My days are spent visiting schools all up and down the east coast to help them learn more about school safety solutions. I have visited schools ranging from small single building K-12 schools with 200 students to huge school systems with hundreds of school buildings and I absolutely love seeing all of these different buildings. Most of these schools have something in common: they take school safety very seriously. It’s usually why I am there. What else do they have in common? Well-meaning students and staff without a security mindset make it simple to circumvent the access control systems set-up by these schools.
Many schools have built their emergency plans around access control and will assume intruders cannot get into the building. First-hand experience has shown me differently. You might say, “no way, not my school, everyone knows how important school security is!”
When Access Control Went off the Rails
A few examples of when access control went off the rails.
I had a great phone conversation with a superintendent before heading out to present to his building administrators. His district was investing millions into school safety. They upgraded their camera system, they added a lockdown button to lock all the doors in the building after replacing every lock in the district to make them electronic. They rebuilt the front of the high school to make a new entryway with a bulletproof sally-port like entrance that would rival the pay booth at a Seven Eleven in South Philly. This school was clearly invested in school safety. As I pulled into the parking lot, the visitor spots were full so I drove around the building to look for a spot to park on this warm day, and after the first propped open door I saw I kept going. I counted nine propped open doors that day. I parked and used the new front entrance as anyone not there to cause harm would.
I cannot count the number of buildings where someone nice lets me in. I walk to the door and a student – who is trying to be polite – opens the door for me to let me in. My favorite was a school where the door had a 2-foot by 2-foot sign on the inside of every door warning students and staff to not open the door for anyone. I pointed to the sign after the student let me in and he just shrugged his shoulders. Someone went through a lot of effort to make and hang those signs.
Another school had an access bell with the camera and went through the effort to even paint footsteps on the sidewalk, so it was very easy to know exactly what door to walk up to. Awesome, no guessing what door to use. I walk up, ring the bell and wait. I ring it again and wait. I ring it a third time and wait. I am about to call the office from my cell phone when someone else walks up and walks through an unlocked door on the other side of the bank of doors. I follow and when I ask about the buzzer and unlocked door the answer was “we haven’t used that in years”. So much for the cool footsteps.
I can share countless more stories like these. Schools where I ring the bell, it clicks, and I find I am walking among students and have to ask directions to the office from one of them. Schools invest a lot of money into access control and yet it is so easily defeated by a well-meaning, but untrained, individual in the building.
Test your Access Control
It is because of these experiences that it is more important than ever to be sure your plans and drills never assume your building access control will work and to ensure everyone is trained and tested on the importance of maintaining access control.
Your staff should be doing lock down drills with the assumption that an intruder could come in any door, at any time. More importantly, you need to train EVERY person in the building on maintaining access control and test this regularly. Have someone not from your building go to exterior doors at class change and see how many times they get in. Check your exterior doors on a hot day to see if they are propped open. I bet the loading dock door by your cafeteria is propped open most of the day. Ring the buzzer of your building and see how many times you just hear a click with no challenge as to why you are there. These things cost you nothing, but are invaluable to testing your access control.
Train your office staff on the proper way to screen people before they click open the door. Just because someone says they are there to meet with Principal So-And-So, do they have an appointment? The name of the principal is on your website and probably shouldn’t be good enough to get past the first door. Why is that parent there? Did you know they were coming? An extra minute outside while you verify someone should be a welcome delay to any parent that wants their kids safe.
And yes – document that you did all these things. Document each time you tested the access to the building – no matter what the outcome was. Document that it worked and document when it didn’t and the remediation steps you took. Document your training – even if it is informal. No system is ever 100% and this documentation just may come in handy someday.