The undogging debacle: perimeter security in a school environment

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

YARMOUTH, Maine—Across the nation, teachers and staff at K-12 schools recently welcomed new and vetted students and their parents to campus to begin the 2019-2020 school year full of quality education with challenging, relevant and meaningful curriculums in a safe, nurturing environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. 

Many educational-related studies and research projects throughout the years have found that for students to acquire knowledge, physical safety is a top priority. For example, the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools, offers information and technical assistance to states, districts, schools, institutions of higher learning and communities focused on improving student support and academic enrichment. The center found that “physical safety is related to higher academic performance, fewer risky behaviors and lower dropout rates,” as stated on the center’s website. “Students who are not fearful or worried about their safety feel more connected to their school and care more about their educational experience.” Therefore, this is where the security industry and education collide in a joint effort to provide unequivocal security for school environments. 

To ensure students feel the degree of physical safety needed to achieve academic success, Yong Lacy, Allegion Americas category leader, openings, told SSN it’s best to take a holistic, all-hazards approach to school security. “There are a number of free self-assessment tools available to help schools prioritize security initiatives based on criticality, vulnerability and probability,” Lacy said. “These can help schools determine where to focus resources today, while planning for future security upgrades down the road. It’s also best to bring in an expert who is familiar with the K-12 security landscape and best practices for keeping students, faculty and property safe.” 

Case in point — Rock Hill School District in York County, South Carolina, the largest school district in the county, 11th largest in the state and spread out over more than 3.1 million square feet. As of this writing, the schools have not been victim to any serious, violent acts; however, they are prepared, well-trained and ready to take action should a situation arise. The district has successfully responded to police lockdown requests in the past with Schlage LE and NDE wireless electronic locks and Schlage AD-400 wireless electronic locks adorning mostly every classroom and office door, and integrated with the schools’ access control software provider. However, secondary perimeter openings were still being undogged manually by staff. 

“Ideally, every opening in K-12 facilities is connected to access control software to maximize security,” Matt Alford, director of business development, LenelS2 said. “Historically, connecting all perimeter openings was not practical — or affordable — for most schools.” 

To get this undogging debacle solved, enter Mike Johnson, director of safety and security (S&S) at Rock Hill Schools, to the scene. Johnson worked for the Rock Hill Police Department for 14 years, most recently as the supervisor for the School Resource Officer Unit. “After working closely with the previous director of S&S [at Rock Hill School] for four years, I knew when the [director] position came open that it was something I really wanted to do,” Johnson said.

For this particular project, Johnson explored a variety of electric locks including “Yale and various other hard-wired solutions,” he said, ultimately choosing to work with Allegion and Schlage. Both companies “seemed to have the most widely used products and also from our experience were the most durable products,” Johnson said. “We have always received good support and customer service from these companies as well.”

Allegion’s employees take the time to understand a variety of elements prior to recommending products to customers. In general, “we want to know what type of hardware is on the classroom, office and perimeter doors and what type of physical access control software was is in place,” Lacy said. “Is there video surveillance? What’s the lockdown policy in the event of an active threat? But, it’s also important to know the school’s procedure for a tornado as well as the day-to-day flow of students and faculty.” 

To help put together a solution package specifically for Rock Hill, Allegion needed to understand how exit devices were being managed in key areas of the district, the number of times per day locking and unlocked occurred and how and the district’s overall security plan. Speaking with the district, Allegion gathered the following information: 

  • Location of installed exit devices, such as along perimeter openings, cross corridors and gathering areas;
  • Exit device management: mechanically or electronically;
  • Any issues with daily lockup or lockdown;
  • Actions that take place in case of an emergency;
  • Time it should take to lockdown the entire facility;
  • Actions that take place in case of emergency during times doors are unlocked (i.e. morning drop off of students); and
  • Time it takes to actually secure secondary doors currently. 

Gathering such intel is “helpful to paint the picture for us,” Lacy said, “but it also identifies some unmet needs that end users didn’t realize they had and if a school is mechanically managing devices, there’s definitely value we can add in terms of elimination of potential error and efficiency.” 

Allegion ultimately recommended the following solution: the Von Duprin Remote Undogging kit because according to Lacy, “it is the only solution in the market that enables electronic override of a mechanically dogged door, and it also monitors the latchbolt and door position within the exit device, which is unique,” along with Schlage NDE wireless cylindrical and LE wireless mortise locks. The locks are built on Schlage Grade 1 mechanical lock platform, which Lacy said delivers a secure, convenient and affordable solution. “Flexible connectivity options leverage existing infrastructure for offline or real-time applications and integrate into popular electronic access controls systems for lockdown capabilities,” Lacy said. This makes the overall solution wireless, require less components so it is cost-effective, and retrofits, making it easier for the district to stay within budget for future upgrades or expansions.

“We are seeing that school districts, like Rock Hill, are prioritizing security technology and access control,” Alford said. “The systems are becoming a more integral part of schools’ planning, preparation and training strategies.” 

Rock Hill fits right into Alford’s assessment of schools. “Some of our best practices include utilizing a single point of entry into a school, employing a robust visitor management system, using cutting-edge technology for access control and providing a comprehensive safety and security training program for all faculty and staff,” Johnson said. 

Interfacing with the Von Duprin solution deployed at Rock Hill Schools with LenelS2’s NetBox access control system allows the district to work with cutting-edge, access control technology that extends facility lockdowns and event schedules to otherwise manually controlled exits. “The LenelS2 NetBox software leverages the Von Duprin remote monitoring and undogging options to monitor the status and undog the door in real time,” said Alford. “Rock Hill School District is now able to control doors throughout its facilities directly from the NetBox software. The integration with Von Duprin RU also allows the school to lock down its entire perimeter in seconds.” 

Ensuring an installation such as this goes smoothly and successfully is no easy feat. Tim Boan, access control technical for Rock Hill Schools offers the following tips to other integrators: 

  1. Understand what you are wanting to accomplish.
  2. Educate administration on security needs and get them to back up the process.
  3. Know your products and know how you want to use them. 
  4. Have good vendor partners.
  5. Understand the process of the installation and how long it will take to get it accomplished. 
  6. Plan your project well; install for tomorrow, not just for today. 
  7. Educate others once the install is complete.
  8. Evaluate each project once it is completed.
  9. Most of all, know your budget. 

“You have to find that balance that fits your climate,” Johnson advised. “Listen to all stakeholders, from the school board all the way to the individual students and parents. Don’t forget that a tragedy in a school will affect everyone in your community, not just people directly associated with the school or the district, so in a sense, any person in your community can be a stake holder. That being said, be prepared to stand up for what you believe it.” 

So far in 2019, 21.6 percent of students reported feeling satisfied with their safety at school, compared to 76 percent of educators and 35 percent of parents. Perhaps it’s up to the security industry to change these percentages to 100 all the way around?