Protect Your School

Richard Hayward of Classic Security Solutions, examines the issue of security in schools, from the importance of professional risk assessment to the role of physical and electronic protection and the selection of the best service providers.

The Nature of Risk

Nothing is more disruptive to the work of our schools or disheartening to teachers and pupils than the impact of crime. Theft, burglary, vandalism - even arson - are all too common events that year after year cause the loss of scarce educational resources, and, in extreme cases, result in prolonged or even permanent closure. Serious threats to the physical safety of children and staff are thankfully less common, yet that danger too must clearly be addressed as an integral part of a school's security plan. Risks vary from school to school and must be addressed in a businesslike manner, which means allocating finite resources according to local priorities. In practice, this involves a specific risk assessment to identify and reduce areas of vulnerability, which may differ in type and will usually differ in degree from school to school.

Assessing the Risk

Schools, by their very nature, often find it more difficult to evaluate the cost of crime in financial terms, when its most serious impact may be social. By definition, it becomes harder for them to justify the cost of protection. Add to this the many competing demands for scarce resources present in the vast majority of schools and the problem of what to do can seem almost unsolvable at first glance. This is why the best way for schools to proceed is first to conduct a realistic risk assessment, then to employ its available resources by implementing the highest quality, most robust protection it can afford in key areas.

It is useful to remember that some elements of good security are free. They include the development and maintenance of positive relationships with the local community, which can exert a surprising influence for good if it places value on the school as a resource. Exploring the potential for out-of-hours community activities in school premises, for example, has the dual benefit of enhancing local relationships and of placing an unpaid security force in the building at times when it would otherwise be vulnerable to criminal activity. Similarly, good community relations offer benefits in terms of natural surveillance by neighbours willing to intervene in or report suspicious or inappropriate activity outside school hours.

A realistic risk assessment should begin with an evaluation of the type, frequency and cost of crime in the school itself and the prevalence of crime in the neighbouring community as a whole. All schools face risk but its severity - and therefore the need for security measures - has direct relevance to local levels of crime and antisocial behaviour, which can vary considerably from place to place. The police and local government security staff will help you assess this element of risk at no cost. They will also help you to identify your most appropriate and urgent security requirements.

Risk Removal

The likely cost of crime is obviously one way to justify the cost of protection, although the right balance is not easy to achieve when the loss of the entire school through arson may be one consequence of inadequate security. Schools have a relatively high risk of a major fire, whether started as a deliberate malicious act, an unintended outcome of lesser vandalism, or to conceal evidence of burglary. Note that the risk is statistically greatest in schools that have already experienced minor fires or repeated acts of vandalism and graffiti. Evidence of good housekeeping such as the timely repair of minor damage, the immediate removal of graffiti and the disposal or securing of combustible waste outside buildings has a notable influence on checking the development of these early signs of risk.

Fundamentals First - Physical Security

The police and your local council's security expert will advise you in detail but the type of basic protection you must consider will include five-lever mortise locks and ‘hinge bolts' on external doors, anti-drill plates for fire doors, window locks with removable keys and non-return screws on external fixings for vents and skylights. It may also include things like window grilles, whether as permanent fixtures or by the use of attachments capable of removal on a daily basis. The physical construction of external doors and windows and the strength of their fixing to the building structure is as important as the locking mechanisms. The best lock in the world is useless on a flimsy door or frame. On the whole, improvements to physical building security will be the only feasible way to make trespass more difficult.

Perimeter fences and walls should obviously be maintained in good order but the cost of providing an effective perimeter barrier where none currently exists would be prohibitive in the context of most schools. Similar cost constraints apply to the employment of full-time security officers, although schools should be aware that employing mobile security patrols can also have a marked impact on disrupting patterns of criminal activity such as vandalism, through a targeted programme of random visits at times of greatest risk.

Choosing the Right Supplier

Classic Security Solutions are members of both the NSI (National Security Inspectorate) and the BSIA (British Security Industry Association). As in all aspects of security, the quality of personnel, equipment and standards of installation are crucial. Cost should only become a decision-making factor when comparing potential suppliers of equal ability and high repute. The NSI and the BSIA operates a free telephone helpline to help you identify approved suppliers of security equipment and services anywhere in the country. NSI and BSIA members comprise the industry leaders in all aspects of security, including physical protection, alarms, electronic systems and manpower services. Importantly, all members are committed to providing no obligation security quotations.

Electronic Security & Fire Protection

When you are satisfied that your school is as physically secure as you can reasonably make it you can move to the next stage, which is providing the means to detect any intrusion or attempted intrusion that does take place. The most common method of doing this is via the installation of an intruder alarm. Detection should be accompanied by a means of intervention. A monitored alarm that is connected via a communications network to a 24-hour alarm receiving centre with priority links to your local police control room. A ‘panic button' can also be installed to enable the system to summon help in an emergency during school hours. An annual maintenance contract with the installer is both a necessary and, indeed, mandatory element of having such an alarm. As before, compare suppliers with impeccable credentials such as membership of the BSIA, all of whom are also accredited - and regularly inspected - to the highest national technical standards.
Security companies can now provide intruder alarms linked to cameras or microphones that allow operators at the alarm receiving centre to see or hear what is happening inside the building once an intruder has been detected. This is known as visual or audible alarm verification and attracts a high priority from police forces. Alarm verification has been used with particular success in the school environment by several local education authorities.
Modern access control systems can play a vital and highly cost-effective role in preventing unauthorised entry and in protecting specific areas such as store-rooms and high value targets such as IT departments, minimising problems with key control. Simple access control devices such as PIN- or card-operated door releases can be extremely effective at main entrances in preventing unauthorised intrusion by walk-in thieves or bogus callers.

Another element of electronic security that has proven extremely successful in schools, is closed-circuit television (CCTV). Some instances of 100 per cent reductions in vandalism have been recorded, with reduced repair costs covering the cost of the security equipment. It is rarely feasible for a school to employ someone to watch a television monitor 24-hours a day, seven days a week but the advent of networked digital technology now enables cost-effective remote monitoring by alarm receiving centres.
As with other elements of security, local factors will dictate the appropriateness of CCTV but there is no doubt that a combination of cameras, alarms and sound physical security will greatly reduce risk in any school, both by deterring offenders and by making crime too difficult, risky and time-consuming. 

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