Alarming Ideas

Many pre-K-12 principals have a story about an estranged spouse who came to school to take his or her child home, despite a court order prohibiting it.

In today’s raw, aggressive world, it seems important to bar a parent with that idea from entering. That’s just one of many reasons that schools, today, typically lock all exterior doors and have a hall monitor to greet and question anyone trying to enter once school has begun.

Of course, refusing entry to a parent could set off a violent confrontation. Security experts recommend equipping a reception area such as the principal’s office with a panic button. “It should connect to a central station so that it sends an alarm to the police,” says Sean Ahrens, practice leader manager with Chicago-based Aon Risk Solutions Security Consulting Practice.

While the police will respond to a call from a school immediately, the panic alarm should also summon more immediate help from the school staff, perhaps by way of an automated message.

There are different ways to think about alarms in this situation, Ahrens continues. The panic alarm means “come here and help me now.” But suppose the individual does have a weapon and pushes past the monitor and starts down the hallway.

“Then, you need a method to communicate with staff and faculty — and you can’t use a straightforward announcement that a person with a gun is in the school,” Ahrens says. “Use a code that you have established. For instance, an announcement such as ‘Principal Black, please come to the office.’ If you’ve set it up, teachers will know to lock the door, get the students down low and to keep everyone away from the windows.”

Another code that might speed help could be the lights. “In some instances, an alarm can be as simple as lights turned on in a facility after hours,” Ahrens says. “Lighting systems tied to building management systems through occupancy sensors can alert an astute patrolling police officer to an intrusion.”

Alarming Equipment
Equipment theft is another school security problem today. For example, Ahrens points to classroom projectors mounted on ceilings or walls. “You can protect expensive equipment by connecting it to a hard-wired alarm circuit,” he says. “If the equipment is removed while the alarm is activated, the broken connection will set off the alarm.”

Ahrens goes on to say that rooms housing expensive equipment might also use motion detection sensors set to alarm when something in the room moves after hours — when no one is supposed to be in the room.

“Along the same lines, you should think about connecting sensors to the copper condensing coils in air conditioning units installed on the roof,” Ahrens adds. “Today, thieves are targeting copper coils, which can be sold. Tearing the coils out can destroy the unit.”

Alarming Eyes

In today’s high-tech world, surveillance cameras no longer tie into independently cabled systems. Instead, they connect to the school’s network, which also carries video to and from television monitors in the media center and the classrooms.

A video management system enables a principal or security officer to call up cameras on a computer or to send video from cameras to other devices connected to the network — like classroom television monitors. “We’ve used this idea to enable custodians working after hours to turn on classroom monitors and keep an eye out for trouble as the monitor cycles through the cameras.”

School security is offering more alarming protection all the time.