Keeping our schools safe - Education Matters Magazine
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Keeping our schools safe

Epilepsy Smart Schools Australia

Keeping schools safe and secure is fundamental to the welfare of staff and students, as well as the school’s facilities, writes John Fleming.

Schools in Australia remain among the safest places a child can be. However, ensuring this continues to be the case is a challenge that school administrators have to grapple with on a daily basis in an ever-changing environment.

Earlier this year a survey of 860 educators conducted by the Herald Sun newspaper found that 55 per cent of Victorian teachers want extra CCTV cameras in schools to assist in responding to the growing reports of physical violence, verbal threats and vandalism. Support was 63 per cent among secondary schools and 47 per cent at the primary level. The survey also found that 74 per cent of teachers had experienced physical violence from students and 88 per cent were aware of other teachers experiencing violence.

Across the country, state and territory governments have invested significantly over recent years in upgrading school security.

Since 2007 the Federal Government’s Secure Schools Program has committed significant funding to assist at-risk government and non-government schools to meet their particular security needs and protect them from racial, religious or ethnically motivated violence and property crime. In 2012 the Secure Schools Program was expanded to include funding to preschools to improve security infrastructure. Twenty-one preschools were awarded funding. A total of 126 projects in 77 schools and preschools have been funded to date.

Keeping schools safe and secure is fundamental to the welfare of staff and students, as well as the school’s facilities. In order to achieve this, school administrators need to identify all of the potential security risks faced by their school and formulate a plan to control and manage these risks. Approaches include prevention, response and recovery activities.

Among the key areas of concern include:

  • Threat of harm to staff and students from unauthorised persons on site;
  • Theft and damage due to break and enter incidents;
  • Malicious damage to school buildings;
  • Arson; and,
  • Threat or harm to staff to/from students and/or parents.

Security Systems

Monitored security alarm systems can provide early detection of potential burglars and duress protection for staff. Alarm systems use sensors which detect and trigger an alarm at the control panel, the sensors used could include, passive infrared movement sensors (PIR) vibration sensors, glass break sensors, magnetic contacts. In the event of an alarm being activated the alarm system is typically attached to a telephone line, or other methods such as wired Internet Protocol (IP) and wireless General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) monitoring paths to provide in built redundancy. If one path is down, the other continues to transmit alarms, which is then used to send signals from the alarm control panel to a monitoring centre. The operators check what type of alarm is coming through and then take action by calling key holders, a patrol response or the police.

Monitoring Centres monitor when the alarm is being armed and disarmed, indicating open and close times of the school. The Australian Security Industry Association Limited (ASIAL) operates a certification scheme for alarm monitoring centres in accordance with Australian Standard 2201.2:2004 (Intruder Alarm Systems – Monitoring Centres). The scheme provides customers with the reassurance that the standards applied at a monitoring centre are independently audited on a regular basis. To view a listing of currently certified monitoring centres visit our website.

Access Control Systems

Access control systems are designed to provide the ability to control, monitor and restrict the movement of people, assets in and out of the school, whilst helping manage known or anticipated threats.

Access Control is essential for schools to protect staff, students and assets and can be scalable from a single entrance door to a large integrated security network. These systems have the potential to integrate other systems such as time and attendance, visitor management. These functions also reduce administration costs. Access control systems can also help cut energy bills by reducing energy wastage and improve a schools environmental footprint. The key components are:

  • The physical barrier, which are typically doors that are secured by either a magnetic or electric strike locks.
  • The identification devices offered use a number of different technologies, such as Proximity cards, smart cards, swipe cards, PIN code pads and gaining more market acceptance are Biometric products like finger print, facial recognition and Iris scanning for higher security sites.
  • The heart of the system is the door controllers and management software which are used to decide who can gain access, through what access point and at what time of day or night. The door controllers are linked together to a PC to control a site or a number of sites can be linked together over a (WAN) wide area network.

Not only can the access control system achieve its primary function of monitoring the flow of authorised personnel around the premises it can provide a wealth of data on which areas of the building are occupied and when. Identifying the usage of a building will greatly help in reducing power consumption and ultimately produce substantial cost savings. The key area for power saving are in adjusting lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning in areas of the building that are not occupied.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems

CCTV is a visual surveillance technology with the capability to monitor a variety of environments and activities. CCTV is now an integral component in the design of cost effective security solutions, which deter, detect, help supervise and verify activity associated with security or safety risks.

New advancements in security cameras and Digital Video Recording have made CCTV cameras and video surveillance one of the most valuable security and loss-prevention solutions available. CCTV security systems are reliable, efficient and simple to use.

As the overall security industry continues to move towards IP based video surveillance, deploying video surveillance solutions has become a key requirement.

A typical indoor system involves items such as software, IP cameras, Category 5/6 wiring, servers, routers, switches, and storage devices. Generally speaking, all of these items have been designed to be installed and operated in a room temperature (controlled) environment with easy access to each system component.

Cameras come in different forms and shapes – vandal proof, indoor/outdoor, covert and discreet cameras. Highly reliable speed domes will take a pre-set position in less than a second while zooming and focusing automatically on the area of interest. Of all the security products camera technology is evolving quickly into the digital space.

A strong advantage of IP network-based video surveillance systems over analogue video systems is scalability. IP-based systems scale easily from one to thousands of cameras in increments of a single camera. There are none of the mandatory 16-channel jumps dictated by pre-configured analogue systems using Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). This makes IP-based solutions ideal for growing a system as budget allows. Installation can be done in stages and video encoders can be used to incorporate existing analogue cameras, creating a hybrid system that preserves the existing security system investment. It’s nearly always less expensive to set up a hybrid IP video surveillance system and gradually replace existing analogue equipment with the superior functionality of IP network cameras and other components.

Physical security

Applying a barrier between a would be thief and school equipment or ‘target hardening’ as it is often known, means that the offender has to remain on site for a considerable amount of time, thereby apprehension is increased and reward is decreased.

Security fencing and gates for access in and out of the school is an option commonly used to stop vandals and thieves from breaking into schools and damaging property. They can also provide a means of preventing unauthorised access to playgrounds during school hours.

A lighting system can also act as a simple, but effective means of reducing the opportunity for people to hide in the grounds and supports the capture of good quality images on a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system.

Security officers / patrols

Many schools engage security providers to perform patrols of school grounds outside of school hours and term time. This acts as a deterrent to would be thieves and vandals and provides an opportunity to undertake routine checks that the grounds are secure. A growing number of schools are also now engaging security officers during school hours.

Making the right choice

Selecting the right security provider shouldn’t be a lucky dip. To ensure that schools make the right choice, it is vital that their contractor selection panel conducts a thorough due-diligence review of potential providers.

Choosing a provider based on the lowest price will more often than not result in an inferior level of service being provided than you require.

Reputable security providers are committed to providing a quality service and play an active role through their professional membership of peak industry bodies, such as ASIAL. They possess the appropriate insurances, train their employees well, use only appropriately licensed security personnel and provide wages and conditions in accordance with a lawful industrial instrument. Those that don’t will compromise the security of your school.

To help you assess the credentials of a security provider, some of the criteria to consider include:

  • Adequate / current insurance cover – view documents and ensure that they are current and provide coverage suitable to your requirements.
  • A good reputation – investigate provider’s reputation to ensure that they have maintained good relationships with customers, are trustworthy and dependable.
  • References – request and check references to obtain a valuable insight as to the reliability and performance of the security firm. ASIC and business search tools to check trading history can be very helpful.
  • Training – review the security firm’s training regime and request supporting documentation to support their assertions.
  • Equipment – ensure equipment to be provided by the security firm is fit for purpose and meets all work health and safety requirements.
  • Costs – understand financial arrangements with the security firm regarding the planned invoicing cycle, rise and fall cost management, cost drivers, rate reviews, additional charges and award/agreement impact.
  • Written Contract – defining the rights and responsibilities between client and security provider should be detailed and written, including dispute resolution processes, contract review, extensions and termination.
  • Management – experienced management personnel with specialist expertise in the security industry will ensure effective delivery and well-trained and supervised staff.
  • Security Officers / Technician qualifications – you should request evidence that only appropriately licensed and trained personnel work on site. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, visit for more information.

To enable a security provider to meet the established criteria and deliver the service, you need to clearly communicate the requirements through:

  • A concise statement describing the security activities to be performed including the days, hours of service delivery.
  • A detailed set of any special instructions, given to the security provider to develop into standard operating procedures to enable them to deliver the service.
  • Nominated management representative to liaise between the school and the security provider.

Due-diligence as indicated includes the checking of references, operational performance and achievements. Organisations should provide more than one reference and if not, schools should request a variety of referees and actively canvass the performance of the security provider.

If a submission or quote appears too good to be true, it needs to be thoroughly investigated to ensure that no short cuts are being taken. For example, will the quality, description and performance of the equipment match the specifications of the quoted work? Will only appropriately skilled and licensed personnel be used? Will the work be sub-contracted? Will personnel employed be paid in accordance with award rates? Does the quote include a comprehensive maintenance program for the security system installed?

Success in selecting a security provider will be significantly enhanced by a proactive school selection program, with the school having clearly articulated their requirements, arrangements and expectations.

The environment in which schools operate is constantly evolving and changing. The challenge for school administrators is keeping up with these changes and responding in a prompt and appropriate manner.

Security for schools is not a quick fix solution. Like Band-Aids, quick fixes don’t last long and need to be reapplied often. A good school security plan needs to be carefully thought through and executed. It should be integrated into the day-to-day routine of all staff so that it is not recognisable as a separate measure. Hand in hand with this is selecting the right security provider.

Ultimately, making the right decision comes down to making an informed choice.

John Fleming is General Manager with the Australian Security Industry Association Limited (ASIAL). John has over 30 years of experience in the security industry, including senior executive management roles with Siemens Building Technologies and SNP Security.  

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