As the nation becomes more dangerous with gun violence, hate crimes and school shootings, we must determine how we can more effectively protect our children in what should be a safe haven.  A reasonable and achievable solution is to change how we respond to crisis in schools – change the crisis response, save more lives.

One way we can change crisis response in schools is to automate school security. How can automating school security save more lives? The automation of fire detection and notification provides unequivocal proof that automating systems saves lives. The automation of school security can be done in a similar manner. The key to automating security is to combine the day-to-day operations with security technology. The Sandy Hook Commission details the need for “situational awareness” through planning and drills for security situations. Once security protocols and processes are used in the day-to-day process, the ability to identify and detect a security threat is drastically reduced. This also provides a roadmap for how and where security technology should be implemented in the school.

An example of automation of security to save lives is the process in which first responders are notified of a security threat. All schools have a fire alarm system that immediately notifies the first responders of the threat. Some fire districts measure their response time to a fire alarm in seconds rather than minutes. We can do the same through automating the ability to alert first responders by strategically integrating security technology systems into schools nationwide.

By integrating communication, building security and other systems to enhance security, we can change how we respond to crisis.

Integrating Communication Systems

The integration of the fire emergency system, intercom and even intrusion alarm systems can drastically enhance the ability for first responders to be alerted as well as alerting the students and staff in the building. Emergency call buttons in classrooms through an intercom or intrusion system could send a signal, through the fire alarm and/or intrusion system, which immediately alerts local law enforcement of a security event. Through this interface, automated voice messages can be sent throughout the school alerting the staff and students of the security incident and the action one should take. The alerts can go through the overhead-paging intercom, or if so equipped, a voice evacuation fire alarm system.

Many schools already use some sort of computerized interface (i.e. PowerSchool) to provide students, staff and parents informational updates to school activities, grades, etc. These systems are equipped to have a trigger from another system send automated messages, emails, texts, and so forth. A simple tie in between an emergency button on an intercom or intrusion system can also provide an automated way to immediately alert staff and students through mass messaging.

Physical Building Security Integration

One key integration point is not between different technological systems, but rather between mechanical door hardware and electronic access control. Most exterior doors are supplied with door hardware that allows for free egress out of the building, without a way to prevent that door from being opened during a security incident. While it’s vital to life safety to ensure that staff and students can freely exit the building, during a security situation in which the threat is outside the school, there should be integration between electronic and mechanical door hardware that allows that door to stay secure during that event. This can be done through the use of delayed egress door hardware interfaced to an access control system.  Per life safety code of NFPA 101, there must also be an interface to the fire alarm system that allows for these doors to unlock in the case of a fire event.

Another integration is between the electronic access control system and the emergency communication system. The ability for the emergency communication system to signal a security threat to first responders can also signal the access control system to lock down the exterior of the building.

Ideally, the security technology used in a school should interface to create a holistic approach to detection and notification of a security event. In the similar fashion that fire alarm, sprinkler and suppression systems interface with building management and fire doors, security systems should do the same. The combination of these automated integrations can be the solution to how we can change our response to crisis in schools and result in more lives saved.