Getting Physical

Schools vary in size with some small sites contained in a single building whilst others are stretched across multiple blocks and campuses. As they are frequently located among highly populated areas such as housing estates or town centres, sites are within easy reach of well-meaning staff, pupils, parents and visitors as well as deceitful intruders.

Although the overall incidence of criminal activity in schools has dropped in the past few years - thanks to increased awareness amongst staff and parents and the introduction of sturdier security measures - acts of theft, vandalism and especially arson are still a reality. To avoid the nasty consequences that intrusions can have on schools, it is important to ensure the sites are equipped in a way that such breaches are effectively prevented. Physical security measures are the first and arguably one of the most important aspects of school security, as they serve as deterrent to criminals and are aimed at physically keeping intruders out of the vulnerable areas of the site. Ensuring the safety of staff and, in particular, students is paramount and educational establishments should endeavour to use quality equipment that complies with the relevant British Standard and Acts. As well as addressing physical security needs, the establishment of clear strategies, such as key control ones, should be given great consideration.

Perimeter Security
When protecting a school’s perimeter with physical security, a great deal of planning is required, particularly when it involves combining technological systems with other more traditional measures. In an environment where the flow of people entering and exiting the site must be monitored, it is important to ensure the perimeter provides meaningful physical barriers that will deter any sort of unauthorised access. Creating such barriers demands attention to a variety of design considerations such as sufficient height and strength, the use of climbing impediments, secure ground fixing as well as the provision of clear areas to facilitate surveillance and maintenance.

Security fencing comes in a variety of forms and should comply with the British Standard 1722-17: 2006 in order to ensure quality. To enhance the effectiveness of perimeter fencing, physical barriers must be underpinned by measures to detect, identify and react to intrusions. Combining physical security with other measures such as intruder alarms and CCTV will provide even tougher protection, for if a trespasser attempts to breach the barrier an alarm could be triggered to alert a monitoring centre of the intrusion. Clever landscaping can also be utilised to soften the look of fences and barriers, avoiding the risk of making school premises look more like prisons rather than places of learning.

Single access routes
Ensuring all visitor traffic is limited to a single access route is another way to secure the perimeter of a school. Signage highlighting entry points will direct foot and vehicle traffic to the clearly designated paths, ensuring more vulnerable parts of the buildings are not accessible by unauthorised people.

Traditional gates can be used to secure these entrance points, and alternatives such as bollards can be employed to control vehicle access, by sinking into the ground or being removed when authorised vehicles approach the site.

Locking intruders out

Physical security measures are essential not only for the protection of perimeters, but also for the buildings themselves, externally and internally (locking rooms). Locks are the most basic of measures, and provide a fundamental layer of security, which will prevent crime by deterring criminals and slowing them down when trying to break in. A good quality lock can last for years; however, the popularity of this security product means that people often buy one that is inferior in quality under the misunderstanding that it will provide them with financial savings.

High standards are essential when selecting and installing physical security. A quality lock, for example, should comply with BS 3621: 2007 and be specified to meet the requirements of the door or window that it is securing.

Locks are useful for any type of building, particularly one where individuals all require access to different areas. Schools and colleges can offer accommodation to students and staff, therefore the categorisation of different internal areas, such as private rooms, designated communal areas, laundry rooms, to allow only authorised access is pivotal.

One BSIA member worked with Canada’s Queens University to implement lodging security in their International Study Centre. The requirements of the security system meant there was a need to ‘compartmentalise’ different parts of the residences, with specific access codes for different residents. Following a thorough site survey, a locking system was implemented which demonstrated all of the requirements: safety, restricting and zoning of areas, audit security trail and time efficiency were all covered by the system, as well a competitive annual expenditure. The success of the installation ensured the safety of staff and residents, and has resulted in further work being done to extend the project to the main reception, the main education centre, castle and accommodation blocks as well as the forthcoming extension.

Key control
No matter how sturdy a locking system is, it becomes worthless without clear key control strategies. Unfortunately, however, the question of who has access or can get access to the keys is a consideration that is very often overlooked.

It is important to remember that an unauthorised person gaining access to an area or premises using just a key can make any insurance claim invalid. By using a key, the intruder will have the advantage of leaving no evidence of a forced break in meaning it could therefore be a considerable amount of time, if ever, before the unauthorised access is detected. This will put the school at a great disadvantage and may often end up with the school having to pay out for any losses.

Local police forces can provide clear guidance to schools as to the type of security breaches they are likely to incur and how these can be countered. Gloucestershire police, for example, have recognised the risks associated with school security, and has dedicated a whole page to its site highlighting the importance of physical security measures to avoid breaches. Moreover, employing reliable security consultancy services will confer schools the peace of mind that their premises security is being taken in hand by independent and experienced professionals.

The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is the professional trade association of the UK security industry. Its members produce over 70 per cent of the country’s security products and services to strict quality standards.

Further information
Tel: 0845 389 3889