Experts have noted that a school's design can have a big impact in helping keep students safe and thriving academically; in this regard, many architects are 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. 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.
How does your child’s school stack up? The National Institute of Building Sciences is currently working on a national standard to assess the safety level of existing school buildings. In the meantime, better security can be achieved by addressing these three key factors:
- 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 can also be enhanced 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 and allows first responders more time to respond.
- Transparency and flexibility: School invasions and their tragic results make headlines all the time. However, the most common threat in schools is 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.
The ultimate takeaway? When school security is designed into a building, kids can focus on learning without fear.
About the author: Brian G. Minnich, AIA, is an architect who has worked in educational design for over 20 years and a current member of the leadership group for AIA's Committee on Architecture for Education.