Safety & Security

Building Safer Schools

I recently had a great experience working with a client and their architects on a new school construction project. I sensed that the school’s architects might not have initially been thrilled that their client had required them to retain me to review their plans and provide feedback. Having worked quite a bit with architects, I understand and accept that they might be skeptical in this type of situation. This particular project was complex for a large high school, with scores of rooms connected by long hallways, multiple floors and lots of glass.

Realizing that architects are required to balance competing design objectives and parameters, it is understandable that they would be concerned that a security consultant would undo what had taken many weeks to produce. In particular, the design incorporated an extensive use of glass that was not only an important design feature, but supported the school’s learning approach.

By the end of the first conference call, the lead architect seemed to be at ease after I pointed out the positive security features of glass along with ways to help mitigate some of the concerns relating to active shooter and terrorist attacks. We also discussed how fights, abductions, bullying and sexual abuse can be greatly mitigated by applying the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

When we had our final conference call with the firm and a number of district officials, things flowed very well. I was especially impressed that the district’s superintendent took considerable time from her busy schedule to participate in the entire call. This is how safer and more effective schools are built!

Another great team

I was fortunate to be able to bring two truly gifted experts in to assist me. Because the school will have many indoor and outdoor athletic areas, I reached out to Chief Russell Bentley. A veteran school district police chief, Bentley has worked with me on school safety projects in more than 30 states. He also has extensive experience as a coach and an official. In my opinion, he is one of the nation’s top “go-to” people when it comes to security and emergency management design features for school athletic venues.

I was also fortunate to obtain the assistance of Les Nichols. Nichols recently left his position as the national vice president of Child and Club Safety at Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs of America’s national headquarters to go into private practice in youth protection. An architect by profession, he has taught me a great deal as we have worked on projects for Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs. I have to credit to him for helping me truly understand how impactful applying CPTED strategies through small changes in the physical environment can be.

CPTED literacy

Fortunately, the design already included some excellent CPTED concepts and security features. There were strong examples of the use of natural surveillance as well as the application of natural access control. While Bentley, Nichols and I were able to provide quite a few suggestions that will be incorporated into the final design, we had a good design to work with from the start. Just as importantly, we had a talented team of architects and school officials who were eager to build on what was already going to be a great school design.

I rate CPTED literacy as a highly beneficial skill set for any architect. Great architects can become even better if they take the time to learn about integrating the CPTED concepts of natural surveillance, access control, territoriality and maintenance into their designs. Utilization of CPTED can help architects design safer and more aesthetically pleasing learning environments while reducing liability exposure for their clients and themselves.

Like medical doctors, accountants and other professionals, architects have a myriad of important skill sets that require hard work to remain current. Seeing the enormous long-term benefit of proper CPTED utilization in many K-12 schools across the nation and other countries, I feel that CPTED literacy increases the value an architect can provide their clients immensely. Like architects, school officials who are involved with new construction and renovation projects can do even better work if they are well versed in this impactful area.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at