For schools, 2021 was a year filled with masking, social distancing, and remote learning. According to the Washington Post, 2021 also set the bar as the year with the highest number of school shootings: forty-two. This high number is even more distressing when one considers that students attended schools in person much less than usual. Even more recent shootings indicate that school and university campuses are under increased risk of violent attacks.
Active shooter drills and situational training can help limit the damage when these horrific events occur, but training is only part of the solution. When it comes to keeping as many students and faculty as possible out of harm’s way, securing entry points and developing effective communication systems can provide helpful protections.
Door entry and access control systems are the first line of defense. Faculty, employees, students, and approved visitors can be equipped with proximity ID cards or fobs so that access can be revoked in seconds when a threat is deemed probable. Door entry equipment often comes with video surveillance and proximity card capabilities to allow for visual identification of individuals entering or exiting school buildings; this equipment also requires a valid proximity card or fob to open the door.
Advanced entry systems can also be programmed to limit access on certain days, during specific windows of time, or even number of uses. These restrictions allow for approved visitors to have access with a temporary keyless entry code or proximity card, stopping them from gaining entrance to campus buildings at other times. Some entry systems can also display or announce security messages when necessary and can even double as emergency phones. Door entry systems are an effective frontline solution and can be the first affordable step to ensuring that the people in campus buildings are authorized to be there and unauthorized individuals are kept out.
Inside the building, emergency phones are the next line of defense. When an emergency arises, precious time can be wasted searching for a nearby desk phone—or scrolling through an endless list of contacts on a mobile phone that may have poor cell service. Contacting emergency personnel can be critical in saving lives, and easy-to-access emergency phones make sure that help is only a button push away. Hard-wired handsfree emergency phones in key locations throughout campus buildings allow for quick contact with authorities while simultaneously providing the exact location to eliminate confusion. Installing analog emergency phones is beneficial because the phones will still function even if electrical power is cut or cell service is down.
Some emergency phones also have the ability for emergency personnel to call back and silently monitor the situation, giving first responders real time information on the current scene they are heading to. Ideally, a handsfree emergency phone should be installed next to every existing fire pull station. Other emergency phone location recommendations include hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, parking ramps, building perimeters, common walking paths, and outdoor athletic areas.
Alyssa’s Law has been passed in numerous states, requiring public and charter schools to implement silent panic alarm systems to contact first responders and law enforcement agencies when a serious situation is at-hand. To meet this requirement, panic buttons can be installed under faculty desks, in administrative offices, or any location deemed vulnerable to a threat. These panic alarm systems allow for two-way communication, silent monitoring, and can include back-up phone numbers if the top priority numbers are busy or disconnected. Panic alarm systems communicate discretely without alerting the present threat.
Classrooms with only one exit are some of the most vulnerable areas at universities. Panic buttons, along with PoE powered multicast talk-back speakers, are the perfect pairing to help protect a classroom. These talk-back speakers allow for easy day-to-day campus communication, but in a dangerous situation can also be used for silent monitoring or activated with a simple Bluetooth remote. To keep panic at a minimum, talk-back speaker announcements can be prioritized by location. If a threat is isolated to the cafeteria, a message can be broadcast to only areas close to the cafeteria, which can help minimize campus-wide alarm and confusion. These announcements can be sent out quickly to guide students and faculty to safe locations.
Mass notification systems are another required element for a successful campus safety plan. These systems offer built-in alert tones and pre-recorded messages that can be sent out to an entire campus, a single building, multiple buildings, or even an individual classroom. Broadcasting common alert tones allows students and faculty to act without having to wait for specific directions. Recorded messages can give directions on where to take shelter in a storm or to evacuate immediately due to a fire. A mass notification system should also allow for a live page to broadcast information regarding imminent danger, such as an active shooter. Mass notification systems can also be used for non-emergency announcements, such as upcoming class cancellations or campus closures. These systems are affordable and easy to integrate with existing public address or intercom systems.
As violent attacks continue to threaten campuses, keeping students and faculty safe is the most important objective of campus security. Door entry and access control are a crucial first line of defense against tragedy. Quick access to emergency responders is vital to staying safe on campus. Two-way communication is also important to keep students, faculty, and emergency personnel informed of what is happening. Broadcasting alert tones and messages to areas of campus can help students and faculty stay safe during dangerous situations. All of these safety elements come together to build a successful campus security strategy.