Providing a safe and secure environment in today’s schools is a top priority for America’s educators, but determining the right solutions can be a complicated undertaking. School districts will benefit from taking a comprehensive approach to facility and capital asset management that considers educational priorities, modernization opportunities and safety concerns all at once.
This approach to physical security can help schools address their unique circumstances and ensure that safety measures complement long-term efforts to provide a best-in-class learning environment where students thrive. Making improvements to school facilities with an intentional set of solutions will help both in times of extreme crisis, like active shooter situations, and also help deter less severe threats, like petty vandalism.
Finding funding to make the major improvements required can be a challenge, but the best solutions will help district leaders capture and maximize all available funding streams. Energy performance contracting is a strategic lever for school administrators to make modernization a reality while significantly reducing utility costs and redirecting funding into the learning environment.
Making your school’s safety and security infrastructure work smarter
Here are five key areas where district leaders can make safety and security infrastructure improvements that deliver more value, reduce maintenance costs, and improve the learning environment:
(You can also download this section as an easy to reference checklist here.)
1. Interior and Exterior Lighting
Enhancing indoor and outdoor lighting with LED technology is a widely recommended solution for improving physical safety at school. A well-designed lighting system dispersed across school grounds will improve building security at all hours by increasing visibility for staff. Important components include well-lit perimeters and entrances, which make pathways and parking lots safer at night. Interior lighting can also employ motion-detection technology to improve building security.
In addition to improving security, LED lighting is an all-around cost saving improvement that lowers energy usage while decreasing replacement and maintenance costs. Costs associated with LED lighting upgrades can often be further offset by government rebates or grants in place for sustainable and energy efficient technology.
2. Perimeter control
Creating a secure perimeter with fencing and automated gate systems allows school administrators to easily control vehicle traffic and restrict off-hours campus access. Enhanced perimeter control also gives school leadership better tools to combat a variety of daily challenges experienced at schools, like after-hours vandalism, car accidents, school property damage, and bike theft. Better control in turn reduces expected maintenance and personnel costs in responding to these challenges.
Upgraded access systems, including key card or badge entry technology, allow schools to assign and set permissions on-demand. Badges can easily be activated and deactivated as old ones are lost or new ones are needed. As such, key card technology is safer and less costly to maintain than older access systems, which could require district-wide rekeying in the event of lost or stolen keys.
3. Building security
Physical upgrades to building security should begin with better access controls and reliable locks, and may also include the construction of security vestibules to monitor and control traffic flow into school buildings. Double-door vestibules at school entrances easily funnel all visitors to administrators so they may be properly vetted and approved before entering school common areas.
According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “At this layer, the main physical security objective is to detect threats, and delay them to the best extent possible—when a school effectively protects its grounds perimeter layer with robust detection and delay capabilities, it is reducing the chance that threats will progress inward to affect other, subsequent layers of a school campus.”
Proper access control has the added benefit of increasing energy efficiency. Entry vestibules dramatically enhance the building envelope, keeping conditioned air in and weather out, thus improving the building’s overall efficiency. Improving a school building’s energy consumption puts funding that would typically be allocated to utilities back into the classroom.
Upgrading to modern security camera systems provide administrators with advanced monitoring and recording capabilities. Newer, digital security cameras provide a networked solution to surveillance that supplement school staff’s capabilities.
Surveillance technology can be a component of building automation technology, which can improve overall building performance and operational efficiency. A building automation platform like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure system gives administrators a comprehensive and holistic view of the entire school district, including power, network and maintenance outages.
5. Emergency preparedness
Emergency preparedness, and easy communication in the event of an emergency, are vital tools for school safety and security. Intrusion detection systems are one key platform for emergency preparedness, as well as emergency egress signage and lighting to improve visibility of exit areas, easing emergency exit control and crisis management.
The latest voice over internet protocol (VOIP) systems are another common tool for modernized emergency response. These systems allow administrators to immediately notify an entire district with the touch of a button in lockdown situations. The installation of emergency call boxes across a school’s campus, for instance at various locations in student and staff parking lots, can also contribute to quicker responses to threats.
Don’t let funding become a barrier to critical safety and security priorities
It is well documented that a critical connection exists between physical security and the social and emotional well-being of students, staff, and the broader school community. That leaves K-12 district administrators across the US to balance the core need to take a heightened stance on student safety, while ensuring that security enhancements promote rather than hinder the achievement of a schools’ overall education objectives.
So how can school districts hope to fund their infrastructure priorities when faced with many competing priorities?
You can explore two case studies in the full guide to safety and security infrastructure here.
It starts with designing solutions that capture all available funding streams. A comprehensive approach to infrastructure and energy planning can unlock the necessary funds to make real improvements to your facilities— without the need to raise taxes.
At Schneider Electric, we help school districts access a wide variety of funding streams, ranging from federal stimulus to state grants to utility rebates. For example, in 2022 we helped our clients secure a combined $3.1 million in COPS grants, winning on average 20% more than the average award.
With access to the best funding available, we have partnered with hundreds of school districts across the US to build innovative solutions that bring schools into alignment with their safety and security goals while achieving substantial cost savings that can be reinvested in capital improvement projects.