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Developing an Integrated K-12 School Security Strategy and Standards

During the first quarter of each school year, schools nationwide have already planned and conducted multiple emergency drills for and with students. In fact, if you are a parent then perhaps you've noticed that starting last week and during this week in particular there were multiple drills conducted at your child's school. Well, that's because between October 21st through 27th it's National Safe Schools Week.

Mark Williams, Sr. Architectural Consultant with Allegion, makes an important point in his article at "[For] National Safe Schools Week (October 21-27), it is appropriate for a conversation to begin regarding establishing standards for K12 school security. Currently no standards exist for assisting schools navigate the complexity of understanding what they need, how much it will cost and how they will secure their learning environments."

As professional security integrators in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia we have worked with many schools on designing, installing, and integrating security and PA systems, and we agree with Williams when he points out that having security equipment and administrators making up and executing a plan simply isn't enough. Schools must have a team of experts working with administration to both effectively develop and execute plans as well as for establishing standards for security. And, a key member of this team for each school should be a professional security technology integrator.

The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is one organization fully committed to establishing safety and security standards for schools. PASS recommends that all schools should have a basic security team with the following key team members from both inside and outside the school:

  • Security Director

  • Local Law Enforcement

  • School Administrator

  • Integrator

  • Door and Hardware Consultant

  • IT Director


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Access control is a huge concern for all schools and parents, and perhaps no one but a parent looking at many schools for their child(ren) knows how wide the spectrum on deployed school access control can be: from open-door policies to zero parental access except for birthday lunches, schools run the gamut. Access control today is a technological concern that requires expert integration with the entire system, and school administrators are simply not knowledgeable enough to develop a plan with effective utilization of security technology by themselves.

Williams makes clear that "the ongoing challenge is integrating access control, video, mass notification, and/or visitor management products into a single, effective, and appropriate system the owner can understand, utilize, and afford and that meet local codes and ADA laws. In the absence of standards, schools are likely to amass a collection of devices that do not constitute a comprehensive solution."


All too often, schools have a plethora of protection and security equipment thrown at them not knowing what they actually need, what is a must-have vs. a nice-to-have, or what they are missing out on precisely because understanding security technology with the breadth and depth of a professional integrator is not their subject matter expertise. A school administrator's expertise lies in education, not security technology.

What schools in the United States suffer from is not a lack of technology or unavailable technology but rather a lack of comprehensive understanding of what they need and how to most efficiently and effectively utilize it after the integrator has left the building. This is why the integrator must remain on the team after the integration has been completed. If your integrator is not willing to be a long-term member of your school security team after the install job is done, it's time to seek out one who will.

Having the integrator on your school security team is going beyond the acquisition stage and moving firmly into the oft-neglected or simply lacking procedural stage with the integrator as a team member.

"It’s not just having the right protection equipment in the building, it’s also having a procedural layer in place to make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities in the event of fire. The stress of the actual event can limit ones’ ability to think clearly. Practice makes perfect. Why would we approach school security any differently?" states Williams.


Developing a comprehensive security plan is going to require quantifying and mitigating risk by school administrators in collaboration with security professionals. This means conducting a trend analysis with data from the following sources:

  • Campus Records: Review all incident report trends for at least the past 36 months.

  • Local Statistics: Review crime data from local law enforcement for the surrounding neighborhood, city, and possibly county-wide.

  • School Recruitment Policies: How is hiring conducted and by what legitimate standards, procedures, and requirements? Are background checks performed? What has fallen through the cracks due to time-constraints or desperation to get a body in a position without full vetting?

  • Anonymous Tip Reporting: Developing a system which will enable students, staff members, parents and the community to anonymously alert administrators to perceived and actual threats.

  • Social Media: Often, people reveal their plans, attitudes, and frustrations through the perceived safety of sharing on social-media accounts. By monitoring social media, important information can be secured which can be used to identify potential risks.


As part of a school's comprehensive security plan, the major layers between the student body/administration and the outside world must be considered and how security is connected, integrated, and planned for and between each layer. PASS developed a model of 5 major layers, with the idea behind it being as one layer is penetrated or compromised, from the outside, the other layers serve to deter, detect, and delay a threat from getting closer to the center where the students, administrators, and guests are being buffered.

If a school emergency drill or plan is limited to what students and administrators do when the alarm sounds and the doors are locked, major first, second, and third layers of defense are being ignored. The fundamental layers of school security and protection, from the outside in, are:

1. District Wide Area

2. Property Perimeter

3. Parking Lot Perimeter

4. Building Perimeter

5. Classroom Perimeter


Security experts will never take a one-size-fits-all approach to school security. Each school is unique and has its own demographic considerations. PASS has done great work when it comes to working on guidelines for school security and safety standards, and their proposed Tier breakdown of each layer is something all schools should at least consider when creating their emergency plans.

With the PASS tier system, each of the 5 layers of defense outlined above is further broken down into tiers of security levels. As the tier increases for that layer, so does the security. By analyzing each layer and the tiers within each layer, a school and its security team comprised of professionals can truly enhance both situational awareness and positive outcomes during an emergency. With this tier system, there are seven (7) common components within the tiers for each applicable defensive/protective layer, as follows:

1. The policies and procedures for each layer individually

2. The people who are active and responsible for each layer individually, their roles and their training

3. Architectural considerations of each layer

4. How communication will be handled for each layer

5. The type and purpose/procedures of access control for each layer

6. Video surveillance covering each layer

7. Detection systems and linked alarms at each layer

For example, school administration learns of an active shooter at a shopping mall 2 miles away from the school, and that the shooter is on the move. Immediately, the layers are activated, beginning from the outside going in. The people assigned to the security of each layer are activated, beginning with the individual or individuals who will be communicating at the school district wide layer with the school, and moving next to the property perimeter layer of security. All seven components of the property perimeter layer are now activated, which may include, for instance, actively surveying the perimeter with live surveillance footage from the perimeter security cameras by the designated administrative individual who has been prior assigned this task as part of the plan, taking architectural blind spots into consideration, communicating with other members of the team on any issues, and once the layer is secured and activated the next layer of parking lot perimeter is activated, and so on going all the way to the classroom as the core of the layers of protection. Having your security layers systematized in advance with the help of security professionals decreases panic, chaos, and room for error. This means that drills must go beyond what the children have to do in case of an emergency.

The reality is, a lot of schools are not meeting safety standards even for conducting drills, and it's a nationwide issue, largely because the school is taking on the entire planning process themselves instead of building a team of experts including those who are outside of the school, such as security integrators. This is just one of many news reports:


When school administration decides that enlisting outside professionals to be part of the team that collaborates with them on crafting their emergency policies and procedures both during the integration of security technology and after is going to enhance their effectiveness not threaten it, school safety will increase. The following is where a school can start:


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