Although the facts remain unclear as to how Adam Lanza, 20, was able to enter Sandy Hook Elementary School and kill 26 children and adults on Friday, news reports indicate he forced his way into the front entrance, possibly by shooting out or somehow breaking glass in the office’s door or window. It has also been reported that the front entrance was equipped with an intercom/camera system designed to screen visitors. Additionally, all of the other entrances/exits to the school were locked by the time Lanza entered the school.
What the official investigation will reveal remains to be seen. That said, considering the attack began at the school’s front door, it would behoove K-5 officials to review the security of their campuses’ entrances.
If anything good can come from Sandy Hook, it’s the knowledge that the security upgrades recently implemented at the school, as well as the heroic actions of teachers and staff that day, probably slowed down Lanza and prevented an even greater loss of life.
Another comforting fact is that access at most K-5 elementary schools is often much easier to control than at middle schools and high schools, as well as university and hospital campuses.
Although no program can be 100% effective against a well-armed and determined attacker, there are some best practices that will help you secure your K-5 school entrances. The object of these strategies is to delay entry of an assailant long enough for police to respond and for school administrators to communicate with teachers and campus staff so they can lockdown their classrooms or evacuate, depending on the situation.
Here are some best practices you should consider:
- Conduct a site assessment to determine your campus’ risk and access control profile.
- Install fences that are difficult to cut or climb, such as welded wire with blunt top projections or tubular steel with top projections. Avoid chain link fences.
- Place doors in locations that can be seen and supervised.
- Install door hardware, handles, locks and thresholds that are institutional grade because of the wear and tear experienced in campus environments.
- Budget permitting, install sensors that alert campus staff when a door is left open.
- At the beginning of the school day when several doors are open so that students can get to class on time, all of the entrances should be monitored by teachers, security staff or administrators.
- When classes begin, the front office should be the only point of entry or exit from the campus. All of the other doors should be closed and locked.
- If possible, have a vestibule with two door entrances: one to the school and the other to the front office. The door that accesses the school should be locked. Visitors should be forced to go to the front office to check in.
- An intercom with a camera can be used by school staff to visually verify a guest’s identity and reason for entering campus before they are allowed access to the office. Budget permitting, ballistic plastic can be installed to provide greater protection to staff. When installed properly, this solution can maintain a welcoming and open appearance.
- Provide office staff with some form of emergency notification technology so they can let others on campus know when there is a threat.
- Provide office staff with a panic alarm they can activate during an emergency.
- Use a visitor management system to verify that guests are authorized to visit the campus. Sign-in guest logs are the least expensive but can be illegible and don’t guarantee privacy. Software solutions can check to determine if a guest is a registered sex offender and can integrate with card access systems.
- Be certain parents and staff inform school officials about individuals who might pose a threat (involving custody disputes, domestic violence, etc.).
- Train teachers, staff, custodians and administrators on the importance of access control and how to monitor access points. Also, train them on emergency preparedness and conduct drills with students. Be sure staff, teachers and administrators are trained in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS).
- Develop relationships with first responders (police, fire and EMS) and conduct drills or exercises so campus staff can practice emergency preparedness skills. First responders should also have easy and immediate access to building plans and layouts so they can quickly shut off power, HVAC, etc., during an incident.
- Use radio frequency access control devices to allow rapid entry onto campus grounds by emergency responders.
Campus Safety would like to thank security consultants Randy Atlas (www.cpted-security.com), Jim Grayson (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Stephan Hoban (email@example.com) for their contributions to this article.