Security for Wide Open Campuses

Security for Wide Open Campuses

Protecting wide open campuses is a dicey proposition. Access is uncontrolled, meaning anyone who wants to visit can do so. Fortunately, this rarely leads to kidnappings or homicides. But there’s just no getting around the fact that the site is extremely vulnerable. So what can be done about it?

(Illustration: Seven Stones Elementary, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Canada. Courtesy of Fielding Nair International )

Let’s review our CPTED options: access control, connectivity, surveillance, and territoriality. In some cases a weakness in one of these areas can be mitigated by strengthening another, so let’s look at what we might do from each perspective:

  1. Access control. Maintaining a wide open campus may be a priority, but not in all cases. Sometimes sprawl evolves haphazardly over time, as new buildings pop up in response to sudden bursts of funding. In those cases, the district may be entirely receptive to change. So first, let’s consider boosting access control. Tasteful wrought iron fencing around the edges would surely help, and it usually enhances the look of the school. The lower budget version, involving mesh fencing, won’t look as nice, and is far more vulnerable to vandalism. Extreme fencing might include barbed wire, along with mechanical or virtual alarms. Throw in some land mines, klieg lights and attack dogs, and you’ve got a charming Stalag. Not the ambience most schools are aiming for, let alone those that are proudly “open” campuses.
  2. Connectivity. Investments in connection are always worthwhile. The Big Picture schools  are deeply committed to connectivity on all levels. They consciously invest in reaching out to the surrounding community, assessing neighborhood needs and helping to meet them. People recognize and appreciate this effort, and in return help keep an eye on the school. Internally, tight relationships between staff and students are essential. If kids learn of a threat they feel comfortable approaching staff with the information.
  3. Boosting surveillance. Enhancing natural surveillance by staff, security guards, school resource officers, parents, students and volunteers can be a very effective way to go. Improving line-of-sight opportunities can make it easier for one teacher to see a wider geographic area from one spot. Trim bushes, reduce the height of walls or other visual obstacles, or install windows in otherwise solid walls. Electronic surveillance is highly recommended. Improved lighting, with particular attention to pockets of shadow, can be helpful too, along with emergency call boxes at strategic locations. Clear location markings, using color coding, icons or labels on paths and buildings, can make it easier for people to guide emergency workers to where they are most needed. And tracking technology can make it easier to find staff or students who need help. If you can’t keep people out, you’ll have to work that much harder at keeping a close eye on things.
  4. And finally, territoriality. If access is uncontrolled, territorial messages can help compensate. You can walk onto our campus, but be very clear about who is in charge. Clear signage can help, barring trespassers, although this can get tricky if your philosophy is to be wide open to all comers.  Strict adherence to issuing visitor badges can be helpful. School uniforms make it clear who belongs and, more importantly, who does not. Non-uniformed intruders would be easily spotted.

Every site will have its strengths and weaknesses. Local politics, philosophies and budgets can make it harder to boost particular options. One participant may hate fences; another player may hate uniforms. Rather than butt heads under such circumstances, it can be helpful to step back and consider solutions through each of the remaining lenses.

Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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