What is school hardening?

On Thursday, President Donald Trump said he supports “hardened schools” to avoid a repeat of incidents like the mass shootings at a Parkland, Fla. high school.

National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Conference, “Evil walks among us, and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids. Every day young children are being dropped off at schools that are wide-open, soft targets for people bent on mass murder. It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store or some Hollywood gala.”

Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has said his plans to step up the hardening of local schools, following a 2013 plan that was developed.

What is school hardening?

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission made a list of several school site standards in its final report. Here are some of them:

School Site Perimeter Standards

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a crime prevention strategy that uses architectural design, landscape planning, security systems, and visual surveillance to create a potentially crime free environment by influencing human behavior and should be applied when appropriate.

Fencing, landscaping, edge treatment, bollards, signage, exterior furnishings and exterior lighting may be used to establish territorial boundaries and clearly delineate areas of public, semi-public, semi-private, and private space.

Access Control

School boundaries and property lines shall be clearly demarcated to control access to a school facility and shall clearly delineate areas of public, semi-public, semi-private, and private space.

Where a school is a shared use facility that serves the community, internal boundaries shall be clearly defined to establish a distinct perimeter for both the school and the shared use facilities with separate and secure access points that are clearly defined. Boundaries may be defined by installing fencing, signage, edge treatment, landscaping, and ground surface treatment.

The number of vehicle and pedestrian access points to school property shall be kept to a minimum and shall be clearly designated as such.

A means shall be provided to achieve and enforce identity authentication and entry authorization at locations and areas established by school operations protocols.


The design shall allow for the monitoring of points of entry/egress by natural and/or electronic surveillance during normal hours of operation and during special events. At minimum, electronic surveillance shall be used at the primary access points to the site for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Video surveillance systems may be used around the site perimeter to provide views of points of entry/egress and as a means to securely monitor an area when natural surveillance is not available.

Lighting should be sufficient to illuminate potential areas of concealment, enhance observation, and to provide for the safety of individuals moving between adjacent parking areas, streets and around the school facility.

Parking Areas and Vehicular and Pedestrian Routes

Designated pedestrian and vehicular points of entry/egress and traffic routes shall be adequately illuminated to reinforce natural and or electronic surveillance.

Signage shall be posted at all vehicular access points and in delivery zones, parking areas and bus loading/unloading zones with rules as to who is allowed to use parking facilities and when they are allowed to do so. Signage should be simple and have the necessary level of clarity. Signage should have reflective or lighted markings.

Parking areas shall be adequately illuminated with vandal resistant lighting. Parking shall be prohibited under or within the school building.

Design entry roads so that vehicles do not have a straight-line approach to the main building. Use speed-calming features to keep vehicles from gaining enough speed to penetrate barriers. Speed-calming features may include, but are not limited to, speed bumps, safety islands, differing pavement surfaces, landscape buffers, exterior furnishings and light fixtures.

Parking areas should be designed in locations that promote natural surveillance. Parking should be located within view from the occupied building, while maintaining the maximum stand-off distance possible.

Locate visitor parking in areas that provide the fewest security risks to school personnel. The distance at which a potentially threatening vehicle can park in relation to school grounds and buildings should be controlled.

Consider blue light emergency phones with a duress alarm in all parking areas and athletic fields. If utilized, blue light emergency phones shall be clearly visible, readily accessible and adequately illuminated to accommodate electronic surveillance.

Recreational Areas – Playgrounds, Athletic Areas, Multipurpose Fields

The design shall allow for ground level, unobstructed views, for natural and/or electronic surveillance of all outdoor athletic areas, playgrounds and recreation areas at all times.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten play areas shall be separated from play areas designed for other students and physically secured.

Athletic areas and multipurpose fields at elementary school buildings shall contain a physical protective barrier to control access and protect the area.

Playgrounds and other student gathering areas shall be located away from public vehicle access areas, such as streets or parking lots by a minimum of fifty (50) feet unless prohibited by site constraints.

Locate access points to recreational areas in areas of high visibility that can be easily observed and monitored by staff and students in the course of their normal activities. Natural surveillance may be maximized by controlling access points that clearly demarcate boundaries and spaces.

Communication Systems

All classrooms shall have two-way communications with the administrative office.

Emergency Communication Systems (ECS) and/or alarm systems shall have redundant means to notify first responders, supporting agencies, public safety officials and others of an event to allow for effective response and incident management. Alarm systems must be compatible with the municipal systems in place. These systems may include radio, electronic, wireless or multimedia technology which provides real time information (such as audio, visual, mapping and relevant data) directly to first responders. Points of Broadcast input for these systems shall be reviewed with emergency responders. A minimum of two shall be provided.

Call buttons with direct intercom communication to the central administrative office and/or security office should be installed at key public contact areas.

Develop a strategy and security team and equip them with hand-held radios so they can be effective participants in the radio communications system.

School Building Exterior – Points of Entry/Egress and Accessibility

Points of entry/egress shall be designed to allow for monitoring by natural and/or electronic surveillance during normal hours of operation and during special events.

At minimum electronic surveillance shall be used at the primary points of entry.

Lighting shall be sufficient to adequately illuminate potential areas of concealment and points of building entry, and, enhance natural and/or electronic surveillance, and discourage vandalism.

Consider blue light emergency phones with a duress alarm along the building perimeter as needed to enhance security. If utilized, blue light emergency phones shall be clearly visible, readily accessible and adequately illuminated to accommodate electronic surveillance.

Consider the use of forced entry resistance glazing materials for windows and glazed doors using laminated glass and/or polycarbonate to significantly improve forced entry delay time beyond standard glazing techniques. A five-minute forced entry solution should be the design standard.

Main Entrance/Administrative Offices/Lobby

Main entrances shall be well lit and unobstructed to allow for natural and/or electronic surveillance at all times.

The design shall allow for visitors to be guided to a single control point for entry.

The main entrance assembly (glazing, frame, & door) shall be forced entry resistant to the project standard, with a forced entry time rating as informed by local law enforcement response timing.

Plans shall carefully address the extent to which glazing is used in primary entry ways, areas of high risk and areas of high traffic and the degree to which glazing is installed or treated to be bullet, blast, or shatter resistant to enhance the level of security. The district‘s priorities for the use of natural surveillance, electronic surveillance, natural light and other related security measures may affect this decision and the overall level of security.

Main entrance doors shall be capable of being secured from a central location, such as the central administrative office and/or the school security office.

Video surveillance cameras shall be installed in such a manner to show who enters and leaves the building and shall be monitored at locations which are attended whenever the school is occupied.

The design shall allow for providing visitor accessibility only after proper identification.

The central administrative offices and/or security offices should have an unobstructed view of the main entrance lobby doors and hallways. If feasible, administrative offices abutting the main entrance should be on an exterior wall with windows for natural surveillance of visitor parking, drop off areas, and exterior routes leading to the main entrance.

Walls, forced entry resistant to the project standard, should be hardened in foyers and public entries. Interior and exterior vestibule doors should be offset from each other in airlock configuration.

Use vestibules to increase security. The entrance vestibule shall have both interior and exterior doors that are lockable and controllable from a remote location and be designed to achieved enhanced force entry performance as identified to the project forced entry standards.

When possible, the design should force visitors to pass directly through a screening area prior to entering or leaving the school. The screening area should be an entrance vestibule, the administration/reception area, a lobby check in station, an entry kiosk, or some other controlled area. This controlled entrance should serve as the primary control point between the main entrance and all other areas of the school.

Control visitor access through electronic surveillance with intercom audio and remote lock release capability at the visitor entrance.

Restrict visitor access during normal hours of operation to the primary entrance. If school buildings require multiple entry points, regulate those entry points with no access to people without proper identity authentication and entry authorization. Consider an electronic access control system for authorized persons if multiple entry points are utilized during normal hours of operation.

Install a panic/duress alarm or call button at an administrative/security desk as a protective measure.

Consider sensors that alert administrative offices when exterior doors at all primary and secondary points of entry are left open.

Doors vulnerable to unauthorized access may be monitored by adding door contacts or sensors, or may be secured through the use of other protective measures, such as delayed opening devices, or video surveillance cameras that are available for viewing from a central location, such as the central administrative office and/or security office.

Exterior Windows/Glazing/Films
Windows may serve as a secondary means of egress in case of emergency. Any ―rescue window‖ with a window latching device shall be capable of being operated from not more than forty eight (48) inches above the finished floor.

Each classroom having exterior windows shall have the classroom number affixed to the upper right hand corner of the first and last window of the corresponding classroom. The numbers shall be reflective, with contrasting background and shall be readable from the ground plain at a minimum distance of fifty (50) feet.

Design windows, framing and anchoring systems to be shatter resistant, burglar resistant, and forced entry resistant to the project forced entry standards, especially in areas of high risk. Whenever feasible, specify force entry resistant glazing on all exterior glazing.

Resistance for glazing may be built into the window or applied with a film or a suitable additional forced entry resistant ―storm‖ window.

Classroom windows should be operable to allow for evacuation in an emergency. Review with the authority having jurisdiction and fire department to balance emergency evacuation, external access, and security requirements.

School Building Interior
Interior physical security measures are a valuable part of a school‘s overall physical security infrastructure. Some physical measures such as doors, locks, and windows deter, prevent or delay an intruder from freely moving throughout a school and from entering areas where students and personnel may be located. Natural and electronic surveillance can assist in locating and identifying a threat and minimizing the time it takes for first responders to neutralize a threat.

The design shall provide for controlled access to classrooms and other areas in the interior that are predominantly used by students during normal hours of operation to protect against intruders.

All interior room numbers shall be coordinated in a uniform room numbering system format. Numbering shall be in sequential order in a clockwise manner starting with the interior door closest to the main point of entry. Interior room number signage shall be wall mounted. Additional room number signage may be ceiling or flag mounted. Interior room number signage specifications and installation shall be in compliance with ADA standards and other applicable regulations as required.

Establish separate entrance and exit patterns for areas that have concentrated high- volume use, such as cafeterias and corridors, to reduce time required for movement into and out of spaces and to reduce the opportunity for personal conflict. Separation of student traffic flow can help define orderly movement and save time, and an unauthorized user will perceive a greater risk of detection.

Consider intruder doors that automatically lock when an intruder alarm or lockdown is activated to limit intruder accessibility within the building. If installed, intruder doors shall automatically release in the event of an emergency or power outage and must be equipped with a means for law enforcement and other first responders to open as necessary.

Interior Surveillance
An intrusion detection system shall be installed in all school facilities.

Consider electronic surveillance in lobbies, corridors, hallways, large assembly areas, stairwells or other areas (such as areas of refuge/safe havens) as a means to securely monitor those areas when natural surveillance is not available.

The design of a school facility should allow for the designation of controlled hiding spaces. A controlled hiding place should create a safe place for students and personnel to hide and protect themselves in the event of an emergency. The controlled hiding space should be lockable and readily accessible. A controlled hiding space could be a classroom or some other designated area within the building.

All classrooms shall be equipped with a communications system to alert administrators in case of emergency. Such communication systems may consist of a push-to-talk button system, an identifiable telephone system, or other means.

All classroom doors shall be lockable from the inside without requiring lock activation from the hallway, and door locks shall be tamper resistant. Classroom door locks shall be easy to lock and allow for quick release in the event of an emergency.

Exterior Windows/Glazing/Films
If interior windows are installed to provide lines of sight into/out of classrooms or other populated areas, certain factors should be taken into consideration relating to the size, placement and material used for those windows, including:

  • Minimizing the size of windows or the installation of multiple interspersed smaller windows with barriers in a larger window area to deter intruder accessibility.
  • Placing windows at a sufficient distance from the interior locking mechanism to prevent or make difficult the opening of a door or lock from outside.
  • Concealing or obstructing window views to prevent an assailant‘s ability to ascertain the status or presence of persons inside of a classroom during lockdown.
  • Hardening window frames and glazing to the project forced entry standards to lessen window vulnerability.

How does your child’s school measure up to these standards? Is your child’s school one of the lucky ones that the district has hardened?


2 thoughts on “What is school hardening?

  1. Rick,
    Was actually discussing a tangential issue to this with some folks on FB this morning… the placement of more SROs in schools. I hazarded a guess that to put one SRO in every school would run about $400million per year (10,000 schools x $40,000 salary). I don’t know the actual number of schools or exact salary but I expect my number is actually low. There is zero chance that our current office holders in Tallahassee will add this money to the budget.

    I’d be interested to see the costs of the hardening referenced above. My suspicion is the price tag would push $1 billion although it would not be a yearly expense. Once again, zero chance that our current office holders in Tallahassee will add this money to the budget.

    I clearly don’t know what the solutions are but something has to be done and the state is going to need a BIG checkbook.

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