Be Prepared

The devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on the ability of school facilities to function serves as a frightening reminder that the best disaster recovery (DR) plan may fail if steps are not taken to prevent or limit the impact of disasters before they occur.

Disaster recovery plans are more likely to succeed if a pre-disaster program of physical security is in place prior to the advent of hurricanes, earthquakes, accidental and intentional explosions, and other potentially life- and academic-threatening events. In the concern for better securing essential computer system infrastructure and mission-critical data, the need to harden facilities to adverse environmental impacts such as flooding and windblown debris should not be shortchanged.

In many school districts, IT security may be run by one department, personnel security by another, physical security by another, and network operations by yet another. Each department may have its own budget, priorities, and methods, and cooperation and communication among those responsible for security may not take place. Most would agree this is not the optimum way to prevent and mitigate a disruptive event, nor, in the immediate aftermath of such an event, enhance the efficacy of even the best-planned disaster recovery program.

Balance between post and pre-disaster planning needs to be established. No matter how extensive the existing DR plan, whomever is responsible for physical security needs to develop a comprehensive disaster prevention/mitigation plan designed to protect students, faculty, staff, and property. Security managers need to realize that a comprehensive disaster prevention/mitigation plan recognizes threats from both those who intentionally would disrupt a campus and possibly threaten lives, and the dangers and risks from natural disasters and catastrophic accidents.

In either case, the disaster prevention/mitigation plan and the DR plan must be mutually supportive and not establish policies and procedures that are in conflict. The end result should be an integrated security program that sets up a course of action to prevent and mitigate disruptive events as well as steps to be taken in the event such an incident occurs.

Obviously, those responsible for school security need to address such issues as computer security, asset protection, records continuity, and risk management. The following suggestions should be among those considered in any school’s physical security plan.

• Controlling access to campus facilities should not be discounted in evaluating threat scenarios.

• Alarm systems in high-value areas and electronic monitoring of specific labs and offices must act as a second line of defense to enhanced perimeter security.

• Replacing surveillance cameras that rely on videotape with digital video will make possible more efficient archival monitoring, as well as allow the integration of video input into broader digital security databases.

• As demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina, electrical generators that operate on diesel, propane, or natural gas are essential as electric power will be offline for extended periods in any major disruptive event. Gasoline-powered generators are less valuable due to limited storage capacity and the relatively short shelf life of gasoline. Generators should be hard-wired to building systems using automatic transfer switches so staff will not need to manually operate equipment. Multiple generators at several locations may be needed.

• Storing emergency medical supplies, food, water, and communications gear in multiple facilities should support an emergency stay in school buildings not only by much of the student body, but by significant numbers of facility and staff. Generic unisex clothing such as jumpsuit coveralls and sturdy footwear to protect from the likelihood of leaking water and harmful debris should be in place before disaster strikes. Portable cook stoves, sealed drums of potable water, and sufficient numbers of chemical toilets should be available. Pre-disaster training of staff in the use of this equipment is essential. Better yet, provide such knowledge to faculty and students.

• A review of how security/safety measures can be implemented incrementally during the coming five years during routine building renovations/redesigns should be part of a comprehensive school security plan. The ability to integrate security measures into facility upgrades reduces cost and shortens payback periods. In addition, taking such steps will reassure staff, faculty, and students that all that is necessary for their protection and well being has been done in the event that disaster strikes.

Building In Safety & Security

There are many examples of how safety and security can be seamlessly built into the physical plant, resulting in significant increases in the protection of building occupants and the ability to recover from potentially disruptive events. Consider the following.

Security window film — Security window film can strengthen windows to withstand hurricane driven wind-blown debris that can cause glass shards to strike building occupants. Security window film helps windows withstand earthquake stress, accidental and intended impact, and explosive force. Tests verify that many security window films provide equivalent, or in some cases superior, performance compared to more expensive laminated glass.

Securing equipment and furniture to prevent injury — School buildings in areas prone to earthquakes must secure large file cabinets, shelving, and equipment to the walls or floors to prevent injury when seismic events occur. Proper restraints of bookcases should be mandatory. If hurricane or tornado force winds penetrate building interiors secured objects will not become a source of injury.

Safe rooms — Rooms securely shielded from the elements offer protection against hurricane- and tornado-force winds and should be constructed in all school buildings. To reduce cost, an existing interior restroom can be retrofitted as a safe room. Provisions should be made to store emergency supplies in that location. In larger facilities, it may be necessary to retrofit several restrooms or other spaces to provide adequate protection. Above all, students, faculty, and staff should be made aware of safe room locations via appropriate signage.

Using aesthetics to enhance security & safety — Building in security and safety does not have to compromise the aesthetic character of a school. Shielding computers from electronic eavesdropping conducted by vehicles in the street can be accomplished with ordinary-looking electronic signal-blocking window glass. Heavy flower containers, decorative fountains, and ornamental but secure fencing can help defend building entrances from by bomb-carrying vehicles. For effective and aesthetically pleasing results, engage a security firm employing experts in security and building and landscape design.

From the perspective of those charged with developing and implementing a disaster recovery program, building in safety and security will limit injury and property damage and protect access to computer systems, resulting in quicker full-data system recovery. An appropriate disaster prevention/mitigation plan should identify and prioritize the renovations and redesigns needed for the campus physical plant, and what equipment and supplies purchased. Most importantly, the disaster prevention/mitigation plan should assign responsibility to specific individuals and departments for the implementation of the steps that need to be taken.

Needless to say, full coordination and ongoing communication between those responsible for disaster prevention/mitigation and DR planning is essential. So, too, endorsement and support by top school district officials of such comprehensive efforts are necessary in order to overcome turf battles among those departments responsible for carrying out the wide range of security initiatives. Anything less than the enthusiastic commitment of an institution’s leadership will increase the likelihood of failure and impede the clear establishment of lines of accountability necessary to achieve successful implementation of the program.

Marty Watts is president and CEO of V-Kool, Inc. He can be reached at 800/217-7046 and at