Securing Classrooms: Integrating The First Unified Security System

Securing Classrooms: Integrating the First Unified Security System

The need for comprehensive solutions is growing

With gun violence now a reality in school corridors and classrooms, officials are faced with the significant, yet daunting, task of ensuring that students, faculty and staff are secure in what traditionally has been considered a safe environment. When incidents like this occur, analysis has shown that they are often over in five minutes or less. The ability to keep intruders out and students and faculty safe on school grounds has become a priority for security integrators and, most importantly, school officials.

Founded in 1889, Littleton Public Schools (LPS) is a school district in Littleton, Colo. that serves several communities within the southern Denver metro area. With 13 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools, two charter schools, and multiple preschools and alternative programs, it is the 15th largest school district in Colorado out of more than 250. With an enrollment of over 15,000 students, LPS is charged with not only keeping children safe, but providing secure buildings for teachers, staff and visitors.

The need for a comprehensive solution that can be continuously monitored from a central location is growing. As technologies are upgraded and integrated over the years, security systems become complicated; the more standalone parts, the more things that can go wrong. LPS set out to integrate a unified security system that combined all aspects of security—access control, VMS, fire detection, perimeter, mass notification, barrier protection and detection, and diagnostic systems— to allow full coverage of 27 schools, plus administrative buildings, spread out over 29 miles.

THE BEGINNING

Many school districts across the United States have been releasing protocols requiring locks that enable teachers to discretely lock the exterior lever or thumb-piece trim from inside the classroom. In doing so, the teacher draws little attention to the students in the room while simultaneously increasing the level of security without having to frantically search for a key or walk outside the classroom.

These locks require minimal installation time and are highly costeffective products that better secure classrooms during the threat of an intruder and emergency situations. For example, all California schools built after 2011 are required to have push-button locks, and the state of Colorado is working to upgrade classroom locks in all school districts within the next year. Specifically, in 2012, LPS installed industry-standard, push-button locks after teachers demanded locks be placed on every classroom door. However, over the past five years, there have been countless advancements in security solutions and technology to help assist with lockdowns in an emergency, specifically for schools.

One year later, in 2013, Best Access began gathering input from those who have experienced live lockdown situations. One of those individuals was Guy Grace, Director of Security and Emergency Planning for LPS. Grace was asked to provide feedback on the preliminary design of a wireless lockdown solution, and how the device could be better designed and deployed so that schools would receive the optimum benefit from such a solution. One piece of the proposed solution was to provide a tool to secure large open areas, such as libraries and cafeterias, where it is difficult to lock multiple doors in a short period of time— especially if there is only one teacher or staff member in the area. Based on the feedback and research, Best Access Solutions launched

BEST SHELTER, a responsive lockdown solution that can initiate a lockdown of one door, hallway or entire building via fob in April 2016.

A UNIFIED APPROACH

Technicians first installed the SHELTER system into the library and cafeteria of Centennial Academy elementary school in October 2016. This install included locks on eight sets of doors and five wireless pendants that are located throughout the large rooms, and was first used as a standalone solution. The plan was to leverage the system as a complete lockdown solution and to have it integrated in the district’s access control system.

On November 21, 2017, during Thanksgiving break, LPS and Best technicians worked together to successfully integrate the SHELTER system into the LPS Open Options DNA Fusion platform and VALOM Mass Notification System. Due to the access control system containing about 3,000 other devices and 3,800 mass notification speakers, the integration took about nine hours to complete.

With this successful integration, LPS was the first school district in the United States to have a completely unified security system, not only enhancing the security of its own schools, but also demonstrating to other school districts around the country that there are solutions that can make lockdowns simpler and faster.

“The problem we had before was that the SHELTER and the unified security system were activating independent of each other,” said Grace. “Now they work dependent on one another, making the solution a tremendous asset to our overall security approach.”

As part of the unified security system, in the event of an emergency situation, a teacher or administrator can initiate the lockdown immediately by pressing one of the wireless pendants or via a computer interface. As soon as the alarm is activated, the gateway and repeaters connect with the SHELTER 9KX Cylindrical Lockset to ensure the hallway lever is locked and secure, only allowing users to enter if they have a key, but still offering free egress from inside the classroom.

The solution is also equipped with easy-to-understand visual and auditory indicators to show when the device is in lockdown mode, testing mode, or standard classroom-function mode, allowing for a quick and easy lockdown of the cafeteria and library, while communicating with all other devices in the unified security system to ensure mass notification of an event.

As soon as the solution has locked down the cafeteria and library, the unified security system simultaneously alerts first responders, releases magnetic closures for other exit doors and starts the strobe lights throughout the building. All of these aspects of security are showcased on the computer interface. This interface was developed based on the experience from real events and ensures all lockdown protocols are completed. Every security solution has its own unique icon within the interface that is interactive and, when pushed, brings the user to that specific security device’s screen.

However, the unified security system is only as beneficial as the training that goes into the users that will handle it. LPS continues to hold lockdown drills and train students and teachers how to stay safe in an active shooter or other emergency situations, including how to use SHELTER in those emergencies.

“We want to be sure our teachers and students are comfortable with using this technology," Grace said. "It is there to help, and to make securing our buildings in an emergency situation simpler and safer."

LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE

Grace will begin installing SHELTER into all high school libraries beginning summer 2018, including Arapahoe High School, Heritage High School and Littleton High School. As these new installations are being completed, this solution will again be integrated into the unified security system.

Another next step for the pilot elementary school, Centennial Academy, is to expand the wireless lockdown pendants to every classroom. This corresponds with LPS’ recently launched, SHELTER-EVADEDEFEND- CARE, developed by LPS leaders for emergency situations that empowers school employees and gives them the ability to call a lockdown if a situation is developing.

LPS has not had an emergency since the installation. The Unified Security System with SHELTER allows teachers to go back to teaching, and students to go back to learning.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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