As school security increasingly becomes a major concern for stakeholders in the education sector, more measures are being explored to protect students and faculty. Schools have found success in controlling access to facilities during class time. In fact, over 95% of US schools follow this practice.
There are a number of ways to control access to the school using several technological methods. Three popular access control tools are:
- Security access systems (electronic locks)
- Visitor management systems (ID badges)
- Vestibules (or kiosks)
Can these security measures work for your school? In this article, we’ll discuss these 3 options in detail, including their features, cost, advantages, and disadvantages.
Security Access Systems
Because of rapidly advancing technology, security access systems, including electronic locks, are becoming more robust. Using IoT technology and AI, these systems can digitally connect various types of door locks into one high-tech, school-wide security tool.
There are various types of electronic locks, such as electronic keypads, biometric systems, and smart cards.
- Electronic keypads require a person to key in a given code before they can have access to the building.
- Biometrics systems would require fingerprints to recognize those who are allowed access to given facilities.
- Smart cards, on the other hand, are swiped to unlock security doors in order to access the building.
Some companies are also able to modify existing physical door locks to be controlled electronically. For instance, select systems have the ability to lock and unlock standard crash bar doors with just the push of a button.
So with a growing amount of options in the industry, how do you know which ones are right for your school? Below are a few key points to keep in mind when deciding on an access system.
Research the features of the locks
It’s easy for school administrators to focus on the cheapest options, especially if they’re on a limited budget. But depending on the features of the locks, it may be worth spending a little extra to get a reliable system that works specifically for your schools.
Some questions to consider are: How secure is it? Do the features of the lock justify any potential extra cost? Can it be integrated with the security system the school is already using? How easy is it to operate, including for kids?
Consider a system with remote access
Having remote access to the door locks will enable security personnel to respond more quickly to emergencies. Various security access systems have this feature. With the click of a mouse or push of a button, any set number of doors can be locked at once.
When used in combination with security cameras, they can easily monitor the movement of visitors in and out of the building and don’t have to endanger their lives in the event of an attack. It will also be important for first responders to have access to the school in case of an emergency, thus the need for remote control of the locks.
Ensure the locks don’t impede a safe exit
Good door locks are meant to keep unwanted guests out, not trap people in. Rather, students and faculty need to be able to quickly leave the building in the event of an emergency, such as a fire. A lock that prevents occupants from leaving a room is a violation of fire code and could lead to a disastrous outcome. Thus, they should allow activation from the inside.
The Federal Commission on School Safety recommends “hardening the classroom.” This includes having some sort of door lock on each individual classroom door. Teachers and other members should be able to operate the locks on these doors in the event of a crisis, even if remote activation is enabled.
Having the above factors in mind, we can start to get a clearer picture of the type of system that would fit the needs of our school. Of course, with any security system, there are always advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of security access systems
Improved management of access points
For schools that have multiple access points, it becomes a nightmare managing all of them effectively. They are often faced with a shortage of security personnel who have to focus their attention on areas that are considered high risk. This leaves the other access points open and vulnerable to danger.
Instead, a security access system can automatically communicate any breaches or other issues in real-time to security, enabling them to respond quickly. As well, electronic security locks eliminate the need for giant rings of keys for various doors. Instead, schools can have a “digital key-ring” system.
Whether using codes, biometrics or smart cards, there will be a single method used to gain access to different areas within the school. Furthermore, security access systems allow for tailoring of access according to one’s designation.
For instance, members of staff who don’t need to have access to the maintenance closet won’t have access authorized, while the maintenance staff may not have access to the teachers’ lounge. This will enable the school and its security personnel to streamline activities for easier security monitoring.
They can be integrated with other systems to maximize security
By combining electronic locks with other systems, school security is greatly enhanced.
For instance, they can be used in combination with security cameras to effectively monitor all access points and respond appropriately to situations. This will reduce the chance of intruders sneaking into school premises unnoticed until it is too late. Response time will be greatly reduced and attacks can be prevented before they happen.
Some security locks come with dynamic mapping, a feature that sends an alert to security from the breached access point. The specific location is transmitted to security, making it easier for them to address incidents in a timely manner, or even alert law enforcement at the touch of a button.
Electronic locks can also be programmed so that any unauthorized attempts to gain entry into the building will trigger an automatic lock-down of the school facilities. Plus, an alert will automatically be sent to school security personnel and the local authorities.
Easy to give and cancel access for members
Every now and then, students and members of staff leave the school for a variety of reasons. Though work is usually done to ensure that they have returned all the school property in their possession, including keys, some still manage to retain possession. Others may even make copies of the keys before returning the originals to the school.
This is such a huge security risk. However, with access control systems, the school won’t have to worry about members who leave permanently. Their access codes or cards are simply removed from the system and they won’t be able to gain access, even if they keep their smart cards and passwords.
It also becomes easy to grant access codes to new members who join the school. Their biometrics can be fed into the system, or they are simply given a card or password for access. The school won’t have to worry about making copies of the keys.
It is easy to monitor the movements of visitors within the school premises
Since visitors in the school will only gain entry through the help of someone with verified access, it becomes easy to supervise and monitor their movements. This will enable the security team to respond to suspicious activities by visitors appropriately and in a timely manner.
Disadvantages of entrance systems
Privacy for students and staff
When every access point to the school facilities is monitored, then the students and faculty may feel their privacy is being violated. Besides that, biometrics are stored in a database that could be hacked and personal data of members of the school stolen. This can pose a great threat to the personal security of the students and members of staff. Lost smart cards could also result in identity theft if they land in the wrong hands.
The price of implementing security access systems are not insignificant. Public schools that are already grappling with limited budgets for basic learning requirements may find it difficult to cover the implementation costs of high-end systems. The cost of implementing and maintaining security access systems, without the assistance of government grants, may pose a challenge for many public school systems.
We are currently researching for an article that identifies the most appropriate government grants for school security systems and will publish in the near future. Please ensure to subscribe to our blog to receive helpful articles as soon as they become available.
Students are likely to forget their passcodes or cards
Kids and teens are still learning to develop organizational skills. Thus, they’re likely to easily forget their access codes or cards. This could lead to them being locked out of the facilities until they remember the access codes or until they are given replacements. This will come at a cost to the school and/or the student’s family.
A rise in incidences of false alarms
Since most access systems are set to automatically trigger alarms in the event of unauthorized access, there may be a rise in the cases of false alarms especially when students forget or misplace their pass cards. Some students might try to find alternative ways of gaining access to the facilities instead of alerting the authorities about their lost card. Local authorities could end up wasting their time and resources responding to false alarms.
Hard time for school suppliers and service providers
Since access is only allowed for verified personnel, suppliers and other service providers (such as plumbers or electricians) may find it difficult to make their way around the school to make deliveries. They will have to rely on the help of an insider to be able to do their job effectively. This could end up costing them time as they have to wait for a member of the school to free up their schedule for them.
Visitor Management Systems
Few things can cause us to cringe as much as photos of ourselves during our awkward teen years. School ID cards effectively capture that cringe-worthy snapshot in time beautifully.
But school ID’s can do much more than embarrass us. They can be used to greatly enhance school security, as part of a visitor management system.
School IDs can be effectively utilized in the following ways:
- Determine whether the people accessing school facilities are students, staff or visitors.
- Store vital student information such as emergency contact information, medications, and allergies.
- Eliminate the need for cash when performing student transactions, such as lunch programs.
- Track student class attendance and participation in extra-curricular activities.
- Manage library resources.
- Verify access to school resources.
With these uses in mind, let’s consider some examples of the value of school IDs.
Improves school access control
School ID’s can help security and school administration easily identify active students, especially if the school doesn’t have a uniform policy in place. As well, it becomes easy to identify and effectively deal with intruders.
School ID’s can also double as electronic access cards that only those with authorization can use. Which means that only those with the ID badges will be able to enter the facilities. Keeping those with bad intentions outside is a major boost to limiting the potential of violent incidents in schools.
The ID’s can also be used as a way of controlling internal access to school amenities. This includes locker rooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, and the library. As a result, it’s easier to control the movement of visitors within school premises.
Helps students to easily identify staff and others
Having ID badges with students’ names will help them to get to know each other and foster friendships. But more importantly, students need to be able to identify the school staff and faculty. It improves safety within the school as the students can easily tell the right person to approach in the event of an emergency.
In such cases, time won’t be wasted on prolonged identification processes as the security badges indicate the name and role of each staff member. Besides that, staff security badges are useful in helping new students become familiar with members of staff and easily adapt to their new environment.
Account for everyone within the school premises
No matter how few the students and members of staff are, it is always difficult for security personnel to distinguish them as new members join the institution every now and then. On top of this, there are daily visitors to schools for one reason or another.
A visitor management system will enable the security personnel to monitor everyone within the school premises and easily track visitors, including when they come into the school and when they leave. This will enable appropriate action to be taken whenever problems arise.
Streamline day-to-day operations within the school
The school IDs can be used to streamline daily operations such as class attendance, lunch lines, library book clearance, and even extracurricular activities.
Instead of having to fill in daily roll calls, students can easily swipe their school IDs at the school entrance, or entrance of each class and the attendance is electronically monitored. The same system can be used in clearing books from the library, and in gaining access to facilities such as the gym and indoor courts.
Tracing lost students
Children, especially those in pre-K elementary schools, can sometimes wander off and get lost. There have also been cases of older students disappearing.
School IDs would allow the community to easily tell where the students are from and help reunite them with their school and families. The IDs should also have emergency contact information at the back so that the school and the authorities can easily be reached when need be.
Make it easy to identify special needs students
Since vital information such as medication and allergies can easily be included in the student school IDs, it’s very easy for the school administration to identify their special needs students and effectively serve them. This is key to avoid sabotaging the safety of students who have special dietary needs and allergies.
Such information also becomes helpful when dealing with emergency situations in the school. Some systems can be paired with ID badges and their databases so that info about medications, allergies, etc. can be sent to first responders in real-time.
Potential dangers of an ID badge system
Not everyone is for the implementation of an ID card system in public schools. Critics say that it is a populist move that will create more problems than it will solve. Some of the reasons they give for opposing the idea include:
It exposes students to danger outside of the school
While promoting security and safety within the school premises, IDs could be counterproductive outside of the school.
Rogue elements such as expelled students could easily identify active students and they could become victims of targeted attacks once they step out of the school gates. Besides that, students of prominent local families could be identified for kidnapping.
Intrusion of privacy
In a school setup, there are different students who all have different personalities. Some are extroverts and are okay with being known by everyone within the school. Others are introverts and just want to study and go home in the evening.
School IDs could intrude into the privacy of the introverted students who just want to keep a low profile in the school. Some electronic IDs are also fitted with tracking devices that monitor each and every student’s movement. This is seen by certain people as a clear intrusion of privacy.
It’s an additional cost to parents
Even if the initial cost of implementing the ID system is borne by the school or the government, certain schools may require parents to pay for replacements of lost or worn-out school IDs. These costs can be high for parents who are not financially privileged, especially if the IDs are electronic.
IDs can trigger feelings of insignificance among the students
As members of the school community interact, the more familiar they become with each other. Over time, they are able to remember the faces and names of the people they regularly interact with. An ID card system would eliminate the need to remember names as you would only need to take a look at the security badge.
Students can feel insignificant if someone, especially a member of the staff, that they’ve been interacting with on a regular basis has to look at their ID to remember their name.
IDs could form flimsy excuses for punishments
Instead of being left to focus on their studies, students who don’t carry their IDs with them could be subjected to unnecessary punishments.
They could be locked out of accessing school facilities and this will hinder their learning. Students could also easily get punished for not displaying their badges correctly, or putting it away in their bags or pockets.
They can create unnecessary inconveniences
If your kid was to forget their school ID at home, you would have to cancel your schedule to get it to them at school or they risk missing a whole day of learning.
This can be really inconvenient even for stay at home parents. Now imagine having to beat the traffic to rush back home, then to school to deliver an ID, then back to work again.
School ID badges are an easy step to increasing security
School ID badges are more than just physical proof of our awkward teen years. Implementation of the ID card system means easily identifying students, controlling access to the building, and increasing the efficiency of emergency response.
On top of this, the ID badge system can become another extension for app-integrated, IoT-based security programs. For schools looking to improve their safety and security, ID badges are a tool that should be considered.
Visitor management systems can go beyond electronic locks and ID badges. Security vestibules add another layer of secure, controlled access to schools.
Security vestibules and kiosks
There are several types of security kiosks, ranging from a simple system of checking-in at a school’s main office, to an entrance-based prefabricated entry vestibule.
Digital Kiosk in Main Office
Simply having a digital kiosk in the main office where any potential visitors and volunteers need to check-in is a step-up from outdated paper sign-in sheets.
A number of digital systems can be linked-up with sex offender registries so that should anyone who is a registered sex offender try to check-in at a school there will be a notification that they should not be allowed in.
Conversely, there may be instances where a divorced parent who is not the legal guardian of a student may try to gain access to the school and to their child. A digital system will have on file the legal guardians of each student, ensuring the students are kept safe.
By having a system in place that requires any visitors or volunteers to be checked-in, it can dramatically reduce the risk of potentially dangerous individuals having access to children. With that said, it is critical that the staff in charge of checking people in understand how the technology works and that they are using it correctly. Without proper training the potential benefits of a digital kiosk are lost.
Separate Security Check-In
A separate security check-in near the entrance can be extremely helpful. It can be staffed by a school security officer who is equipped to handle any possible confrontation that may arise, should a potential visitor or volunteer be informed they have not been cleared to enter the school due to one reason or another.
Having such a check-in system at the school but in its own secure location also helps prevent a “scene” from being made, should a possible rejected visitor start loudly protesting or otherwise arguing. It might be uncomfortable to witness for students and staff near a main office check-in.
Prefabricated Entry Vestibule
As the name indicates, this is a miniature structure that stands alone outside of a school or right before the entrance as a sort of buffer zone. Visitors and volunteers then check-in with a verification device, or a school security officer manning the vestibule.
These prefabricated entry vestibules arguably offer some of the best possible protection for a school, as they can keep a potentially dangerous visitor from being able to enter into the building at all.
They can, however, be more costly due to the costs associated with building them and (if necessary in certain climates) keeping them from getting too hot, cold, or humid (lest excess moisture damage any electronics).
Another vestibule option for controlling access is the trusty turnstile. These are used everywhere from shopping malls and grocery stores, to sports stadiums, subways and airports.
They have a two-fold purpose: 1) to act as a sort of barrier, making it harder for intruders to bypass security, and 2) they act as a kiosk for access cards.
While some other vestibules or kiosks may be used for visitors, the turnstiles can enable students and faculty quick but secure access to the school. They simply swipe their access card or id badge, the turnstile unlocks, and they continue on. Turnstiles are actually one of the security tools recommended by the Federal Commission on School Safety and the Department of Homeland Security.
Resources for School Security Kiosks
Should a school desire to implement their own visitor management system (of any type) there are a number of resources that are popular and highly-regarded for their service.
Lobbyguard is a popular visitor-management system that is often utilized in school-settings. It can check any linked sex offender registries instantly to ensure guests are not a safety risk and offers tracking of volunteers and visitors with a record that can be accessed by any device with internet (and account) access.
Key tags for frequent visitors can be implemented as well so that volunteers who are often at the school can check-in with ease instead of always having to take-part in an extensive check-in even though it is known they are allowed to be at the school.
School Gate Guardian
School Gate Guardian offers a fast check-in system, which can be linked to sex offender registries, and customized lists of visitors who are not allowed or only allowed at certain times. Also, School Gate Guardian has a feature where visitors and volunteers who are allowed entrance can have a time-expiring ID.
If they stay past a certain set time, the system notifies the school so that the individual can be informed it is time to leave. As with Lobbyguard, School Gate Guardian can also provide frequent visitor key tags so as to keep track of those who volunteer often while also saving time from them always having to do a detailed check-in.
The next steps for school security
In their final summary, the Federal Commission on School Safety urged school districts to be aware of the newest security technologies, and implement them where possible. There’s no doubt about it: Advanced security access systems enhance the safety and security of schools.
While they aren’t necessarily the cheapest option, they are some of the most effective security tools out there. The beauty of using hi-tech security measures is that they can almost always be connected with other tools.
Security cameras, electronic locks, school ID badges, vestibules and turnstiles can all be programmed to work together, creating a virtual protective net over the school.
In today’s chaotic world, we need security measures that are strong, effective, and reliable. Security measures that take the greatest technologies available and put them to use for our kids.