Many of us can remember a time when school security meant remembering to close the classroom door when you left for the day. This was a time when the front doors stood open all day and anyone could walk into the building unannounced to walk the halls and observe their local school system in operation. The thought of weaponry was of little concern as elementary school children often carried pen knifes and played mumbley peg while waiting for the school bus.



All of that changed in April 1999 when the Columbine High School shooting thrust the American educational system into a new era. According to a March 2018 Washington Post article, 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at approximately 193 K-12 schools since Columbine. To put those figures into perspective, there are 56.6 million students attending over 139,500 schools in the United States: looking at statistics over the last 20 years this equates to approximately 0.3% of students affected at 0.1% of the nation’s schools over that period. While the odds of a school shooting affecting your child are slim based on those statistics, as a parent, I do not feel any better about the situation and neither does any other parent. Constituents are pressuring legislators to act on school safety and they have taken notice and have begun to fund various safety programs.



Today, school officials are faced with providing a safe, healthy learning environment without making school look or feel like a prison. Funding is also becoming available providing a means for officials to institute new safety equipment and protocols. The result is the sudden emergence of a $3 billion school security industry. School officials and facilities department directors find themselves besieged by a variety of manufacturers representing specialized security products, each with the claim of being the “best solution”. So, how do officials decide what products to use or how to integrate them with their school’s procedures? Which products work for their location and which ones do not?


Fortunately, there are standards and guidelines from various professional organizations that can provide an overall approach to school safety including the National School Board Association (NSBA), the Department of Homeland Security (DH), the Federal Commission of School Safety (FCSS), and the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), to name a few. These standards and guidelines are very useful but are only one component of a good security program.  Security is rarely a one-size-fits-all prescription. Any security solution will depend greatly on the location, geography, construction, as well as the staff of a given facility.



While guidelines and standards are useful tools, each school system should develop a security master plan that is specific to the needs of their physical facilities. The security master plan creates a standard of security design that incorporates consistency of equipment, operation, and protective systems. This consistency then carries through the security design and implementation phases in all the facilities throughout the entire school district. This plan also serves as a guideline for A/E firms that are selected to design security systems, as well as the installer and the systems integrator.

The security master plan should encompass four levels or tiers of security tailored for needs as defined in the risk assessment phase (discussed below). These tiers are tailored to the requirements for high school, middle school, elementary school, and kindergarten facilities.


The plan will establish the level of monitoring to occur at the local level as well as at a central location. Protocols will also be established that allow enforcement agencies to access and control security information (surveillance, access control, etc.) remotely during an event.


Risk Assessment







Development of a security master plan begins with a risk assessment of each facility and encompasses the existing physical security, existing emergency procedures and staff interviews. Facility evaluations are performed utilizing DHS and other standards and guidelines including Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) design principles for educational facilities. The assessment also reviews conclusions from any previous interagency commissions as well as interviews with first responder agencies.

The risk assessment establishes several criteria:

  • A baseline of the physical security
  • Any soft areas that need to be addressed
  • The appropriateness of the existing procedures
  • Requirements for systems to ensure consistent implementation and a fully integrated system

Consistency in equipment parameters and operation are ensured via a comprehensive security specification. This specification provides guidance in equipment selection, system integration, and installation as well as system operation.


Interior and Exterior Barriers


Based on the results of the risk assessment, the Security Master Plan will provide guidance and recommendations for the design and placement of physical barriers, both interior and exterior. Exterior barriers are designed to limit or control access to the facility grounds, specifically parking lots, pedestrian pathways, restricted areas, and points not specifically designated for entry.

Interior barriers are designed to minimize intrusion into interior spaces of the facility. These include hardened lobbies to isolate or secure visitors until they are cleared to enter the facility. Hardened lobbies would include surveillance, access control, duress and mass notifications systems in addition to a level of ballistic protection.

Containment areas should also be evaluated as a method of restricting an intruder’s ability to move through the facility in the event of a lockdown or event. Along with containment areas, protective zones can be established in classroom areas to help protect students in the event of an active shooter situation.


Controls/Central Monitoring





Photo credit: Safety Technology International

Automatic notification of area schools, local agencies and/or central monitoring station should occur during an event as required by programming on an integrated security system platform. An example is an event requiring a lockdown at one location that would automatically alert surrounding facilities of an impending threat.

First responders should have the ability to override the controls of the local system to access audio and video within the facility and isolate the location of an intruder. Likewise, integrated security systems should allow for centralized security monitoring and control by the school system security director.



Proper school security measures require more than purchasing the latest camera system or door barrier system. It is the proper integration of technology, procedures, and policies based on the unique characteristics of each facility while maintaining a standard for the entire school district. To ensure the highest level of safety, partner with a knowledgeable security engineer that can develop a detailed Security Master Plan, and who will determine the security requirements that are unique to each school building.


About the Author:

Michael Lovelady, CxA, CFPS, CSPM is the Director of Low Voltage Services with Griffith Engineering, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Michael has more than 30 years’ experience designing low voltage systems for buildings located across the country. His expertise includes guiding clients through risk assessments and the security master planning process, as well as designing and commissioning integrated security systems. For more information as it relates to your school’s security needs, please contact Michael at his email address  here.

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The Evolution of K12 Security