The Korea Times
Security now plays bigger role in school design
BALTIMORE — Visitors who approach Rolling Knolls Elementary School in Annapolis are scrutinized by about 20 security cameras. Those and 60 more inside provide live feeds to the school office, centralized school security and Anne Arundel County police and fire officials.
Each outside door to the school is locked and controlled remotely. At the school entrance, visitors are asked to stand in front of a camera and speak into an intercom. Office staff are trained to ask their names and their reasons for visiting. Staff may then unlock a door to a vestibule, where the visitors encounter more locked doors, to the office and to the school.
In the office, staff ask visitors for identification, to be checked against databases. Classroom doors have locks, and the hallways are designed to be clear of obstructions, so administrators can stand at an intersection and see clearly in several directions.
Rolling Knolls, which opened in 2014, follows a security model that Anne Arundel County is replicating in all of its schools.
“We want to make our investments on the front end to preclude you from ever even getting into the building, or getting past the main front office,” said Alex Szachnowicz, the school system’s chief operating officer. “Every parent that sends a child to school deserves and should be assured that we’re going to deliver that child back home each and every day.”
As schools districts across Maryland commit $5.7 billion to ambitious construction projects over the next six years, with plans to renovate or build 77 schools, they’re making security central to the design.
School architects and security specialists have been working together on ways to harden schools since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. But each new attack — from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month to Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland on Tuesday — brings fresh challenges for officials trying to fortify buildings while still promoting a supportive environment for learning.
“Security in schools is an evolving thing,” said Robert A. Gorrell, executive director of Maryland’s Interagency Committee on School Construction. “We don’t want schools to be like prisons, so they’ve always been designed to be open and friendly. Trying to find that balance is what every school district is trying to do.”
School shootings in the United States have varied widely, and no single answer has emerged to stop them. Some attacks, such as the shootings that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook, are launched by outsiders. But many have been the work of a member of the school community — as in the student who St. Mary’s County officials say shot and wounded two schoolmates at Great Mills on Tuesday before he was himself killed.
One of his victims, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey, died Thursday night after being taken off life support.
Design elements — video surveillance and layouts that offer visibility and make it easier for staff to supervise hallways, common areas and exteriors — can help deter attacks by such insiders, says Ken Trump, a school security consultant. But if they are to work, he says, training is essential.