Safety & Security

Providing a safe and secure school environment necessitates striking a careful balance between the security measures (technological, architectural, and policy) that are appropriate for the school community, while also providing a welcoming and engaging academic environment.

Designers often look to the evidence-based guideline called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) to determine ways in which buildings and outdoor spaces can be most effectively designed to discourage or limit unwanted behaviors. A review of studies on CPTED interventions showed that, in general, CPTED can help reduce overall crime rates in communities, as well as reduce the fear and stress associated with worrying about crime (Casteel & Peek-Asa, 2000; Cozens et al, 2005). Examples of ways that CPTED can inform building design to enhance safety and security are below.

Coordination with Law Enforcement & Community

One of the primary elements of a successful Safety & Security plan is thoughtful engagement with local law enforcement and the surrounding community. When police, fire, and EMT professionals are aware of and support the plan, response to any type of incident can be smoother and speedier. Engaging the community in the discussion allows for more systemic changes to be made, to involve the community in the safety of the school and vice versa. Full details of the Safety & Security plan cannot be disclosed publicly, to retain efficacy, but building a plan around a set of shared values helps all members of the school community – parents or otherwise – participate in an appropriate way.

Layout & Circulation

When designing or renovating schools, strategic choices regarding layout, placement of hallways and rooms, and inclusion of windows can improve sight lines for safety and reduce exposure of certain areas for security. The design of circulation pathways should ensure multiple areas of refuge and exit, and reduce blind corners and hallways. Including features that allow segments of the building to be closed off (known as compartmentalization) can give first responders additional time to arrive, while leaving specific paths open for occupants to exit the building with more safety.

Natural Surveillance & Landscaping

When designing buildings and landscaping, it is important to keep sight lines clear for multiple reasons, and in multiple directions. Views out of the building and from higher angles allow for natural surveillance of the surrounding area, and lower landscaping keeps those lines of sight clear. Pleasant, well-kept landscaping is an important feature in two ways: it provides a cared-for appearance, letting viewers know that someone attends to and watches over the space, and (when plants are chosen with CPTED guidelines in mind) minimizes hiding places, creating a sense of approach and watchfulness.

Beyond Security Measures

Overt security measures — such as metal detectors, security guards or police officers, and cameras — can wind up having negative impacts on students. Recent research has shown that, in some ways, the negative impacts of security measures may outweigh the benefits they provide. There are three main ways in which security measures can affect students: by increasing their worry or fear about dangerous situations at school, by reducing the emphasis on the school as a place of teaching and learning, or by signaling a lack of trust between students and staff. All three of these indicators are linked to lower student performance and less engagement with the learning process.

A study of two public high schools found that overt security measures made students more uneasy at school. Students expressed feelings that these interventions were not necessary, and that they promoted a feeling of powerlessness and authoritarianism at school. Negative impacts to teacher-student were pronounced, including less trust for the schools’ resource officers and a perception of teachers and staff as punishing students unfairly (Bracy, 2010). A similar study of high school students found that metal detectors decreased feelings of safety for students, while smaller class sizes and experiencing less bullying were linked to feelings of safety at school (Peruman-Chaney & Sutton, 2013).

Factors that address safety and security, while also improving student and staff sense of safety, include the existence and practice of an emergency plan, trust between students and staff, a sense of understanding and fairness about school rules, and a reduction of bullying (Bosworth et al, 2011; Bracy, 2010; Welsh, 2010).