Safety check: How can we design our schools so that they are more secure?
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.
Schools must be secured with adequate technology