Guide to school security systems: alarms, cameras, door locks, and sensors

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School security and safety planning

Keeping kids safe at school should be a top priority for any educational facility, from pre-K to university environments. A three year audit in 2020 by the Texas School Safety Center found that only 6.5% of Texas school districts had viable emergency plans. School security planning presents a unique set of challenges, with a large number of people coming and going throughout the day, and a heightened need for physical security without infringing on the learning environment. School security systems have been on the rise in recent years, with more educational facilities investing in controlled access for school door security, and adding school security cameras around the buildings.

When creating a school security plan and choosing school door locks, it’s essential to address the more serious issues such as unlawful intrusion, vandalism, and school shootings. However, school security systems should also be in place to prevent everyday concerns such as theft, and to ensure areas like laboratories, storage facilities, and teacher’s lounges stay secure.

Unified school access control with live video from Openpath

  • Smart multi-technology readers with built-in video camera

  • Secure employee access to restricted areas using PIN codes

  • Flexible Lockdown for schools and 501(c)3 orgs at no cost

  • Remote unlocking and sitewide lockdown capabilities

  • Cloud-based software for streamlined management

  • Open standards for seamless integration across all platforms

  • Instant alerts with video and on-demand replay in mobile app

  • Easy to install hardware with end-to-end encryption

Access control and school security door locks

Access control is an increasingly important part of school safety plans, with more educational buildings and campuses relying on the technology to maintain security both during school hours and after. Installing school safety door locks that are access controlled is a good way to control and track who accesses certain areas, and when.

Intrusion detection at school buildings and campuses

Access control for school campuses prevents unwanted individuals from accessing school property. Because only those with authorized credentials can unlock the door, school safety door locks keep potential crime at bay, especially on nights and weekends when the school is empty. Access control is also an essential component not only in preventing intrusions, but also detecting them if they do occur. School security systems that use modern access control technology like Openpath can detect a forced entry, door left ajar, or failed unlock attempt, and automatically send an alert to security staff in real time.

School visitor access management

Whether it’s prospective students or their parents, guest speakers, vendors for events, or contract workers, schools have more visitors than you’d think. When it comes to effectively planning safety measures, a school security solution that also features visitor management is a smart investment. An access control system that’s equipped to handle visitor credentials ensures that visitors only have access to certain spaces for better security.

With a mobile and cloud-based security solution, those guest credentials can be texted or emailed directly to the visitor’s smartphone, so they won’t even need to pick up a badge or key card to unlock the door. This is especially useful for vendors setting up for events like performances, career fairs, and after-hours events. School administrators don’t need to hover over entrances to manage security, since the customized credentials will only allow the visitors access to the spaces they’ll be using for the event.

School door security improves asset protection 

Ensures faculty spaces are kept secure. Areas such as teacher’s lounges, storage spaces, and faculty offices are a prime target for misconduct. By installing school door lock systems that require authorized credentials, schools and universities can prevent students or school visitors from accessing spaces they shouldn’t.

Controlled access school door locks are great for protecting equipment in libraries, gyms, and science and computer labs. This important learning equipment can often be a target for theft and vandalism, and needs to be monitored. By using access controlled school door locks for these areas, only authorized students or faculty will be able to gain entry. Remote security management with a cloud-based access control system offers additional protection by allowing teams to monitor spaces from anywhere, at any time. In addition, a modern school security system will keep a detailed entry log of all access activity, helping audit and adjust school security measures as needed. 

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School door locks guide

The way doors lock and unlock is surprisingly crucial in a school safety plan. Choosing the right school door lock systems is an important part of keeping schools safe, especially during emergency and lockdown scenarios. This quick overview will help school administrators choose the right types of door locks for classrooms, exterior doors, and interior school doors. 

Exterior door locks for schools

School security systems need to follow strict code and compliance, and school door locks are no exception. Due to the large number of people entering and exiting, and the need for accessibility, school door locks on exterior entries should be easy to use, monitor, and control. Building and fire codes require schools to always have an unimpeded means of egress, in the event of an evacuation. School access control systems and electronic keyless entry systems are permitted for use on most egress entries, as they can easily be controlled for a lockdown scenario. Most exterior school door locks include an emergency push bar that unlocks the door for quick evacuation as well. 

Interior school door locks 

School security goes beyond the doors people use to enter and exit the building. There are classrooms, storage closets, laboratories, and offices to keep secure, too. But when it comes to classroom door locks, there are more options than you’d think. Choosing the right school door lock systems is a key part of school security planning, and shouldn’t be overlooked or taken lightly. During emergencies, a classroom door lock is crucial for safety. There are four key things to remember when choosing school door locks for your facility and classrooms: 

  • A teacher should be able to control the classroom door lock from the inside, without opening the door to set the lock

  • Emergency responders need to be able to easily enter the classroom or office without being issued a credential for the school door lock systems

  • The school door locks should require no training to operate, and be accessible to everyone, including students and faculty with disabilities

  • To comply with regulations for school safety, door locks should adhere to all building and fire codes

Best school door lock systems 

The best types of school door locks are ones that are easy to install, easy to use, and come with enhanced safety features. For example, Allegion Schlage® wireless locks feature cloud-based software for remote unlock and lockdown capabilities that can be controlled from any authorized personal device. When installing classroom and school door lock systems, it’s important to determine which type of credential and lock is best for each scenario, too. For example, offices and storage closets should only be accessible by authorized staff, so a school door lock system with mobile or key card credentials is best. Similarly, science and computer labs with expensive equipment should have trackable access control in case an audit is needed.

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Wireless smart locks for schools and campuses

  • Openpath seamlessly integrates with Schlage wireless smart locks for cost-effective school access control 

  • Schlage NDEB, LEB, and Control™ smart locks secure classroom doors, offices, IT closets, computer labs, and other interior entries with no wiring required

  • Enable fast, reliable entry with mobile credentials via Openpath’s Rapid Unlock and Bluetooth capabilities

  • Support multiple credentials on the same system, including mobile apps, key cards, and key fobs

  • Allow lockdown from the interior with the Interior Push Button (IPB) Schlage NDEB locks feature an Interior Push Button (IPB) for easy lockdown from the interior

  • Fully remote access to manage and configure school security locks with mobile and web-based apps

Alarm systems for schools

Educational facilities need to have a school alarm system in place for fires, per building codes. However, an alarm system for schools can take safety a step further, providing important defense against other security concerns, such as theft, property damage, school violence, and natural disasters. Integrated school alarm systems, when connected to school security cameras, door locks, and access control, can help inform security teams of potential issues, and trigger faster responses from emergency personnel or on-premise staff.

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School security cameras and surveillance systems

As educational facilities invest more in security products, school security cameras are high on the priority list. Installing a security camera system can create safer environments for students and faculty. However, there are also drawbacks to installing school security cameras. 

Benefits of school surveillance systems

Better security monitoring and incident response – Security cameras enhance safety with visual surveillance, giving security teams the ability to see what’s happening throughout the property. By installing cameras at key school security checkpoints, administrators can monitor all access areas without having to be there. Modern school security camera systems are also a useful tool in proactive incident response. With features like automatic alerting and AI video analytics, administrators can see when an incident occurs, where it’s happening, and quickly respond accordingly.

Deter theft, vandalism, and violence – It’s much harder to get away with criminal activity in schools if there’s video evidence. For many schools, simply having security cameras installed is enough to prevent the most common threats, like property damage, graffiti, and theft. Areas like locker banks, parking lots, storage closets, and other common targets can benefit from having security cameras put in place.

Visual verification of access activity – When paired with an access control system, school security cameras add visual verification to the access activity log. For example, if the school security system logs that a teacher used their credentials to access the computer lab at a strange time, administrators can check the video footage to see if it really was that teacher, or if it was a student or other personnel fraudulently using the teacher’s credentials. Auditing is quicker, allowing administrators to determine the appropriate response to a security concern in less time. 

Disadvantages of school security cameras

Legal and privacy concerns – security cameras in K-12 schools can present legal issues, especially because students are minors. Even in higher education facilities, faculty and students often push back against being monitored on camera, and raise privacy concerns. It’s vital that a school security plan includes additional ways to secure the camera system against hackers and vandalism, and enforce who has access to the video surveillance footage, as well as how that footage can be used. 

Reactive security won’t prevent threats – One disadvantage of some school security camera systems is that they don’t do anything to stop a threat once it’s occurring. While this is true of many older video surveillance models, newer options have features and configurations that make them more proactive. By leveraging AI analytics, real-time alerts, and integrations with alarms, access control, and visitor management, school security camera systems are able to speed up response times and help administrations mitigate risks.

Cost of school security camera systems – When school security system budgets are tight, video cameras are a big investment. Between the hardware, installation, software, and staff to monitor the school security camera system, this upgrade may seem out of reach. Choosing the right types of cameras and software are key to managing the costs. A cloud-based system, for example, gives schools access to advanced features without the added costs and maintenance of an on-premise solution. Applying for school security grants, as well as evaluating the potential ROI of a cloud-based school surveillance system may help make the case for this investment.

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Cybersecurity solutions for schools and universities

Cyber attacks are on the rise at schools. The most common threats include data breaches, ransomware attacks, social engineering, and phishing attacks. As more school systems and devices are connected to the network, additional security is needed to make sure that information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Each district is different, but there are a few best practices schools can follow to better secure their networks and protect their information:

  • Encrypt all communication between devices and systems connected to the network

  • Limit who has access to the school network and set up firewalls for added protection

  • Routinely audit network and cybersecurity systems and test for vulnerabilities

  • Require regular cybersecurity training for all staff and faculty, and communicate best practices to students who may use personal devices such as mobile phones or laptops to connect to the school network

  • Secure all data stored on school systems, and have backups in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

  • Use access control to secure IT and server rooms, computer labs, and offices with computers connected to the network

  • Have detailed procedures in place as part of your school security planning in the event of a data breach or cybersecurity attack on campus 

  • Check with your third-party providers to ensure they also follow the necessary regulations for data privacy and protection

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Best practices for emergency school safety solutions

In school environments, preparedness is key for dealing with emergencies. Most educational facilities are equipped with alarms and drills for fire safety and natural disasters, which are essential to school security plans. However, in order to protect students and faculty, the best school safety technology not only alerts officials to current problems, but also helps mitigate risk during emergencies, and acts to prevent them altogether.

Creating a proactive emergency school safety plan is the first step. School lockdown procedures and safety plans should be in place to address internal and external threats including natural disasters, rioting, active shooter, and nearby police activity. Safety and school security measures should also be ready in case the building or campus has to scale back on the number of students allowed in the school after the emergency, or if operations need to be suspended temporarily. In addition to communicating which type of emergency is occurring, leveraging technology can help schools be more prepared for emergencies.

School lockdown plans and procedures

In the event you need to lock down your school campus, it’s crucial to be able to do it quickly and efficiently. Natural disasters and active shooters in schools are the most common reasons for a lockdown, but there are other scenarios that may occur, depending on the location and security risks of the school. There are strict regulations on school lockdown devices, as outlined by the National Association of State Fire Marshals Regulations. Many floor and door-closer barricade devices offer a budget-conscious way to increase security, but can do more harm than good if used improperly. In addition to the above regulations, school lockdown devices should meet the following requirements:

  • Adheres to all building and fire codes so that people can still get out if needed

  • Can be quickly installed or activated, as every second matters in an emergency

  • Has an intuitive design that’s easy for anyone to use or operate

  • Can withstand added force without failing or breaking

  • Is quiet to install, so as not to draw attention in an active shooter scenario

Classroom door locks for active shooter scenarios are essential components of today’s school security systems. One option is to retrofit door locks for school lockdown. Retrofitted school lockdown door locks still use key access and allow single-motion egress, but also include a push button on the inside of the door to safely and securely lock it down. Emergency personnel can still unlock from the exterior using a key, and students can easily deactivate the lock to evacuate. 

Replacing door locks for school lockdown with touchless and wireless locks that can be remotely controlled is a great way to enhance school safety. A cloud-based school security system with remote access enables administrators to trigger a lockdown plan from anywhere. Creating school lockdown procedures for different situations is a proactive safety solution, taking into account different buildings and structures that might need their own plans, such as a parking garage. You should also look for technology that includes a lockdown plan that automatically contacts emergency responders in the event of a lockdown, saving time when it matters most. 

Remote activation is an important feature for school lockdown door locks, as it gives administrators better control over emergency situations while they are happening. Being able to trigger emergency school door locks, either to lockdown the building to prevent people from leaving, or to unlock specific doors to let people out or emergency responders in, improves overall safety for school campuses. 

The award-winning Flexible Lockdown solution from Openpath is free for 501(c)3 organizations and educational facilities.

School security cameras for emergency response

Schools and universities should have top-of-the-line security cameras installed, and use a cloud-based video management system. Remote access to the video footage is crucial when empty schools may become a target for crime, and even improves response time during school hours. With remote access to real-time video footage, school security cameras can inform emergency personnel where they’re needed while en route to the building, so there’s less guesswork upon arrival. School security camera footage is also key to auditing processes, such as identifying the perpetrator after a break-in, or seeing who accessed a computer lab prior to a data breach.

Sensors for school shootings and break-ins

With new developments in safety technology, many school security solutions now include sensors that can detect gunshots or broken glass inside school buildings. When connected to the school’s access control and security camera systems, this is a powerful way to strengthen school lockdown procedures.

One of the worst security threats that can happen at a school is a shooting. By installing school shooting door stoppers on classrooms and faculty office doors, schools can increase safety in their buildings. While there are many options for classroom door lockdown devices, the best system is one that features an emergency deadbolt, quick activation from inside, as well as the ability to quickly unlock the door in order to evacuate.

An integrated school security system adds another layer of protection for students and staff in the event of a school shooting or other emergency. For example, when advanced door sensors detect a nearby gunshot or broken glass, the security system can automatically trigger the school lockdown procedure, and send emergency alerts to administrators and first responders. Emergency personnel can use the school’s video surveillance to remotely monitor the situation, and pinpoint how and when it is safe to evacuate the premises.

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COVID-19 school reopening safety & technology guide

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts enacted temporary school closures, with some programs turning to online learning or remote teaching. As a quick fix, these tactics were not designed to replace traditional learning altogether. Most schools and universities put together reopening strategies that included some continued distance learning, ramp-up procedures for returning students to campus, and mitigation plans in case of a COVID-19 infection within the facility. For university and K-12 school safety measures during COVID-19 to be both safe and effective, instructional and operational flexibility are essential.

Installing new technology to safely reopen schools can have lasting benefits and make schools more secure right now, and have a lasting impact for future students and staff. The following school safety products and solutions offer immediate impact for reopening schools during COVID-19, with future-proof flexibility.

Touchless entry and exit 

Touchless technology is quickly becoming the new standard for COVID-19 school safety. Upgrading to an access control system with touchless entry and exit capabilities ensures faculty and staff don’t have to touch communal readers, PIN pads or even door handles to enter the building or secured rooms. Openpath’s contactless access supports mobile credentials, and can also work alongside encrypted badges or keycards. This is a great solution for school campuses, where most teachers already carry a smartphone. To create a fully hands-free experience, integrate the access control with automatic door opener hardware.

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, touchless entry is more convenient for school faculty. Teachers can access their offices or lounges with a quick wave of their hand or an elbow to the reader, without having to take out their phone or fumble with an ID badge.

Remote access control in educational facilities

Safety at school is always important, but many educational buildings are still lagging behind in their access control systems. With the legacy systems common in schools and universities, the on-premises equipment requires in-person maintenance and management. Remote management on a cloud-based school security system offers clear advantages when reopening K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrators can manage access from anywhere, including remotely unlocking doors, changing door schedules, and checking activity logs in real-time. Plus, system maintenance and updates can be done in the cloud without a technician on-site.

Cloud-based occupancy tracking software

A cloud-based platform is the best access control system for schools, as it also gives administrators more flexibility in scheduling, credentialing, and visitor management. In accordance with social distancing guidelines to reopen during COVID-19, many schools have opted to limit capacity in classrooms and staff rooms with rotating class schedules. To eliminate administrative burden, a cloud-based access control solution allows admins to create user groups within the platform, giving access only to those who need it on their assigned days and times. The Openpath platform also features a unique occupancy management feature, with real-time activity dashboards to help pinpoint areas that are over capacity.

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Building management systems for updating university and school safety systems

When making security system updates to help protect K-12 schools and college campuses, project management is key to quality control. With keeping track of each system upgrade, the necessary paperwork, as well as managing who can enter the facility, there’s a higher risk for oversight in building projects, which leads to budget overages and compromised quality. A building management system (BMS) like SiteOwl can consolidate and streamline your project and operations oversight by:

  • Centralizing project data

  • Standardizing operational procedures

  • Eliminating surprises

  • Improving quality control

A robust BMS is especially useful for college campuses with multiple buildings, sister schools or annex locations. The system keeps every project organized in a single interface, and can be managed from anywhere. The remote system allows for better collaboration, reducing errors due to miscommunication. Quality control photos help managers ensure everything is installed correctly without having to be on-premises.

As major installations are often done in phases, a BMS helps keep the project on track, minimizing downtime to make adjustments, and making it easy to pick up where the team left off when it’s time for the next phase. Plus, you’ll know who has access to your building at any given moment for enhanced security throughout the process.

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How to choose and apply for the right school security grants

Improving school security is a top priority to protect students, staff, and faculty. However, education budgets are often tight. Luckily, there are grants for school security to help educational facilities fund the safety updates they need. Before applying for school security grants, it’s important to conduct a risk assessment to know exactly what updates are needed for your facility. Not all security grants for schools will provide funding for all types of safety and security, so it’s important to find the right fit. 

Applying for grants for school safety can be a lengthy process, but a smart investment for your school. There are federal security grants for schools available, as well as grants at the state and local level. To improve your chances of securing a school safety grant, make sure your application includes: 

  • A thorough list of risks as determined by experts from your security audits

  • The types of behaviors that need to be monitored and mitigated for optimal safety

  • Plans to train faculty and personnel on the new security systems and procedures

  • How and when law enforcement will be contacted for emergencies

  • Comprehensive risk management and threat assessment procedures, and the technology needed to carry out the above plans

  • Additional safety initiatives such as accessibility, diversity and inclusion, mental health resources, and sustainability

Grants for school security range from personnel-focused options, to funding for school technology and infrastructure updates. You can find school safety grants that provide funding for crisis prevention and de-escalation training, for example. Or, use funding from grants for school security cameras, new access control systems, better lockdown systems, and updated school door locks. 

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Reimagining school safety in the digital age

Schools and universities present a unique challenge for security system integrators, as educational facilities need to be both flexible and secure, while adhering to government and local mandates. This is important when looking at a school security plan and choosing the right products. Updates to school security measures will probably be done in phases, focusing on the most-used spaces first where they will have the most impact on schools and campus safety.

Connecting security systems can create new opportunities to automate processes and tasks for a more efficient, sustainable school. When rethinking school safety technology and creating school safety plans, utilizing cloud-based management tools reduces administrative burden while creating a safer learning environment for everyone.

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