School Perimeter Security: The First Line of Defense
The key to having a successful perimeter and security strategy
- By Ben Williams, David Corbin
- July 01, 2017
A RASH OF ACTIVE SHOOTER AND OTHER SECURITY
INCIDENTS AT SCHOOLS HAS PROMPTED PARENTS AND
ADMINISTRATORS TO EXAMINE AND IMPROVE CAMPUS
SECURITY. AMONG THE MANY OPTIONS FOR ENHANCING
SECURITY, ONE OF THE FASTEST WAYS TO MITIGATE
RISK IS TO IMPLEMENT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
THAT KEEP UNAUTHORIZED VISITORS FROM GETTING
ON THE CAMPUS IN THE FIRST PLACE.
From a design standpoint, security should be thought of in concentric
layers, and the perimeter is that first layer of defense. Schools need
to prevent unwanted intruders from entering the secure space that has
been defined for students and staff. Whether that’s a fence perimeter or
the exterior of the building, it’s the primary line of defense in protecting
students and faculty.
In recent years, we have seen more investments in physical security
in the form of gates, fences, vehicle barriers and other perimeter protection
systems to ensure that campuses are not easily accessible. At its
core, perimeter security has more to do with understanding and controlling
patterns, not just locking doors.
We have worked with many school districts across the country. Each
faces their own set of challenges while solving their unique requirements.
The State of Florida, for example, has the Jessica Lunsford Act,
or Jessica’s Law, which requires that before stepping onto campus, new
staff have to go through an extensive background check. In other
words, you have to be approved to carry a badge before you can even
think of walking onto campus. This is just one example of how schools
in some areas have implemented policies and procedures to mitigate
risk externally before potential offenders get on campus.
encing is often a starting point for establishing perimeter security.
And in the higher education space, fencing often extends from the
campus all the way through to other facilities like sororities and dorms.
Arizona State University, for example, uses perimeter fencing systems
around the outside of sororities to prevent unwanted trespassers from
entering that space. Those gates and access points are controlled by a
mix of mechanical and electromechanical locking devices. With many
options to choose with varying levels of complexity, these devices simply
control and limit who has access to secured areas.
Even within fencing, there are a variety of options. From the low end
of the spectrum, using a mechanical key to control a padlock that
secures a chain to a gate, to standalone keypad locks that function
independent of the access control system at the school, all the way to
wired and wireless integrated electromechanical locking solutions that
can be tied into an access control system. One of the more common
ways we have seen pedestrian gates with rim exit devices electronically
controlled is using surface mounted electric strikes from HES. This
allows for free egress from the space, but ties the entrance to the access
It can often be prohibitive for a school to try to control and implement
access control at every opening, so many schools start by identifying
key entry points that can be used to limit and control pedestrian
traffic. The next step is to mechanically lock down all other preceding
points that were not identified. The objective is to maximize physical
and electronic resources by reducing the number of entry points, thus
Let’s take a step back and consider the fundamentals as it relates to
hardware. Every aspect of your security hardware should be routinely
inspected to ensure everything is working properly—all access control
openings should have a door closer, locks should be functioning and
latching correctly, and there should be no loose hinges. It’s very likely
that adjustments or modifications will have to be made over the life of
a door opening. Note, there shouldn’t be any instances where locks or
exit devices are intentionally defeated—for example, if a door stop is
placed under a normally locked door to keep it open for convenience.
PREVENTION THROUGH DESIGN
Schools are often faced with trying to mitigate risk and exposure with
very little budget. CPTED (pronounced sep-ted) is the acronym for the
crime fighting technique known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental
Design. CPTED is based on the theory that the proper
design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction
in the incidence of crime.
CPTED’s emphasis is on natural and environmental design. In this
way, it deviates from the traditional target-hardening approach to
crime prevention, but is complementary to all security efforts. The
target-hardening approach traditionally focused on denying access to
a crime target through physical or artificial barriers (such as locks,
alarms, fences and gates). CPTED focuses on natural barriers, is very
versatile, and can be applied anywhere.
There are many initial low-cost to no-cost strategies schools can
implement to add layers of security or improvements to an existing
security plan. This includes improving visibility by not planting bushes
and shrubs in front of windows, improving lighting, and strictly limiting
access to rooftops and basements.
CPTED offers a number of strategies, several of which directly
enhance perimeter security:
- Provide clear border definition of controlled space;
- Provide clearly marked transitional zones that indicate movement
from semi-public to private space;
- Re-designate the use of space to provide natural barriers to conflicting
- Redesign space to increase the perception or reality of natural
There is a good deal of CPTED guidance and information online.
We encourage security professionals and school administrators alike to
review the information and become familiar with the many simple-todeploy,
common sense strategies for improved security.
TIPS FOR INITIATING A CAMPUS SECURITY PROJECT
When beginning the process of evaluating and upgrading a security
plan, start by answering the following: Which departments will be
affected? Which departments have a budget for this type of project?
And be sure to involve those decision makers from the start.
Walk around the campus and do a quality check on your own before
engaging an outsider. Pay special attention to older facilities; they often
include additional complexity, especially when adding electronic security
to existing doors. Note the condition of hinges, doors, and locks,
which can wear out after many years of use by thousands of students.
It’s important to always take the time to speak with local security
professionals. Many industry events provide opportunities to share
best practices and lessons learned with other schools, which offers the
opportunity to ask for references. Whether it’s a security consultant or
systems integrator, an adept security professional’s experience and
knowledge can be invaluable. Find someone in the industry who
attends the annual security shows, collaborates with other professionals
and manufacturers to keep up with industry trends, while staying
current with codes and standards.
Basic cost estimates are easy to get from providers, but there’s so
much more that goes into large-scale security projects. A certain
amount of due diligence is required since there is no one-size-fits-all.
Every security system is uniquely tailored to each situation. And it
requires more legwork than most end users expect.
APPLY A CURB-TO-CORE APPROACH
The best way to approach perimeter and security design is to consider
solutions starting from the street and working your way into the facility,
all the way down to securing the pharmaceuticals in the nurse’s office.
As part of a perimeter security plan, a trend that’s happening more
and more in K-12 schools is the creation of entry vestibule—a single,
controlled access point that prevents a visitor from moving past that
point without authorization.
This creates a control point where a visitor comes into the vestibule,
speaks with someone at the front desk who greets and identifies the
visitor, and then is either allowed or denied access into the controlled
area, which is usually the main hallway of the campus.
Perimeter security isn’t always just about violent intruders. Good
perimeter security greatly reduces opportunities for vandalism and
theft during school hours as well as after. Schools today are full of valuable
equipment, including computers, laptops, tablets, lab supplies and
equipment, projectors, sound systems and more.
PLAN AND PREPARE
Don’t just depend on the physical security hardware alone to ensure
occupant safety. Schools need trained people in place who know the
procedures that can circumvent incidences from occurring or guide
everyone to safety in an emergency.
An ongoing analysis of the habits of people flowing through the
facility should be performed by administrators and security professionals
to ensure the plan remains relevant and effective. Seek out
potential gaps in your plan and look for any holes. Work with local law
enforcement professionals—their knowledge and advice are essential.
Always consult with your team of service providers that may include
security consultants, systems integrators, IT professionals, manufacturers
and other experts.
Having a successful perimeter and security strategy in place means
making sure that the physical aspects of a security system – locks, exit
devices, electronic access control systems and other hardware – are in
place. And just as importantly, it means that security personnel, students,
and administrators are as prepared and trained as possible.
Within the concentric layers of a security plan, the total plan is only as
strong as the weakest layer. Plan accordingly.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.