The 10 Do’s and 10 Dont’s of an Electrical Security and Safety System Model for Public and Private Schools

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Blanco Electric LTD, electrical contractors Houston, TX, has been involved for a long time in designing and building electrical systems in public and private schools in Texas.

The horrific events of Uvalde, Nashville, and other schools around the nation have called the attention of security and safety experts on how to design security systems that would possibly prevent or limit these tragedies by allowing school staff to lock down multiple areas in a school remotely to hinder the movements of an active shooter, and delay their progress towards sensitive areas (e.g. classrooms, gymnasium). In contrast, law enforcement is called to the rescue and arrives on the scene.

As electrical engineers, we always examine safety scenarios designed to help evacuate school personnel, children, and students in the fastest and most orderly possible ways in case of catastrophes such as earthquakes, fires, floods, storms of catastrophic proportions, etc.

While these systems are necessary, safety is only one side of the issue: school security has become a priority. This article details ten do’s and ten don’t for designing and building a security and safety electrical system. We base our analysis on proven existing technology and on critical failure analyses that have been done after tragic school shooting incidents.

Our school systems must focus on retrofitting our schools with this system.

1. DO Use Multilayered Security

Incorporating multiple security measures creates a comprehensive and robust system. Use a mix of CCTV cameras, motion sensors, access control, and intrusion detection systems to monitor different areas of the school. Remember that no single method can cover all vulnerabilities. During the Virginia Tech shooting 2007, a layered security approach was missing, allowing the perpetrator to move freely.

DON’T Rely on a Single Solution

Each security measure is flawed. For example, relying solely on CCTV cameras might prevent unauthorized entry if the entrances are appropriately secure.

2. DO Employ Remote-Controlled Electrical Doors

These doors can enhance access control and facilitate lockdown during emergencies. In the 2013 Sparks Middle School shooting, a school staffer was able to lead students to safety through a door she could remotely lock behind her.

DON’T Forget Manual Overrides

Manual overrides should be available in case of electrical failure or remote control systems malfunction. During the 2011 Fukushima disaster, some electrically operated doors failed due to a lack of power, leading to delayed evacuation.

3. DO Create a Direct Line to Law Enforcement

The system should automatically alert law enforcement in case of a crisis. During the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, valuable time was lost due to miscommunication between the school and the police.

DON’T Underestimate the Need for Regular Communication with Law Enforcement

Regular updates and communication with law enforcement are essential to ensure quick and effective responses during a crisis.

4. DO Employ Evacuation Safety Systems

These include clearly marked exits, illuminated escape paths, and voice communication systems. In the 1999 Mont Blanc Tunnel fire, the lack of clear signage resulted in many casualties due to confusion about the exit routes.

DON’T Neglect Regular Drills and Maintenance

Ensure the functionality of evacuation systems through regular checks and drills. This way, students and staff are familiar with the evacuation procedures, and any system issues are promptly identified.

This measure is directly tied to the building and engineering of an electrical security and safety system because the symbols used to signal the evacuation routes and points MUST be understood and recognized instantly by children in panic, noise, and disorder. So engineering must take care of the signage and work with children to create simple symbols that all students can immediately identify.

5. DO Establish Safety Circuit Redundancies

In case of a circuit failure, backups should kick in. For instance, if primary surveillance cameras fail, backups should take over. The need for redundancies was evident in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting 2012 when the intercom system failed, delaying emergency communication.

DON’T Overlook Power Backup Systems

Install reliable power backup systems to ensure safety systems remain operational during power outages.

6. DO Use Smart Technology

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can enhance system efficiency, from facial recognition to unusual behavior detection.

DON’T Ignore Privacy Concerns

While utilizing innovative technology, respect privacy laws and the personal rights of students, staff, and visitors. We must remember that people will resist intrusion in their lives and their children’s lives. And while a school district can technically impose some rules and regulations inside a school system, the parents must support their efforts.

7. DO Make Systems User-Friendly

Ensure the system is accessible to all authorized personnel, not just tech-savvy users. The system’s usability could be the difference between a quick response and a delayed one in an emergency.

DON’T Complicate Systems Unnecessarily

While advanced features are beneficial, they should keep the system’s primary functions simple and easy for users to operate.

8. DO Use Biometric Security Features

Biometrics, such as fingerprint or retina scanners, provide an additional layer of security. They ensure that only authorized individuals can access specific areas or systems, enhancing safety and limiting potential harm in events like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting 2012.

DON’T Rely Solely on Biometrics

While biometrics offer increased security, they could be more foolproof and can be affected by minor physical changes or system errors. Always have a secondary security measure in place.

9. DO Regularly Update and Patch Your Systems

Keep all systems up-to-date to maintain the highest level of security and functionality. Regular updates and patches can prevent potential vulnerabilities from being exploited, as demonstrated during the WannaCry ransomware attack 2017, which targeted outdated Windows systems.

We are never out of reach of a criminal organization bent on creating evil scenarios. Allowing a school system to be penetrated by hackers because patches and updates have been ignored is aiding and abating the criminals. A security and safety electrical system is only as strong as its weakest link.

DON’T Ignore Cybersecurity Threats

A robust security system isn’t just about physical safety but also protecting against cyber threats. Regularly monitor and safeguard against potential attacks to prevent unauthorized access to security systems and personal data.

Any school administration and CTO must develop a policy framework preventing the use of unvetted flash drives on school computers, for instance. Likewise, access to a school remote teaching system must be controlled and firewalled to avoid Trojan horses being inserted into a system via a remote schooling session.

10. DO Train Staff on Security Protocols and System Use

Staff should understand how to operate the security system and what to do in an emergency. The 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting highlighted the importance of staff training, where a rapid lockdown response potentially saved lives.

DON’T Neglect Regular System Tests and Drills

Just as we conduct fire drills, regular tests of the security system and exercises on procedures can ensure all components are working correctly and everyone knows how to respond in an emergency.

Safety and security of electrical and electronic systems must become top priorities for all schools, public and private. Through thoughtful engineering and best practices in safety and security, we can create environments where students can focus on learning, knowing reliable systems protect them. It is an investment that not only helps protect our students today but also paves the way for the safe schools of tomorrow.

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