School Safety and Security — Wide Open Gaps Often Overlooked

School Safety and Security — Wide Open Gaps Often Overlooked

When most security administrators think about securing their school, usually heavy duty door locks and surveillance cameras come to mind. While these are two important pillars of a physical security “blanket,” there remain many other gaps which can be easily filled with relatively affordable security technology.

This article will address some of these security gaps, while also stressing the importance of implementing an integrated school safety and security solution.

Before getting into the technology which fills security gaps, note that a great school safety reference guide was developed by the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). In 2015, PASS first released the Safety and Security Guidelines for K-12 Schools, which remains the most comprehensive information available on best practices specifically for securing school facilities available. The fourth edition (2018) is greatly expanded to address the growing range of complex security challenges facing today’s K-12 schools, providing a resource for school officials— and their solutions providers—to help achieve the most appropriate and cost-effective of deployment of security solutions.

The Guidelines identify and classify best practices for securing K-12 facilities in response to urgent needs for information identified by the education community. While choosing the right technology is paramount towards any effective security blanket, following the PASS guidelines will ensure you’ve addressed most all available policy and procedural strategies.

Increasing Integrations

Back to the technology. The first gap most often overlooked by school security administrators is your school parking lot. Many unauthorized individuals visiting a school often park their vehicle in the school parking lot. This is the outer most layer a school security administrator should first start thinking about security. At the very least you might consider installing a park lot barrier and paying a security guard to restrict access to the parking lot.

A surprisingly affordable way to automate parking lot security is by installing a gate barrier which opens when a visitor carrying an authorized credential (i.e. a sticker adhered to the visitor’s windshield or a fob attached to their keychain or kept in their car) comes within close proximity of a “reader” wired to the barrier. Today’s long-range readers utilizing UHF (ultra-high frequency) can often detect an authorized user’s fob from up to 200 feet away.

For those schools worried about fobs being lost, stolen or misplaced they might opt for LPR (license plate recognition) instead of a UHF reader system. LPR eliminates the need for users to carry fobs. Instead, the LPR uses its OCR (optical character recognition) engine to recognize the alpha numeric characters on a license plate. Whether a valid UHF fob or license plate, once the associated reader correctly identifies the user’s credential, the barrier will open up if the user has the necessary access right.

The system will also log that user’s access into the parking lot. This allows the security administrator to have an audit log in case any improprieties are discovered in the parking lot. The audit log can also be used to bill/ invoice individuals utilizing the park lot. It’s also advisable for security administrators to integrate their parking lot security with their visitor management system. This way whomever in the school is expecting a visitor can be alerted immediately upon their guest accessing the parking lot. This allows the “school host” plenty of time to prepare prior to their guest arriving at the school building.

Moving in from the Perimeter

After a school visitor parks their vehicle and arrives at the school building, it’s advisable to have a walkthrough metal detector which detects concealed metal objects. In addition to addressing the threat of dangerous metal weapons enter the school, there’s now an epidemic of under-age vape users in school. Vape pens are usually constructed out of metal, which thankfully can be detected by most metal detectors.

There are typically two schools of thought regarding the installation of walkthrough metal detectors in school entrances. Some advocates of metal detectors like the deterrence created from installing them. The presence of metal detectors tells criminals and vapers that the school takes security and compliance seriously. Those school officials disliking walkthrough metal detectors often cite not wanting the school to resemble a prison. Thankfully, there exist today walkthrough metal detectors having wheels which allow the meatal detector to be wheeled away after everyone enters the school in the morning. Still other metal detectors can actually fold up and can be easily transported inside a convenient carrying bag. Naturally the accuracy of a walkthrough metal detector is very important, but they’re even more effective when the metal detector is integrated with an access control system, like a turnstile. Even though a person may be authorized to access a turnstile, the metal detector can override the turnstile if the authorized person has concealed metal on their person.

While mostly seen at airports, X-ray baggage scanners are now becoming remarkably affordable in commercial use. Airport passengers are well-accustomed to first placing their bags on an X-ray inspection scanner prior to the passenger entering the walkthrough metal detector. In high-crime neighborhoods, it’s advisable for schools to implement both metal detectors and X-ray baggage scanners if they wish to make certain no dangerous objects are brought into the school.

As with walkthrough metal detectors, X-ray baggage inspection devices serve as a terrific deterrence to ward off hostile people even thinking about entering the school with the sole purpose of enacting violence on staff and students. As with the parking lot access control system and walkthrough metal detector, it’s a good idea to have the X-ray baggage inspection device integrated with your access control system.


After the person’s vehicle is permitted access to the parking lot and the visitor has cleared the metal detector and X-ray baggage scanner, having them processed by an integrated visitor management system ensure both security and convenience. A huge gap in most visitor management systems (VMS) is allowing the visitor to choose how they wish to prove their identity. A school should not trust a visitor’s credentials.

The best way to ensure a visitor is authorized is by selecting a VMS system in which the host (i.e. school teacher, staff or principal) create the invitation electronically which then sends a unique QR code from the host’s cell phone or computer to the authorized visitor’s cell phone. In this manner, only the visitor with the host’s personalized QR code is admitted access to the school. This is also a terrific way to ensure only the legal guardian of your students is permitted to take their child home from school.

Sadly, with divorce rates in the USA exceeding 50 percent, often only one of the parents has actual legal custody. Therefore, schools would be liable if allowing a parent lacking legal guardian status to take a child home. It is best to implement only VMS systems which guarantee the identity of visitors before allowing the visitor access to the school building and students. As with the previous type layers of physical security described in this article, its preferable implementing a VMS which is integrated to your access control system (i.e. doors & turnstiles).

Today there exist very attractive optical turnstiles which can be used to control access and ensure unauthorized parties don’t sneak in after an authorized person accessing a door, often called tailgating. In past, turnstiles weren’t implemented because it created bottlenecks in high-traffic buildings. Students frantically searching for their access badges in their book bags and pockets could dramatically hold up the line. But today there are high-speed face recognition readers which allow students to pass through turnstiles almost as if there was no turnstile in their way.

Utilizing biometric credentials (fingerprint readers, face readers, palm readers and more) is a great way to avoid the security flaw of metal keys and plastic access badges, namely that these type of physical credentials can be lost, stolen or forgotten. On the contrary, a person cannot lose or forget their finger or face. Face recognition is also the most convenient method to unlock a door or turnstile. With today’s face recognition technology, a person doesn’t even have to stop and stare into a camera. With some vendors face recognition technology, the person can often just continue walking while only a glimpse of their face is seen by the face recognition camera.

Access Control Management

Lastly, a school should utilize an access control management software which ties together all the above described security solutions. The software should be powerful yet easy to manage. Today there are many different types of access control software. Some software is “cloud-based” which requires no computers. However, the school needs to pay a monthly fee. Some schools may prefer not paying monthly and don’t mind installing the software on their computer and managing it themselves. A school should inquire with both their IT department and finance department before implementing any kind of access control software.

As mentioned, a great first place to start is by familiarizing yourself with the PASS guidelines. Afterwards, begin giving thought where your own school’s vulnerabilities primarily exist. Is it the parking lot? The playground? Are students sneaking in vape pens? Maybe you should install a few biometric readers to secure the computer room, office or even the teachers’ lounge.

If you don’t have the budget, there are plenty of financial firms with attractive leasing programs to help schools bridge the gap between budget seasons.

Bad guys never stop conspiring. Neither should you. You always need to stay one step ahead of them.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

Digital Edition

  • Campus Security & Life Safety Magazine - May / June 2023

    May / June 2023


    • How Hospitals Use Video to Improve IAQ, Patient Satisfaction
    • Extending the Perimeter on Campus Security and Safety
    • Hybrid Access Control in Campus Environments
    • Streamlining K-12 Safety and Security Grant Writing

    View This Issue