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School security – How safe is your school?

December 3, 2020, 15:00 GMT+1
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  • Matthew Blakey explains the changing nature of school security...
School security – How safe is your school?

Schools come in all shapes and sizes. While one security solution will never meet the needs of all, there are common shared threats and therefore similar requirements.

These threats have changed over recent years, and security technology has adapted to meet them. But have you? Is you school security providing the protection required to keep staff and students safe?

The changing nature of security risks

Less than five or so years ago, the main perceived threats to schools came from vandalism and arson. The focus was therefore very much on preventing unwanted visitors accessing the site who might cause damage to property. Intruder alarm systems, with some CCTV cameras, were therefore a good ‘off the shelf’ solution.

But in the last five years, requirements turned from this relatively basic security measure to schools looking at emergency lockdown procedures and integrating their security systems for improved protection.

A person with a lighter or a spray can is one thing, but now schools have to take into account the dangers posed by a person entering the premises with a weapon and even bomb threats, real or otherwise. It’s saddening that nowadays schools actually face the same risks as what we, as a company, used to profile as high risk, high security sites.

Ultimately, the number one priority for schools is controlling visitors and access to the site. This can be very challenging when such sites often have multiple buildings and constant pedestrian traffic moving around the site.

The second priority is the ability for schools to be able to initiate a fast, safe mass lockdown if there is an incident on site, or a swift evacuation. Both of these are really difficult to achieve.

Security solutions have had to become more tailored, which has been made possible and more cost-effective through technological advances in the security equipment itself.

Getting the most out of your existing security

The most popular types of security systems within schools are access control, CCTV and emergency life safety systems such as fire alarms and emergency lockdown solutions. These types of systems can really make a difference in identifying and reacting to a problem.

Most schools will have one or more of these systems in place. However, they have frequently been added to over time, sometimes as the school grows, with new systems added that are not compatible with what’s already on site. This makes security as a whole difficult to manage and doesn’t maximise its effectiveness.

A key area for improvement therefore is to try to bring all the technology into one integrated system to make it easy to manage and provide greater resilience.

So, for example, your access control system can give notifications to the camera that covers a door that has just been opened, enabling you to identify the person who their tag says they are.

Integrating the systems onto one platform is the key here; it makes those systems a lot simpler and more straightforward to use and doesn’t become a hindrance.

As you might expect, the ability to integrate will depend on the age of the equipment, but wherever possible existing on-site security equipment should be used to keep budgets down and avoid equipment unnecessarily going to landfill.

Investing in the future

Of course, not all schools will have the security systems in place that they need to meet the changing landscape we face now and in the future. Here, new systems need to be considered.

One development in security technology that stands out as being ideal for education-based sites, especially in the current pandemic, comes in the form of new access control systems.

Some of the latest touch free systems now incorporate facial recognition technology in place of keypads, swipe cards or tags, along with temperature measurement and even facemask detection, denying entry to those who have an elevated temperature or are not wearing a mask where they are required to do so.

Post COVID-19, many schools will want to maintain the ability to check the temperatures of students as it’s good practice for health and safety.

Of course, this all comes at a cost. Originally, much of this equipment would have been defined as high end technology, but it’s more widespread use in the mass market has naturally brought the pricing down.

So now schools don’t actually need to make a huge investment to get very good security systems that will last a long time. Furthermore, a capital investment can be avoided altogether through the use of finance schemes.

Our own STANLEY Assure scheme for example, which has proven to be very popular in the education sector, enables schools to rent the system rather than purchasing it outright, which makes it all the more affordable.

Keeping an eye on things

With many criminal acts directed at schools, especially arson, being conducted out of school hours, the use of professional Security Monitoring Centres to remotely monitor schools’ security systems is becoming increasingly popular.

Schools have been using such services to monitor the intruder alarm system, and sometimes the fire detection system, for a while. But remote monitoring is becoming more and more important and schools are upping the ante with the addition of video alarm verification.

Video Alarm Verification is the process of confirming an actual intrusion using video clips and, where available, live video. When police emergency services consider an alarm to be ‘verified’ they treat it as an in-progress intrusion and will dispatch quickly.

This service works out extremely cost-effective for schools and represents a considerable saving when compared to the more traditional approach of employing an onsite security guard.

Even if you have a caretaker/facilities manager who is checking the premises after hours or during the holidays, who is keeping an eye on them to make sure they are safe? Remote monitoring provides them with lone worker protection.

COVID-19 safety tip

Adapt existing security technology to contactless

A key part of Government guidance on COVID-19 workplace safety involves reducing the risk of spreading the virus through touch. One part of the guidance given advises that you should be ‘providing alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads’. Many existing security systems can be changed to a contactless system relatively quickly – sometimes within an hour – and without excessive costs.

Mostly, this applies to access control systems. In these instances, the reader - the element of the system that ‘reads’ the data presented and then releases the door lock if that data corresponds with the data held on the system - can be replaced with a contactless technology.

So, if you had a keypad or swipe card reader, it is relatively straightforward to replace it with, for example, a proximity reader which reads data from a tag without needing to make contact.

Matthew Blakey is general manager at SME, STANLEY Security. STANLEY Security designs, installs, maintains and upgrades a wide range of security solutions to meet organisations’ specific needs and budgets and has extensive experience in the education sector. Find out more at