How safe is your child's school? Three things you need to know

Published on Monday, August 3, 2015

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How safe is your child's school? Three things you need to know

With dangerous incidents happening in schools nationwide with increasing frequency, it's important to know what measures are being taken to protect students and staff. A school's design can have a big impact in helping keep students safe and thriving academically, say experts.

In this regard, many architects are leading the way to improve school safety, harnessing the power of design to secure schools, and in the process, enhance learning.

"A safe school is one that allows administrators to have physical control over the environment. It is a place where students, parents and staff can go and not be concerned by outside or internal threats, such as intruders, natural disasters or bullies," says Brian G. Minnich, co-chair of the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education who has worked in educational design for the past 19 years. "What’s more, a secure school need not feel like a fortress or a bunker — safety measures should feel invisible to those protected by them."

So, how does your child's school stack up? While there is no national standard to help assess what makes a facility safe, better security can be achieved by addressing three key factors, according to Minnich:

  • Life Safety: From fires to flash floods, natural disasters can happen without warning. Your school should take geography into consideration first and foremost. Also, the school should be designed to ensure that students, staff and first responders can easily maneuver through the facility in case of emergency.
  • External Security Concerns: Quick fixes, such as installing additional security cameras or employing extra guards are not the only answers to threats posed by intruders. A school should have a single, main point of access that's easily identifiable; and administrators should have visual control over every approaching individual. Security is enhanced, as well, through a design concept called "concentric rings of protection," which provides multiple barriers to entry: at the property line, the exterior of the building, and within the building, via an internal set of doors. This layered protection makes it more difficult for a trespasser to reach the inside of a facility.
  • Transparency and flexibility: School invasions and their tragic results make headlines all the time. However, the most common threat in schools are internal — bullies. An open environment, in which students and staff can easily "see and be seen," can help deter bullying and violence in schools.

"Visual transparency is key to achieving natural surveillance and fostering positive social interaction," according to Minnich.

When school security is designed into a building, kids can focus on learning, without fear.

For more information or to connect with an architect on the impact of design on school security, visit www.aia.org.



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