Is a Single-Door Smart Lock a Good Fit for Your School?

By having a smart lock on one specific door, a cell phone can become a credential within seconds, allowing for quick and secure access.
Published: September 9, 2022

School safety remains top of mind as we continue to grapple with the horrific events that strike our schools and impact our lives on what seems to be a regular occurrence. Continuing and reinforcing the conversation on how to provide schools across the country with top-rated security solutions is paramount to everyone’s safety.

Improving security and safety measures, while maintaining open and non-restrictive learning environments, has always been a significant challenge for school administrations and security professionals. Schools now, more than ever, are looking to the security industry for simple and cost-effective ways to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate security risks altogether.

According to data from the 2017-2018 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are 130,930 public and private K-12 schools in the U.S. that enroll over 55 million students. Because every school has different needs and budgets for appropriate locking solutions, specifically around perimeter doors – which are usually the first points of access – there is no true one-size-fits-all answer.

Unfortunately, comprehensive security systems can have a high price tag, may need countless changes to existing hardware, and usually require time-consuming installations, which leaves many school institutions looking for more affordable options. Making sure a system is compliant with state and local fire and safety protocols is of the utmost importance. There are multiple fire and life safety guidelines specifically designed for schools, such as immediate egress when inside a building and secured doors from the outside.

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Internally Review Your Security Processes

A common issue in schools is a single door being left open for periods of time throughout the day. This seemingly harmless oversight has the potential for vulnerable security conditions, unnecessarily exposing the students, faculty, and staff inside the building. For example, throughout the elementary and high school levels, it may be fairly common to prop open the gymnasium door in a physical education class, allowing students fresh air or easy access to the outdoors when needed.

Today, we know there are many beneficial options that are far safer that only allow safe access into the building but also keep those inside the building secure. Schools across the country are investing in robust, complex security systems to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors. Yet some of these security solutions may be too complicated to understand and use in high-pressure emergencies.

Perimeter access control greatly differs from what schools might have deployed inside on classroom doors. In each case, every perimeter door must be locked during the entirety of the school day, and all exterior doors need to be equipped with the correct latches and closers to ensure the door shuts and locks automatically once the door closes. One solution that some schools have adopted is to have a lockbox in the front of the building, containing a key to a specific door for easy access.

The lockbox is specifically designed for fire and law enforcement agencies to gain immediate access into secure buildings, campuses, and commercial properties. A master key is given to first responders to open the lockbox. However, as with all keys, there is the chance that it can be lost, stolen, or even duplicated.

For those school districts that have limited budgets, there are numerous security approaches, keeping in line with life safety protocols, that can be deployed easily and at a low cost. School administrators need to review what is working for their schools and what is not effective. For example, what may be right for a building’s perimeter doors is not necessarily the correct solution for inside building doors and entryways, as each area has inherently different needs.

Benefits of Single-Door Applications

There is something to be said about having a single point of entrance and the ability to access only one door in a school. For those school districts that don’t have the means for a complex and costly system, a single-door smart lock application, where one exterior door is locked with a smart lock that can be accessible at any time by those who have valid credentials, is an ideal solution.

Smart locks differ from traditional key locks because they are usually managed and operated via a cellphone app or online portal. School administration can choose who has access rights to a specific lock and can easily grant or remove credentials, as people are hired or removed from employment. By having a smart lock on one specific door, a cell phone can become a credential within seconds, granting access at the start of the school year.

Schools need to know that smart locks don’t need to be on every door to be a successful application. Having one smart lock door around the perimeter can be the ideal, low-cost solution for many budget-conscious schools. Some larger schools can have upwards of 20 exterior doors that need locking devices, which can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

The single-door standalone application allows for every exterior door to be locked at all times, minimizing the potential threat of unauthorized individuals being able to enter the building. However, with life safety protocols, it’s crucial that in the event of an emergency, the building can be entered quickly and safely, either by school leadership or first responders. If a school chooses a smart lock solution, they need to ensure the lock is capable of operating with the existing exit device to abide by protocols. This also means that all exterior doors must be inspected periodically to ensure that they are closing and latching properly. Without this, a door may be unsecured regardless of if there is a smart lock on it.

For example, if there were to be an emergency event at a school, the police commander – who was previously granted access – can use an app on their cell phone to unlock the smart lock. Once getting to the school, the commander can be within 30 feet of the appropriate door, press a lock icon in the app, and the door will stay unlocked for 10 seconds. Once the 10 seconds have passed, the door will automatically lock. This allows for not only quick and secure access to the school but also doesn’t require someone to take the time to relock the door behind them.

What’s Best for Your School?

Understanding the needs and budgets of your school is the first step to ensuring student, employee, and visitor safety. What may work for one school might not necessarily work for yours. With a short installation time and being a budget-friendly, secure solution, a single-door smart lock can have benefits for any school application.

Buildings don’t need the most complex, costly, and comprehensive solutions to be considered a safe place. Sometimes standalone solutions allow for better flexibility throughout the building. There is always a solution that is the best fit; you just need to understand what is optimum for your school.

Matt Welty is Vice President, Americas at Codelocks Inc

The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

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