School security needs have changed in the last five years, and many school officials now believe safety solutions should focus more on the root of the problem. The goal should not be turning a school into a fortress; it should be improving the level of trust between students and teachers. If metal detectors, cameras and steel gates begin to take over a school, student attitudes will degenerate, and a culture of violence will be perpetuated.

But schools can be designed in ways that encourage mutual trust and reduce the need for hardened security measures. In most cases, the safer a campus looks, the safer it is.

“A 10-foot fence is absolutely ridiculous,” says Tom Latham, who recently retired after 34 years in law enforcement in Garland, Texas. “Students need to know they're in a safe place, and this doesn't tell them that.”

Security overview

Communities across the nation have expressed concern about violence among youths and its effect on learning. School communities have taken steps to prevent violence on campuses by acknowledging the problem, allying with others, setting goals and selecting a security strategy. Two categories cover most of the options:

  • Prevention through environmental design.

  • Prevention through school management and education.

A security strategy typically includes both approaches. Blanket solutions don't work — every community is unique. Each school's security program should have its own face, designed with an eye on the past, present and likelihood of future violent attacks.