Designing Safe Facilities

Friday, September 16, 2011

In the spring of 1999,12 students and a teacher were killed by two gun-toting teenage boys at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., making school safety and security an overnight priority in communities across the nation. Eight years later, a second and even more deadly incident on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where a student shot and killed 32 people, brought a renewed wave of concern and attention to security. But these two largest U.S. school shootings to date were by no means isolated incidents, as 60 similar events at American schools were reported between October 2007 and February 2008, according to a 2008 U.S. News & World Report article. ?Columbine was the undisputed impetus for a whole new focus on school security, and it had a major influence on the construction of new school buildings and the renovation of existing ones,? says Judy Marks, director of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences that provides information on designing, building and maintaining safe, healthy, high-performing schools.
School Design: Key to Security

Emerging as a central element of this new focus, says Marks, was the theory of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), a term coined in a 1971 book of the same name by Florida State University criminologist C. Ray Jeffery. The basic principle of the previously unheralded CPTED is that a carefully designed physical environment can deter crime by limiting the opportunities for and vulnerabilities to negative influences. Highlighted in the 1999 National Institute of Justice report for school architects, ?The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools,? the CPTED concept has since been revised by several experts such as architect Oscar Newman and criminologist Timothy Crowe. Today it remains the security bible for the latest school construction and renovation.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a national consulting firm, suggests that school boards and K12 administrators specify with architects that school designs include input from school security professionals and/or CPTED specialists with K12 experience. ?Too often, school administrators, school security officials and school resource officers are not involved in the early processes of new school design,? he says. ?District officials need to require contracted architects to fully engage these end-users in discussions and planning of security measures and safety into the design of new schools. Architects should also be required to work closely with principals, teachers and support staff who will work in the schools they design so they get input from them on the most practical and useful design that would facilitate education, supervision and safety.?

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