The high value of the technology and equipment found in schools is an attractive proposition for criminals. Schools must therefore consider how they can reduce the risk of theft outside of school hours. James Kelly, chief executive of the British Security Industry Association, looks at a variety of security solutions available.
According to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, in 2014 13,003 thefts, burglaries and robberies were reported by schools across the UK. Indeed, a simple search of recent news stories reveals plenty of examples of schools being targeted by criminals outside of hours.
One such example explains how a gang of burglars targeted 26 schools across the North West, stealing an estimated £100,000 worth of computer equipment and high‑value items during a three month spree. Of course, it isn’t just the financial losses to the schools and various authorities that will have an impact; many of the computers stolen contained irreplaceable school work which is now lost and will undoubtedly be upsetting for the children it belonged to.
Schools must therefore look at how they can reduce the likelihood of being targeted by criminals and at how they can protect their sites when not in use.
Securing the perimeter
Making the perimeter of the school site challenging to enter should be a top priority when considering out-of-hours security.
Physical security measures such as security fencing combined with gates, barriers or bollards will help deter any unauthorised visitors and will make accessing the site more difficult. When installing security fencing several design factors must be considered, such as the fencing having sufficient height and strength, the use of climbing impediments and secure ground fixings, as well as the provision of clear areas to facilitate surveillance and maintenance. Enhancing the impact of this barrier is key, and this can be achieved through the use of lighting and signage to indicate the presence of security patrols, alarms and CCTV systems.
Undoubtedly, CCTV continues to play an important role in keeping a watchful eye on critical perimeter areas, acting both as a deterrent and an active measure for early intervention. There have been huge technological advances in CCTV. Jacques Lombard, managing director of Syntinex and vice-chairman of the BSIA’s CCTV section, says: “The main improvement in CCTV technology is the quality of images as we move into the HD and UHD (Ultra-High-Definition) era. The days of watching grainy, distorted images is a thing of the past, as individuals, businesses and governments have realised the numerous benefits afforded by today’s technology. Higher megapixel cameras mean that the cameras can cover a large area without compromising the picture quality.”
HD and UHD CCTV systems offer the potential to deliver a much greater level of surveillance at critical or high-risk areas, such as site entrances or exits, and can also provide footage to help secure convictions should a security breach occur.
Doors and alarms
Should intruders be successful in breaching the wider perimeter of a site, schools can further hinder the progress of would-be criminals by ensuring that doors are strong, in good condition and comply with British Standard PAS 24-1 ‘Doors of Enhanced Security.’ Doors should be fitted with good quality five‑lever mortise locks or, better still, high security cylinder locks. Locks should also be fitted to windows, especially those that are on the ground floor or accessible, such as from a flat roof. For added security, it can also be beneficial to fit windows with shutters or grilles, especially if high-value items, such as computers, are visible inside.
Intruder alarms are an essential means of safeguarding school buildings, providing a deterrent to would-be intruders, as well as alerting those nearby, a remote monitoring centre or the police to the presence of an intruder. The reliability of intruder alarms has significantly improved due to the development of new technology and the increasingly stringent standards for manufacture and installation. In the past two decades, the number of false alarm activations generated by security alarm systems has reduced dramatically, from an average of 1.36 per system, per year in 1995 to 0.10 per system, per year in 2013. This significant improvement in the reliability of alarm systems contributed to the development of the Unique Reference Number (URN) scheme, which speeds up the communication process between a URN registered Alarm Receiving Centre and the police command and control room.
URN registered systems are operated to such a high standard that they are the only systems that can guarantee a police response, and the success of this system has led to many insurers offering discounts on policies to organisations that have URNs in place. The reliability and resilience of URN registered systems can be attributed to the rigorous vetting that takes place at every stage of the process. All staff involved in the alarm installation and response are security vetted, from the design stage through to installation, handover, maintenance and monitoring, meaning that customers can be assured that every individual involved in the setup and operation of their system are police vetted.
Marking classroom property
Asset and property marking is the permanent identification of items to deter thieves by providing evidence that links them to the scene of a theft and enables stolen goods to be returned to their rightful owners. This is achieved either by marking the school’s name onto the equipment, or increasingly, by using technology to enable property to be traced to its origin through a database. Success rates are high and schools are encouraged to mark property and highlight the use of it with signs on school buildings to deter criminals.
This type of forensic property marking is used to prove the origin of stolen items by painting or labelling them with a solution of forensic codes, modelled on the principles of human DNA. The virtually indelible mixture is visible only under ultraviolet light, but when analysed, shows a unique profile, proving beyond doubt who owns the property. It can be used to protect almost any kind of property, including electronic and computer equipment. Once applied, it is not only invisible to the naked eye, but virtually impossible to remove, with even the tiniest trace sufficient for identification purposes.
Many schools are now marking their high-value property with forensic property marking solutions to great success. One example of a particularly successful application in the education sector, is that of Woodchurch High School, Wirral, that marked all of its high-value ICT equipment with BSIA member product, SelectaDNA.
In the two years since it has opened, the school has reported zero thefts or break-ins. Ian Lowrie, from Wirral Council’s Community Safety Team said: “We were looking for a product that would not only stop theft happening – but prevent burglars even attempting theft in the first place.” The SelectaDNA solution doesn’t damage the marked property in any way. The unique DNA code in the solution links each item back to the school, meaning that if an item is stolen and later recovered by the police, it can be traced and returned directly to the school.
Pete May, a member of the facilities management team at Woodchurch High School said: “All of our ICT equipment is marked with SelectaDNA and we continue to use the warning stickers that are supplied with each kit on every piece of equipment we mark. We believe this is acting as a very effective deterrent against burglary.
Choosing the right solutions
Choosing the right security solutions will differ from school to school, but it is clear that all schools should be using a combination of measures to ensure the safety of the premises outside of hours. Obtaining professional advice when assessing security needs can ensure the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of deploying new security solutions.
When procuring any security product or service, quality should always be the dominant factor in decision making. It is vital that potential suppliers meet with the relevant British Standards for the products or services that they are providing. The company should be of goof repute, have a good trading history and be members of recognisable industry bodies.
Members of the BSIA are required to meet strict quality criteria in order to remain eligible for membership of the association which demonstrates that the products and services they provide are of the highest quality. Choosing a reputable supplier will not only ensure that a superior service is delivered, but may also reduce the spending on security in the long term.
The BSIA can help security buyers to make an informed decision on security services and providers in the UK.