The Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in April 1999 marked the beginning of increasing violence in U.S. schools by active shooters. More recently, the concept of active shooters armed with military-grade weapons has become part of our national history and is changing how schools are designed. Lessons learned from the building design and construction of military and embassy projects are being incorporated into the planning of K-12 schools and religious institutions.
Making Security Blend In
One of the key aspects to increasing security in school buildings is to create a secure environment that does not look like a prison or military installation. The goal is to shield students from harm while providing a positive educational experience for them. The planning of a more secure school building must not only weigh the threat of an active shooter but consider other day-to-day security risks that students and staff face. This may include bullying, vandalism or custodial battles that play out in the school building.
Exterior Elements that Secure School Building
The security personnel of any school should have a clear line of sight around the perimeter of the school so no one can approach the building undetected. Many school districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on camera and electronic security monitoring systems that use sensors to monitor activity throughout the school. The outdoor spaces ideally are simple with minimal landscaping or other elements that may hinder finding an assailant.
School Entrance Safety
Most schools built within the last 30 years have designed the entrance to control entry of all who enter the building. This is typically done at the administrative office so individuals can be buzzed into the building. Other building entrances are typically locked as well unless there is an emergency. Schools have incorporated more tools over the years including automatic lockdowns and police notification at the push of a button. Smart doors have been added to allow teachers to lock classroom doors remotely.
Partitioning has been incorporated into the secure building design. A popular approach is to create a single entrance with a vestibule that can be used as a staging area for visitors. Another trend is the incorporation of more windows in the exterior walls (in some cases entire walls) to maximize the visibility of school surroundings.
Other floor plan design elements that are used to enhance security include:
- Designing areas with minimum corners, nooks and crannies to reduce the ability of an active shooter to avoid detection by police.
- Creating common areas and hallways that have clear lines of sight for security personnel.
- Consultation with law enforcement when designing security measures and making available floorplans and system schematics to them after the building is complete.
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