With security demands increasing, school administrators may be hard-pressed to meet security requirements. One tool that can help is a comprehensive site survey. A survey can make it easier for school officials to see exactly what needs to be done to control access to and movement within a facility.
When questions arise about school building safety and security, a survey is one way to obtain answers and plan a course of action. Often, by focusing on the right actions, a school can make major improvements at a cost lower than expected.
Why a site survey?
A site survey is a vehicle for finding out what is right and what is wrong with a school's perimeter security, its internal access controls and the safety of its doors and hardware. Other systems such as fire alarms and sprinklers also affect these concerns. To achieve the most effective results, a program to improve safety and security should consider the interaction of all building systems, procedures and policies.
One of the most valuable benefits of conducting a site survey is clearly identifying security gaps. Without looking at the overall picture, administrators can get caught up in short-term fixes — repairing an individual door that doesn't close properly or replacing one kind of lock with another. Such solutions seldom do much to improve overall school security.
Before beginning a site survey, school administrators should gain an overview of the situation and the expectations for the review process. One tactic is to discuss basic principles of security and the specific level of security the school is trying to achieve. This generally includes an overview of what makes a school environment secure. It also may review security as it relates to a school's doors and other architectural openings.
Part of the process also may include a review of the district's operating procedures, including key control, access points and school practices. Key control is the first line of defense, and without it there is no real security. Unauthorized duplication may be a problem, but it can be corrected by using a patented or restricted keyway. A discussion of access points will help determine whether enough doors are equipped with access control, as well as whether a school is handling main entry security properly.
With this perspective, those performing the survey can tour the site more effectively. Equipped with a digital camera, they may first follow the site-evacuation plan to get a better understanding of how the school is laid out. This also provides a logical sequence for numbering doors, which is useful in developing later recommendations.
Upon reviewing each opening, the surveyors note any problems with the doors, including improper latching or closing functions, uncontrolled access, security breaches such as wedges or other means of propping doors open, or code violations such as chained exit devices. Normally, digital photos will be taken only of a representative door, if several share the same shortcomings. The surveyors may note these problems on a copy of the photo in the final report.
A five-level grading system to evaluate each door can be helpful. Grade A is for doors that function properly. Grade B doors function properly, but have cosmetic issues. Grade C is for doors that require maintenance. Grade D indicates that a defective item needs to be replaced or upgraded. Grade F indicates a code violation, which in most cases will require a product replacement.
The idea of trying to review all the doors in a school district may seem overwhelming. But the recommendations often involve solutions with little or no cost, such as adjusting a door closer so it allows a door lock to latch properly. School administrators who have participated in surveys often are surprised that the anticipated cost of repairs and upgrades are less than what they expected. An added benefit of participating in a survey conducted by an outside source is the potential transfer of effective security ideas from one district to another.
Where a workable program exists, a district can get the answers it needs with minimal direct involvement. Although many excellent guides to self-conducted school surveys are available, few school districts have the staffing and time available to conduct them.