Security Update recently asked an integrator, equipment manufacturer and a security consultant to share what they saw as the most pressing challenges facing K-12 campus administrators and what tools existed to help remedy those concerns.)

Three leading security professionals agree that controlling the entries on a K-12 campus should be a top concern for any school administrator. Left open, doors can provide entry to a host of potential troublemakers, ranging from active shooters to thieves, sex offenders and non-custodial parents.

Dario Santana, president of San Diego-based security integrator Layer 3 Security Services, said his security discussions with educators usually begin with the question “How do I control who enters my school and keep out individuals who pose a threat to students, teachers and staff?” Concerns then move to protecting the campus’ physical assets from theft and vandalism.

He said there is no one technology to answer all K-12 security concerns, but there are three main layers of electronic solutions – access control, intrusion detection and video surveillance – that have proven to be effective.

“Access control can be as simple as a single door station with two-way audio (video intercom) and as complex as multiple authentication devices such as a keypad/reader combination deployed on multiple doors with software that allows administrators to manage all aspects of the system,” Santana said.

John Mosebar, vice president of marketing for video and audio intercom manufacturer Aiphone Corp. in Bellevue, Wash. whose company makes video and audio intercoms, agreed protecting the entries is key.

“It’s important that all exterior doors remain locked throughout the day,” he said. “Yet there has to be an efficient way to let approved visitors, volunteers and vendors enter. That’s where a video intercom helps by allowing visual and voice communication between the visitor and office staff before a decision is made to remotely unlock the door. We consider the video intercom to be a school’s doorbell and not just at the front door, but all entries.”

Santana said visitor management systems provide an added layer of access control before visitors gain access to classroom areas. These systems compare a visitor’s government-issued ID against criminal databases and sex offender registries before printing a temporary photo ID badge for approved visitors.

The intrusion layer includes sensors that are effective in detecting and deterring break-ins. However with false alarms being a major problem for schools and first responders, Santana said he likes to add the third layer — video surveillance — to provide alarm verification.

“The intrusion system provides the real-time alarm while the video surveillance system captures the evidence to conduct an effective investigation,” he said.

Should someone penetrate the security layers or even during a natural disaster, Santana said mass notification systems — ranging from audio intercoms to computer-based system often linked to fire alarms — can provide voice instructions, digital displays or even text and email alerts with potentially life-saving instructions.

Patrick V. Fiel, a nationally recognized K-12 security consultant and founder of PVF Security Consulting based in Wilmington, N.C., provided a warning to schools looking to begin or upgrade a campus security system.

“Before doing anything, get a comprehensive risk assessment from a qualified school security expert,” he said. “An assessment will include reviews of the surrounding neighborhood and traffic patterns, landscaping, the parking lot, lighting, playgrounds and/or athletic fields, communications systems and outbuildings. It also will give special emphasis to potential entry points into the school – the doors, windows and even the roof top.”

In addition to pinpointing a campus’ security strengths and weaknesses, an assessment will help a school or district spend its money more effectively and efficiently, Fiel said. In many cases, security improvements may be as easy and inexpensive as cutting back overgrown landscaping, adding lighting or posting signs to move visitors in the proper direction. Policies and procedures can require that doors not be left propped open and instruct faculty and staff to challenge unknown adults on campus.

The three experts all agreed that there are effective means available to improve K-12 campus security.

“Hardening campus entries first is considered the best practice,” said Mosebar. “It’s a concept that can work on virtually any campus. Then, as funds are available, it’s wise to add additional layers to provide security coverage for the entire campus.”