Safe and Sound

SCHOOL DISTRICT MODERNIZATIONSHere are five ways to modernize school district security.   

By Tammy Fulop

School safety and security are more important than ever to students, parents and administrators. Yet many school districts are saddled with outdated security systems and procedures. Many districts are actively exploring upgrades that provide peace of mind and deliver safer environments, but are unsure what investments to make. 

Schools need to have an overall plan with safety and security systems that provide connectivity, accessibility and expandability. Thankfully, many of these same technologies provide additional benefits to districts, including energy and operational efficiencies and reduced maintenance needs, making these initiatives a win-win for district modernization.

But safety and security is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. School districts must determine what an optimal solution looks like for their facilities. But regardless of a community’s risk profile, every district should consider five of the most critical safety and security upgrades:

1. Single-point entryways – Secure vestibules control the flow of traffic into the school, ensuring visitors check in with designated school administration at one primary point of entry. Implementing fencing and background checks before entering a school system also allows for more control of who is entering the campus. For example, some schools run driver’s licenses before a person is allowed into the building, providing advance notice of any criminal record.

Unlike previous standard facility designs, single-point entryways provide administrators with instant control and access to the facilities while maintaining records for historical purposes. Single-point entryways provide additional energy efficiency benefits such as keeping conditioned air inside buildings, minimizing leakage and keeping wasteful energy use at a minimum.

2. Surveillance – Security cameras, alarm systems and other surveillance mechanisms are crucial for monitoring and ensuring district-wide safety and security. Camera systems can be setup to feed footage back to a centralized location. This provides single-point access for monitoring live feeds across the district. This central feed is also valuable when assessing and recording any triggered alarm systems based on predetermined set of intrusion conditions such as occupancy sensors, schedule and glass breakage detection.

And perhaps the most common need for surveillance is deterrence. When appropriate signage and security measures are not enough, the surveillance system then records acts of vandalism inside and outside school facilities. Districts can save more money than they might realize by lowering vandalism incidents, and the costs required for repair.

3. Interior and exterior lighting – There are several reasons that make LED lighting the optimal choice for school safety. A well-lit area is a strong deterrence. Lighting makes hallways and exits more visible, allowing students and faculty to remove themselves from potentially dangerous situations more quickly. The brighter exterior lighting also improves safety in parking lots, pathways and even underneath bleachers, creating a safer atmosphere. 

It provides a more energy efficient solution that not only uses less energy to power, but also lessens the cost and need for replacement and maintenance. And finally, optimized lighting lessens the likelihood of a lockdown. When schools experience power outages, many have standard operating procedures that trigger a lock down so students aren’t navigating dark hallways and stairwells. Efficient LED emergency back-up lighting lessens this downtime with instant-on capabilities.

4. Building automation – District-wide monitoring and control of building systems (door locks, IT networks, power usage and more) enable remote changes to infrastructure access and facility operations. Districts can remotely and quickly change door access rules, address air flow by zone or even shut down critical or sensitive areas such as computer and science labs.

Consolidating critical mechanical equipment into one building automation system enables the school to automatically modify operations for weekends, holidays and vacation periods for optimal efficiency.

5. Voice over IP (VoIP) – VoIP technology offers administrators a seamless way to easily communicate with schools across a district. This paired with implementing an emergency response and preparedness plan enables administrators to communicate weather or security emergencies with the click of a button. This allows for a more streamlined process of communication to disseminate important information conveniently and immediately.

It enables administrators to communicate weather or security emergencies with the click of a button. This allows for a more streamlined process of communication to disseminate important information conveniently and immediately.

Before implementing any of these initiatives, it’s important school districts work with qualified safety and security professionals to formalize their plan. Additionally, many districts are benefiting from a collaborative planning approach by forming committees and task forces that bring together staff and community members with diverse experiences in emergency preparedness and response. 

How to Fund K-12 Safety and Security

There’s no doubt these critical modernizations will boost safety and security measures across the district. But a lack of funding looms large, preventing many districts from achieving their goals. 

However, many school districts, including Comanche Independent School District in Texas and Marshall County Schools in Alabama, have overcome funding shortfalls for security upgrades by employing innovative energy savings projects that boost a district’s spending power without burdening taxpayers. 

Combining security modernization work with a holistic energy efficiency project allows districts to reinvest energy and operational savings into initiatives like security and athletics, which they might not have afforded otherwise. 

Tammy Fulop is vice president of Schneider Electric.


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