11 Components of a Secure School Front Entrance

Fences, access control, visitor management, panic alarms and video intercoms are just a few of the solutions that can help prevent unwanted guests from accessing your campus.

Protecting our schools is incredibly complex and tragically imperfect. As school leaders look to enhance access control, it is important they understand the primary purposes of a secured main entrance. In the simplest of terms, the purposes are prevention and mitigation. A secure entrance can prevent unauthorized entry by presenting a more positive security image. When prevention fails, the entrance should mitigate an intruder’s ability to enter the school. This should create a delay that provides staff time to call 9-1-1 and implement intruder response plans.

When considering the overarching security plan for any campus, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a great place to start. CPTED has been around since the 1970s, and while the term was coined by criminologist C. Ray Jeffery, the principles in practice today are a combination of multidisciplinary efforts. Some key components of CPTED that relate to more secure entrances include:

  • Natural Surveillance: People are less likely to commit crimes if they feel they are being observed. Natural surveillance involves the designing of features to maximize the visibility of areas that should be observed.
  • Access Control: Limiting and regulating entrances reduces opportunities for crime and allows for more efficient screening of persons entering a facility.
  • Territoriality: The clear delineation of space creates a sense of ownership for legitimate users (staff and students) and creates an environment where intruders are more likely to standout.

CPTED is much broader than these three basic concepts, but they do serve as a strong basis for creating more secure entrances.

Below are 11 components of more secure school entrances. These items will not guarantee the prevention of forced entry, and a secured main entrance does not a safe school make. Just as there are other elements of CPTED and physical security, there are other considerations beyond active shooters that schools must consider when developing security plans and all-hazards emergency plans. It is also important to note that these recommendations do not include the assignment of personnel, such as law enforcement or security. 

A full site security assessment or safety audit is the most effective way to identify security related strengths and weaknesses of your campus. This assessment should serve as the basis for short- and long-term enhancements. School districts and/or large campuses should implement a standardized assessment process for all facilities in order to prioritize recommendations based on vulnerabilities. 

Also consider the unintended consequences and coordinate all security and emergency planning efforts with local public safety agencies. For example, implementing a new access control system might keep intruders out, but it can also make it difficult for law enforcement to gain rapid entry. The benefits of better access control easily outweigh the highly manageable risk of delaying law enforcement, but a degree of planning is required.

1) Perimeter fencing to deter trespass and limit access to non-primary entrances

CPTED Elements: Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control and Territoriality

Fencing should encourage entry via highly visible and well-monitored areas, preferably those that are under video surveillance. While fencing does not prevent unauthorized access, it does make persons approaching the facility from undesired areas more obvious.

The secret service will, at times, use theatre-style ropes to block off an area. Obviously, a would-be attacker could easily cross the rope line. However, this act would draw the attention of agents. People should have to make some effort and announce their presence if they breach your perimeter. 

2) Single point of entry

CPTED Elements: Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control and Territoriality

Effective access control requires that entry to and from a facility be regulated. A single point of entry allows for such monitoring. Efforts to mitigate forced entry via the primary entrance are marginalized if secondary points of entry are unsecure or easily defeated.

Some buildings require multiple points of entry. That is understandable; just realize that all points of entry must be regulated. For a point of entry to be regulated, no unauthorized person should pass through without drawing the attention of those responsible for the safety of the building. 

If you cannot regulate all entrances, measures must be taken to regulate access at the campus level (extending the security perimeter) while ensuring each classroom operates with locked doors. Sites that cannot regulate access must be given priority when considering assignment of law enforcement or security personnel.

3) Staff monitoring of arrival and dismissal times

CPTED Elements: Natural Surveillance and Territoriality

Arrival and dismissal times require a lower security posture due to the volume of student and staff movement. Properly trained and equipped staff must be assigned to monitor activities during these periods. This requires training on intruder response, reverse evacuation and how to assist in the arrival of public safety vehicles. Staff should be equipped with a radio to communicate with building/office staff and a phone for calling 9-1-1.

4) Strong visitor management program

CPTED Elements: Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control and Territoriality

Regulating access to a school requires sound visitor management procedures. At a minimum, visitors should not be able to enter the school without registering at the main office. This should require proof of identification; the issuance of a visitor badge and visitors should be escorted. 

Visitor management programs should include prominent signage on all building entrances, visitor parking areas and even parking lot entrances. Let visitors know your expectations.

5) Use of a vestibule/double entry system

CPTED Elements: Natural Access Control and Territoriality

An intercom/video call box is located outside the school, and the main office screens a guest via this system while the guest is still outside. Ideally, visitors granted access through the primary entrance are required to pass through the main office. The office would allow visitors to enter the first entrance but the secondary entrance would remain locked.

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