. Instead of going through the process of confiscating keys from a staff member or having to rekey an entire campus, the act of simply removing them from the system automatically means they are no longer able to access common areas of a school unless they go through the main entrance that typically engages in visitor management protocols.

Having to rekey a building or campus can be an expensive proposition which all goes away using an electronic access control system. You can rekey a building or campus essentially at the push of a button.

The other benefit as it relates to lockdowns is the ability to control internal and external doors in the event of an emergency using a centralized platform, access card or mobile device. In many instances during an incident, decision-makers are often met with extreme stress, so the ability to quickly and efficiently engage in a lockdown can be paramount to saving the lives of students, staff and teachers.

The speed of response as a result of these tools is what schools demand in today’s threat landscape. When we include video with access control, you have an even more powerful solution to manager your security and lockdown needs.

Access Control Implementation

Since 1999, the proportion of schools actively controlling the entrances to their buildings has risen from 75 percent to more than 90percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the same time period, the percentage of buildings on educational campuses that saw controlled access during school hours increased by 19.5 percent. Typically, schools recognize the need to implement access control solutions, but many decision-makers lack the information needed to evaluate these tools against each other to make the best decision for the facility.

When evaluating these solutions, leaders should look for the following features:

  • Ability to apply levels of access based on specific roles.
  • Ease of executing lockdowns in the event of an emergency.
  • Scheduling features that allow hours to be set for ease of access.
  • Centralized control and alarm notifications.
  • Alerts for propped doors, forced entry or unauthorized entry.
  • Ability to incorporate video surveillance cameras with specific events for forensic and investigative purposes.
  • Ability to scale as the campus grows or more card holders are identified.
  • Centralized muster reporting for emergency situations when using in and out card readers.

Policies and procedures that aim to facilitate streamlined lockdowns are essential in today’s campus environments, and it’s critical to implement the tools that can make them as effective as possible.

Though educational facilities are now experiencing more threats to the safety of students and staff than ever before, school security officials can take a proactive approach to security through a comprehensive and robust lockdown procedure that incorporates advanced technology    for the ability to quickly secure every individual on the premises.

This article originally appeared in the May June 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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