Designing Safer Schools

“No child will be able to succeed academically if they don’t first feel safe in school. No teacher will be able to teach at their best if they aren’t confident there’s a plan in place to ensure their school is well prepared for an emergency.” – Governor Deval Patrick, January 16, 2014

K-12 Safety and Security

There is a broad range of factors that SMMA takes into account when considering security systems in its K-12 projects, including parent and teacher concerns for privacy and safety, students’ emotional well-being in the learning environment, media reports of criminal activity and violence in schools, project budget, and heightened user expectations driven by popular entertainment. Of paramount importance, however, are the following: prevention, preparation, responsiveness, and recovery.   

During the initial planning stages, we meet with school administrators, police and fire department personnel, and other community stakeholders, to learn local codes and regulations, establish a baseline set of standards, and present a combination of architectural and electronic security strategies that best meet the needs of the students and faculty involved. 


Minimizing Risk

Whether designing a completely new facility or renovating an existing one, we begin by investigating the overall site, including road access and plantings, building entrances, and portions of the building not easily visible to passersby. Inside the building, we look for and eliminate areas where unsafe activities could potentially occur. These areas include secluded zones in which intruders may enter or hide, as well as stairwells, where someone may be trapped in the event of an evacuation.

Securing Access

A primary portion of the building where we implement hardened security measures is the main entry vestibule. Below is a floor plan showing a typical SMMA example from a recent high school project. 

At the first bell, all exterior doors are locked, including those at the main entrance. After this time, students, parents, and visitors who approach the entrance must press a doorbell on the Aiphone video intercom located on the pier adjacent to the first pair of doors. This system allows the receptionist to view the person(s) requesting entry and grant them admittance them to enter the locked tempered entry vestibule. Visitors then proceed through a second unlocked door, providing them access to the security vestibule. 

The security vestibule is electronically locked and controlled from the main office, which maintains a full vantage of the space through laminated glazing, security cameras, and a sliding window with a transaction counter. Once inside the security vestibule, visitors move to the security window, where they sign in. The receptionist is able to view the body language of the person requesting entry, informing their decision whether to permit or deny. 


Once the receptionist has reviewed their credentials and determined that no obvious threat is present, the person is issued a “visitor’s pass,” and the receptionist electronically releases the lock at the inner door of the security vestibule, allowing entrance to the school. In the event of a perceived threat, the receptionist is able to alert proper authorities via a “panic button” that electronically locks down all vestibule doors leading into the school. The intent is to slow down unwelcome visitors, allowing first responders time to arrive and intervene, should they remain onsite.

  1. Video Intercom System: visual identification and 2-way radio with receptionist. Remote door release by receptionst.
  2. Security vestibule: where visitors are detained prior to gaining access to building. Receptionist's option to release door or contact authorities.
  3. Escort: once inside building, visitor may stop in office or be met by an escort to continue into school.

Integrated Electronic Security Systems

In addition to the aforementioned architectural strategies, SMMA also utilizes integrated electronic security system (IESS) design methodology in its school projects. The IESS comprises three subsystems: intrusion detection, CCTV, and access control. The systems integrate and are viewed as one via a single security graphical user interface (GUI). 

The intrusion-detection system consists of a main security panel, keypads, motion detectors, and door contacts.  The main security panel communicates with the access control and CCTV systems as part of the IESS topology. Motion detectors are included in each ground-level perimeter classroom, as well as in other spaces with ground-level windows, to send an alarm in the event of a break-in. Contacts at each exterior door are programmed to send an alarm when a door is opened at any time when the building is scheduled to be locked. The system can be partitioned into zones, making it possible to use the gymnasium area or other public areas, while the remainder of the school remains alarmed

Eye in the Sky

The CCTV system comprises computer servers video management software, computer monitors, and high-resolution, IP-based cameras. It is password-protected and accessible from any PC in the facility, or externally, via an IP address. Each camera can be viewed independently, and network video recorders (NVRs) record all cameras and store the information for 30 days. Cameras are generally located in public areas, corridors, and along the exterior building perimeter. The system is integrated with the access-control system to allow viewing of events from a single alarm viewer. Camera images and recorded video are linked to the access-control system, to allow retrieval of video that is associated with an event.

The access-control system includes a card-access controller, door controllers, and proximity readers/keypads. The electrical hardware for designated doors is coordinated between the hardware contractor and the access-control system contractor. Proximity readers are located at strategically selected entries, allowing access only to authorized personnel at all times. Each proximity card has a distinctive code to identify the user, and log are stored in memory. The log within the panel can be accessed through a computer. When an alarm is triggered, the system also initiates real-time recording on the integrated CCTV system. The system is also programmed with graphic maps allowing end users to quickly identify alarm conditions and lock/unlock doors.

The IESS is addressable, meaning that each device can be identified when an alarm occurs. The system includes video intercoms with remote release buttons, which allow attendants to release the door-locking mechanism from their desk. Select locations are also equipped with an auto-dialing system that is used to contact personnel in the building after hours. The IESS features a digital communicating transmitter, to summon local police in the event of an alarm condition. SMMA designs the IESS to be easily expanded, to accommodate any additional devices that may be required in the future.

Designing safe learning environments is the first priority of the SMMA K-12 Studio, and arguably the most important safety measure on which these spaces rely is the security system.