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Registered Architect and Certified Safety Assessor Sylvia Deye, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP has extensive knowledge and experience designing schools and institutional buildings which meet rigorous standards for safety compliance. In this article, Sylvia discusses the importance of meeting not some, but all of the recommended safety features through protective infrastructure design. In the wake of recent school shootings, districts find themselves under increased pressure to make each building a safe learning and working environment.

Public Facilities & School Premises Safety - Expert Article

Providing safe schools, municipal buildings, and facilities encompasses a broad range of integrated building elements that are required to meet the Life, Safety, and Welfare of the occupants. In 1984, the National School Safety Center was established by Presidential mandate as a joint program between the United States Departments of Education and Justice to establish the Standard of care for safe schools. At the time of publishing this article, 13 states have passed legislation establishing school safety councils, and currently there are 33 states that have specifically required schools or districts to have comprehensive school safety or emergency plans.

School violence and shootings have occurred since 1840 with over 500 acts of violence to date that have occurred on campus both outside and inside the facility. The current state of urgency stems from the drastic increase in school violence in just the past 18 years. From 1960 to 2000 there were 151 acts of violence at schools, twice the number from 1900-1960. Since the year 2000 there have been over 244 acts of violence at schools, indicating a disturbing upward trend. School facilities are tasked to implement standards of care to safeguard students, faculty and the public.

As uniform school safety standards develop, it is important that the objectives and end result preserve the educational environment and ensure that the public safety goals are achieved without compromising compliance with existing building codes and fire and life safety codes.

Examples of noncompliance security implantation are bollards that block ADA access or door hardware that can be locked from the outside preventing escape of the occupants in an emergency. Door hardware that is not ADA complaint, which is cumbersome to engage from the inside or can only be engaged by the teacher, places the occupants at risk. One-way telecommunication that prevents communication can allow dangerous situations to go undetected. Applying film over windows creates false pretenses that the area is a secure line of defense. These attempted solutions could create dangerous situations for the occupants when they need to escape or engage with the non-complying security features during an emergency.

The evaluation, renovation, and design of a public facility should begin with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Referenced from the ‘Report of the School Safety Infrastructure Council,’ 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 involving the following principles:

  • Natural Surveillance: People are less likely to commit crimes if they feel they are being observed by avoiding blind spots.
  • Territorial Reinforcement: Using physical barriers to create a clear delineation between private and public space.
  • Natural Access Control: Limiting and regulating entrances and creating efficient screening methods.
  • Target Hardening: Building elements that prohibit entry or accessibility such as Bollards, door hardware and glazing strategies.

In partnership with Homeland Security, Connecticut created the School Safety Infrastructure Council (SSIC) pursuant to Public Act (PA) 13-3, Section 80 (b), and has been charged with developing school safety infrastructure standards for school building projects. The Council determined that school safety infrastructure planning should be based on an “all hazards” assessment, and that school design safety standards should encourage the use of protective infrastructure design features in all layers of school facility construction including:

  • Site development and preparation;
  • Perimeter boundaries and access points;
  • Secondary perimeters up to the building exterior; and
  • The interior of the building itself.

The Department of Homeland Security created the Buildings and Infrastructure Protection Series Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings FEMA-428. Under the 2012 second edition, “the primer is to provide the design community and school administrators with the basic principles and techniques to make a school safe from terrorist attacks and school shootings and at the same time ensure it is functional and aesthetically pleasing.” The primer includes a comprehensive Building Vulnerability Assessment Checklist to help facilities determine the safety points of concern and to establish how each of the areas need to be addressed.

Each of these layers is held to a standard of care and governed by state and local building codes. In the process of creating secure public environments, protective infrastructure design should be implemented in all of these layers in conjunction with one another. A single stand-alone solution that addresses one layer leaves the other areas of safety open to a dangerous situation.

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Our Premises Safety team of architects and safety professionals is trained to investigate cases involving the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of residential, institutional, and commercial premises. We conduct site inspections, perform tests, and review applicable standards to learn facts and form opinions about how and why individuals were injured within the built environment.

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Featured Expert

Sylvia B. Deye, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Architect & Premises Safety Expert

Sylvia Deye is a Registered Architect with over twenty years of experience in architectural design, construction, and project management. Her experience includes a wide range of building and facility types, from single and multi-family residential, to commercial, retail, hospitality, industrial, and institutional facilities, making her familiar with the codes and standards applicable to the safety of school buildings and infrastructure. Sylvia has led all phases of designing, zoning, planning, and managing the construction of school buildings, nursing centers, and public facilities. She applies her expertise to forensic casework involving premises liability disputes and construction claims.