State-of-the-Art Safety

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report, 90 percent of schools control access to their buildings during school hours. However, in a 2008 study conducted by Wren, only 36 percent of schools surveyed reported using electronic access control to do so.

Given the high percentage of schools taking measures to control access, 
clearly educators and school resource officers recognize the need to protect people and property. However, most of these schools have not made the leap 
from utilizing traditional locking mechanisms to implementing state-of-the-art electronics. If their reluctance is due to expense, schools should be made aware that the return on investment for electronic access control is readily recovered through the significant reduction of re-keying doors and locks. In addition, electronics can eliminate soft costs associated with traditional locking systems, such as the elimination of door monitors and/or the additional duties of locking and unlocking perimeter doors between classes.

Successfully implementing electronic access control in K-12 environments requires extensive planning as well as processes to ensure maximum usage of the technology. The following steps are recommended to successfully implement electronic access control in a K-12 school.

Step 1: Decide on your criteria

The criteria for implementing access control are specific to each school. These criteria should include cultural factors, practical limitations such as the budget and other considerations including physical building structure, resources, etc. Individual schools should ask the following questions:
  • Is it realistic for students to carry access badges each day?
  • What kind of budget is available to dedicate to access control? How will this impact the number of doors that can be controlled?
  • Are there times during peak traffic when it is unrealistic to keep doors locked?
These are a few of the decision points which will help to develop the framework that the new electronic access control system must meet.

Step 2: Prioritize areas
Don’t get discouraged if your plans for access control exceed your available budget. Plan for the long haul, and then prioritize the critical areas. The next step is dividing the areas into a phased approach for implementation as funds become available. Prioritization could be based on:
  • areas with the greatest risks and vulnerabilities or those areas with a history of problems
  • segmenting different areas of the building at logical entry points, even though doors within those areas may not be immediately outfitted with access control; and
  • focusing efforts on all perimeter entrances to the building for turnkey control of building access.
Step 3: Plan implementation
Implementation involves set-up and configuration of the electronic access control system, which requires thinking through the goals of the system. Implementation planning should involve answering the following questions:
  • Who needs access to the building on a regular basis and at what times?
  • Are there particular peak hours when certain doors/groups of doors should be unlocked?
  • Do doors need to be locked or unlocked during holidays/special schedule days?
  • Do any special steps need to be taken into account for unexpected days off, such as snow days, other weather emergencies?
  • How will parents, substitute teachers, contractors and other visitors be handled?
  • Who will have administrative rights to the system and are they responsible for managing exceptions and emergencies?
  • How will the system be maintained? How often are holidays updated in the system? What happens if a teacher retires/leaves the school?
The answers to these questions will provide the foundation for configuring the access control system and building process around how it is managed and maintained.

Step 4: Communicate
Sometimes the adoption of an access control system can be perceived as a threat or accepted with hesitation. For this reason, students, staff and parents need to receive clear communications regarding the reasons for the implementation of electronic access control, and expectations regarding use and benefits. Best practices are as follows:
  • Lead by example — if badges are required, administration should begin wearing badges.
  • Outline the security, safety and cost-saving benefits of the system for the school.
  • Share trends and best practices and success stories from other schools.
  • Manage expectations for if and how these groups can expect their daily routines to be impacted by the system.
The biggest mistake when implementing a new electronic access control system is underusing it. By following the recommended planning process prior to implementing the system, schools can lock down the desired results. 

Jeff Floreno
serves as security practice leader for Wren, providers of physical security solutions that create safe learning environments. He can be reached at