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School security and compelling learning environments - can they coexist?

Architect Mike Corb says yes, as long as security needs are integrated into (and not after) the design strategy

Recent events at schools across the country continue to place school security as a primary school design consideration. Rightfully so, our desire is to make schools as safe as possible. However, the conversation with school and community leaders about how to do so can sometimes counter the forces currently influencing learning community design - transparency and flexibility, to name two. In our desire to create safe learning environments, the conversation can quickly turn to one that’s more consistent with prison design rather than compelling learning environments. Even with the media focus on recent tragedies, schools continue to be some of the safest places for our children.

School security should be viewed holistically and should address a variety of considerations and concerns. The goal of security design should be to provide a secure learning environment without compromising those design elements that contribute to compelling learning environments. Technology often is viewed as the cornerstone of school security design. Although important to any security strategy, one can argue cameras simply document heinous events; they do not prevent them. When approaching security design some key questions should be asked:

  • Who are we securing? Teachers? Students? Both?
  • Who are we securing against? Visitors? Students?
  • What are we securing against? Vandalism? Harm to life? Others?
  • What are our expectations for security? Prevention? Observation? Deterrence? Containment?

Strategies to address these questions and others should consist of both active and passive measures. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) offers many important passive strategies such as maintaining consistent visual site lines within the building and on the site. Active technologies such as door access and video monitoring are good supplements to sound passive strategies. A third component, and arguably the most important, is the awareness component. Many times, when school security events happen, many of the building occupants have indicated they felt something "wasn’t right." And this is perhaps the most under-rated and overlooked component to security design. Things like fostering a culture of communication is every bit as important as providing security cameras. This culture can consist of confidential venues by which students and faculty can raise concerns. Remember, many school incidents happen from within the school, not externally.

Viewed holistically between passive and active strategies, school security should be multi-layered and integrated into facility design. The key is to address passive strategies early in the design process and supplement them as needed with active strategies. This allows the variety of learning environment considerations to be exercised and integrated, leading to facilities that are safe, secure, and inspiring.

School security should be viewed holistically and should address a variety of considerations and concerns.

Remember, many school incidents happen from within the school, not externally.

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