Safety check: How can we de­sign our schools so that they are more se­cure?

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Estates - - FRONT PAGE - Nam­rata Kohli ht­es­tates@hin­dus­tan­times.com (Nam­rata Kohli tracks ev­ery­thing from House to Home, from real es­tate to in­te­ri­ors and cap­tur­ing key trends in prop­erty mar­kets in In­dia and glob­ally)

NEWDELHI: The Ryan school episode in Gu­ru­gram puts the spot­light on how un­safe our schools are. The need of the hour is to cre­ate a se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture that acts as a de­ter­rent for crimes in the first place, pro­tect­ing the most at-risk and vul­ner­a­ble sec­tion of so­ci­ety, se­cur­ing chil­dren.

Once the sanc­tum sanc­to­rum of knowl­edge, schools have now be­come one of the most vul­ner­a­ble places where kids be­come vic­tim to crimes of the worst kind. From rape and mo­lesta­tion, to bul­ly­ing and mur­der, all pre­ventable crimes, in­flicted by man rather than na­ture. The blame rests squarely on the se­cu­rity in­fra­struc­ture or the lack of it, in ma­jor­ity of the schools in In­dia.

The Ryan case high­lights lapses in five things: no in­stal­la­tion and mon­i­tor­ing of CCTV cam­eras, no po­lice ver­i­fi­ca­tion of school staff, no sep­a­rate toi­lets for school staff, no safety au­dit and no bound­ary wall. The last is the most shock­ing as a school should be a gated com­mu­nity with well-de­fined high bound­ary walls. “Fenc­ing helps schools to es­tab­lish own­er­ship and to de­fine the space as a key ele­ment of ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity,” says Delhi based ar­chi­tect Kshi­tij Jain, “Users tend to treat well-main­tained build­ings and grounds with greater re­spect.”

De­sign ex­perts say ap­pro­pri­ate fenc­ing sup­ports safety and any­thing that con­flicts with nat­u­ral sur­veil­lance such as ‘solid walls, tall shrubs, parked cars, out­build­ings, sculp­tures, large sig­nages’ must be min­imised in schools. Be­sides, schools should be lim­it­ing ac­cess to ar­eas that are not highly vis­i­ble and re­strict­ing en­try and exit points to a few eas­ily mon­i­tored only.

The build­ing needs to be se­cured with ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture, tech­nol­ogy and man­power in the right places. The prob­lem is of­ten, the at­ti­tude of schools to­wards se­cu­rity says Bri­gadier (re­tired) Ashok Bhutani who pro­vides se­cu­rity so­lu­tions to sev­eral schools in Delhi. He feels that schools in a bid to save money tend to cut cor­ners, and the big­gest ca­su­alty is in­vest­ment on se­cu­rity which they feel brings ‘no tan­gi­ble re­turns’. The big­gest ex­am­ple is they in­stall the cam­eras ‘a vis­i­ble en­tity’ but there is no sur­veil­lance of th­ese cam­era feeds, what­so­ever. “We have been em­pha­siz­ing on the need to cre­ate a cen­tral mon­i­tor­ing room, dis­play­ing the cam­era feeds across all ar­eas such as gen­eral foyer, cor­ri­dors, en­try and exit points of bath­rooms (not inside) with a per­son man­ning it all the time.” In de­fence train­ing, one is al­ways taught, “Ev­ery­thing should be cov­ered with ob­ser­va­tional fire”. If a school can map crit­i­cal ar­eas, then the se­cu­rity per­son just by ob­serv­ing the cam­era feeds can alert the man­age­ment when he sees some­thing un­to­ward hap­pen­ing and so many tragedies can be averted. But no school so far has shown in­ter­est in cre­at­ing this room and hav­ing one ded­i­cated re­source for man­ning this room.

The sec­ond prob­lem is with the cam­eras and its func­tion­ing. Schools must en­sure that their cam­eras are in work­ing con­di­tion. Says Bri­gadier Bhutani: “Typ­i­cally five out of 20 CCTV cam­eras are found not work­ing, ei­ther be­cause of tech­ni­cal snag, faulty wiring, short cir­cuit and no­body comes to know about this. Af­ter all th­ese are elec­tron­ics and need to be re­paired and main­tained.”

Fi­nally, a word of cau­tion: get tech­nol­ogy but don’t cut the hu­man ele­ment. If you try to cut back on the hu­man ele­ment, and com­pen­sate by lean­ing on and point­ing to phys­i­cal se­cu­rity mea­sures, it can be never ef­fec­tive as man con­trols ma­chine. In­vest on trained man­power, do a background check, in­ves­ti­gate pa­pers, get po­lice ver­i­fi­ca­tion of all staff in the school and get the best se­cu­rity per­son­nel. Know that it is manda­tory for ev­ery se­cu­rity per­son­nel to have knowl­edge of first stage fire­fight­ing and he must be linked to near­est po­lice sta­tions, hospi­tal and fire sta­tion by mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions. Cre­ate com­mu­nity se­cu­rity groups pro­mot­ing safe zones for ed­u­ca­tion con­sist­ing of teach­ers, par­ents, se­cu­rity and sup­port staff.

Al­ways keep a cri­sis plan ready. The vast ma­jor­ity of schools have a cri­sis plan on pa­per. Of­ten those plans are col­lect­ing dust on the shelf and they’re not a part of the cul­ture or the prac­tice. “I think we do need to fo­cus our re­sources, time and con­ver­sa­tion back on the fun­da­men­tals”, says lead­ing ed­u­ca­tion­ist, Shayama Chona. “We are giv­ing so much im­por­tance to the school prop­erty, to swim­ming pool, to the cur­ricu­lum, to ev­ery­thing other than the child. We have to be­come more child-cen­tric.” She adds that while the school com­plex must be sur­veyed for se­cu­rity im­prove­ment and in­fra­struc­ture such as ad­e­quate num­ber of cam­eras, light­ing, power back up, teach­ers need to be more vig­i­lant and there around at all times with the stu­dents “Even dur­ing lunch break, teacher must be present around chil­dren and they can go by ro­ta­tion for their break. This is a prac­tise we fol­lowed at DPS RK Pu­ram and is still be­ing fol­lowed. Be­sides, teach­ers must have a nose for what’s go­ing on with chil­dren and be sen­si­tive to is­sues in stu­dent re­la­tion­ships - this will pre­vent bul­ly­ing.” She ad­vo­cates the need for ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem at ev­ery school, and now with smart phones, it’s much eas­ier for teach­ers to have a 24 by 7 ac­cess to stu­dents and par­ents. The teach­ers and school ad­min­is­tra­tion must have ready ac­cess to the num­bers of each and ev­ery child and their emer­gency con­tact de­tails. Ev­ery school should have cri­sis teams that re­view their plans reg­u­larly. Adds Ms Chona, “A cri­sis man­age­ment team must be there just in case the un­think­able hap­pens. There can be safety drills as to how to han­dle emer­gen­cies by a team of peo­ple that in­cludes every­body from the teacher and ad­min staff, doc­tor, nurse, se­cu­rity etc.”

In­fra­struc­ture ex­perts say that schools need to build sin­gle prom­i­nent en­try­ways, and shift re­strooms away from en­try ways and move ma­jor me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal sys­tems so they couldn’t be shut down or van­dal­ized from the out­side. Says Manju Rana, Prin­ci­pal, Jaipuria School “In the wake of the tragic in­ci­dent that has alarmed and gripped the en­tire na­tion in fear, it is im­por­tant for the schools to re­view their own safety mea­sures and be­come more proac­tive in this re­gard. Schools must step up sur­veil­lance and for­tify the pre­vail­ing se­cu­rity mea­sures to check any such mishaps.”

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

• Se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture of ev­ery school to be ro­bust with high bound­ary walls and ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture

• No adult should be al­lowed to use the wash­rooms ded­i­cated to kids. Fe­male staff should be present in all girls wash­rooms and in boys wash­rooms when male staff is clean­ing them (chil­dren should not be al­lowed dur­ing that time)

•Background checks and po­lice ver­i­fi­ca­tion of all the staff mem­bers (teach­ing/non­teach­ing, male/fe­male) must be made avail­able to par­ents. Schools should be heav­ily fined if background checks and po­lice ver­i­fi­ca­tion are not done

• Out­side work­ers (such as labour­ers) must not be al­lowed in the cam­pus dur­ing school hours

• Chil­dren (right from pre-pri­mary lev­els) should be given ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion re­lated to child abuse in the lan­guage that they can un­der­stand. For ex­am­ple, telling them about their pri­vate parts, safe and un­safe touches etc.

• Schools need coun­sel­lors, psy­chol­o­gists and of­fi­cers build­ing re­la­tion­ships with kids, be­cause they are the best line of de­fense.

PHOTO/HT

Schools must be se­cured with ad­e­quate tech­nol­ogy

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