The four guiding principles of security are deter, detect, delay and respond. Law enforcement, military and security teams have created other versions of these principles, but these are the core of providing security for any type of organization, entity or people.

Therefore, when securing students in schools, we have to examine our efforts toward these basic core principles. A mix of technology, staffing, organizational structure and equipment comprises the actual security plan, but for now let's take a look at the role that school buildings play in securing schools.

A security program addresses the four core principles of security in multiple different layers:

  • Deter is addressed with preventative measures using technology, equipment, staffing and policies implemented through procedures.
  • Detect is achieved mostly by technology but also through staff training and awareness.
  • Delay is achieved mainly through detection reaction, equipment, walls, doors and emergency action plans.
  • Respond is typically provided by staff, law enforcement and first responders.

So what role did the building have in all of that? If an event happens inside a school building, there are opportunities to have the building automatically respond to the event without putting humans in harm's way.

For example, let's call the event a shooting in which we did not prevent the weapon from entering the school. Let's start the example at the place of the shooting — a hallway which we will call point zero.

The event happens at point zero, and detection is now needed. During the school day, there is the potential of many different detection abilities from shot detectors to persons in the immediate area that can pull a blue pull station or run into a classroom and initiate a lockdown.

For this example, let's say another person saw what was happening and ran into a classroom and told the teacher who triggered a lockdown campuswide. When the lockdown was triggered, all doors that were being held unlocked by the access control system just locked, all of the magnetic door hold opens on fire blockade doors just released their doors, which were also locked, and all classrooms just had a light go on signifying a lockdown.

In some campuses, the classroom doors are also electrified and are being held open electronically, so when lockdown was initiated the system also locked those doors. Some campuses simply provide a locked door or the ability to lock the door during an emergency. For this example, we are going to say the classroom doors were also electrified and automatically locked when the lockdown was initiated.

At this moment, the suspect in this event now has locked doors on either side of him/her and a closed, locked fire door behind him/her. The shooter sees the only possible route that is open to travel is the free exit door to the outside.

In a fit of rage, the suspect then fires more rounds into the walls and doors around him/her in hopes to further carry out his/her bad deed. When the bullets made impact with the walls, they were either masonry block concrete-filled walls, were drywall over a ballistic barrier inside the wall or they were drywall on 3-4 layers of one-inch plywood, so they did not increase the victim count.

When the bullets impacted the solid wood core doors, they made a mess of the door but did not penetrate it because it was a 1.75-inch-thick solid wood door panel. When the bullets impacted the ballistic-treated glass in the door, it did not fail either.

Looking at our example, the building played a role in reacting to the event and reducing further victims. By building the correct elements into the architectural components of a school, by treating windows with ballistic material, by installing electrified locking hardware that is controlled by a card access system, and by automating the lockdown by either a human trigger or an automatic trigger, lives were saved.

When the shooter had nowhere else to go from the hallway but out the exit door to the outside, then the building played its role in this event. Just like training law enforcement on how to respond to these events, buildings need to be equipped with the proper tools to allow it to play a role in a critical event response like the above example.

Let's not forget that security in schools is protecting students, faculty and staff with whatever available tools there are to use.