Make a secure investment

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh looks at what steps schools can take to improve their security. Security, say the experts, is an attitude of mind, and good attitudes are shaped by good management. If all teachers and support staff were quick to report a broken gate, or to speak to an unidentified visitor, or to examine identification passes, then schools would be safer.

Once the fundamentals of security management have been addressed, some understanding of what products are available can help to shape security policy.

The problem is knowing how far to go. A three-metre-high security fence round a modest school, for example, can cost Pounds 40,000. A computer-controlled alarm and access system might be Pounds 50,000.

If these things are necessary, then governors and local authorities need to plan for them. There is always a chance, though, that in 10 years' time the fence will stand as a sad monument to the lawless late-Nineties - a reminder of how many books could have been bought.

One headteacher, trying to put together a five-year programme for spending on security, said: "Was Dunblane the turning point that will, in the end, make society safer? Or was it the beginning of a breakdown that will end with bullet-proof glass in classroom windows?" All this was in my mind when I looked at a few of the security products that might interest schools.

Five-lever mortice lock

Even if more convenient locks are fitted for use during the day, every outside door needs a five-lever mortice deadlock for when the building is empty. Make sure the lock is to British Standard 3621, which specifies thief-proof features. Cheaper, and slightly less thief-proof five-lever locks are available which are adequate for internal doors. A BS3621 lock will cost about Pounds 30. Other five-lever locks cost up to Pounds 20.

During the day, there is a need for locks that keep unwanted visitors out but let staff come and go. For overnight and weekend locking, though, you also need the thief-proof deadlock on all outside doors.

Digital door locks

Instead of a key, there is an array of numbered buttons. The lock will open when you punch in a code. The code can (and should) be changed from time to time. They cost up to Pounds 150 each, but beware of cheap versions which may betray the code by allowing the buttons in frequent use to loosen up. Take care also that dirt does not build up around the four buttons that make up the code - change the code to prevent this. These locks are suitable for office and outside doors.

Electronic proximity locks

Each user has a "proximity key". Instead of putting it into a keyhole you hold it close to a pad on the door. The pad recognises your key and opens the lock. The advantage is that these locks can be quickly programmed to accept or delete particular keys. Thus you can give out more keys, knowing that a lost or stolen one can be made useless. Because you can be freer with keys, you can keep more doors locked for more of the time.

Some proximity key systems are expensive, but ERA's Keysolve claims to be simpler, cheaper and easier to install. Each lock costs about Pounds 350. Among schools where it is in use is Mowmaker Hill Primary in Leicester. The locks were put in after the caretaker was attacked by computer thieves.


Surveillance cameras are useful. But as the deputy head at a West Midlands school which has spent Pounds 11,000 on a closed circuit TV (CCTV) system pointed out: "They aren't the total solution. If a school has a fixed budget to put into security, it has to spend on whatever will bring real benefit, and cameras may or may not be the answer". But, he said: "They can act as a deterrent, and they've worked for us."

The school's problem was that youths intruded into the grounds in the evenings. There are now nine cameras outside the school and two inside. The car parks, entrances and boundary fence can be monitored from the reception during the day. At other times, there is time-lapse recording. Movement sensors in the cameras mean that anything moving out of hours is recorded.

Camera prices range from under Pounds 150 to Pounds 1,000. The cameras only account for part of the cost of such a system. Wiring, video recording equipment, monitors, and a "multiplexer" (which enables cameras to feed to one monitor) add to the total.

Controlled access

The aim is to have all visitors coming through one door, which is controlled. The outside door may be locked, so that you have to speak into an intercom to be let in - this is common in primary schools.

An alternative is to let people into a vestibule where there is a reception window. The receptionist checks credentials and then releases a lock on the inner door.

A step further on is the system in use at Brooke Weston City Technology College in Corby where everyone comes in through one door and has to negotiate a turnstile. Pupils and staff have swipe cards to release the turnstile. Visitors are allowed through by the receptionist. This system is expensive, explained deputy head John O'Callaghan (each turnstile costs about Pounds 850 and you need a controlled gate for wheelchair access and parcel deliveries, which costs about Pounds 1,500). Computer software and equipment to make the cards will add to this.

But a high-tech solution can bring other benefits. At Brooke Weston the swipe cards also register pupil attendance and are used by pupils to buy their meals and to borrow library books. This part of the system involves Tracs Registration, access and catering software from GTi Educational Systems.

Heads contemplating security may wonder whether they may lose the school's open atmosphere. John O'Callaghan assures them they won't. "We couldn't operate the co-operative framework we have unless we had such secure protection for the pupils inside."

A great deal of management time and ability has been brought to bear putting in this system. John O'Callaghan, though, is ready to talk to colleagues in other schools about what Brooke Weston has done.

Protect your Computers

Schools have more and more computers, often networked and linked to other equipment. So it is impractical to lock them up with chains, steel frameworks and the like. In any case, thieves often want the microchips. A thief can take the memory out of a computer in a couple of minutes and replace it with a less powerful chip - and it may be a long time before anyone realises what has happened.

You need an alarm that sounds when someone tampers with a computer. The most basic will make a loud noise, so that teacher rushes back to the room. Further up the scale is a gadget that hears this alarm and is connected to the building's security alarm system.

Another option is to connect this alarm to a smoke alert. The basic alarm costs under Pounds 100, including the infra-red key that is needed to set it. You do not need one for every computer so long as you move them around and thieves are not sure which computers are alarmed.

Smoke alert

Thieves are detected by an alarm. The room fills with dense white smoke and within seconds they cannot see. All the time, a loud gong rings and a stern voice tells them to stay where they are. Effective? It terrified me and I knew what was coming. The aim is to fill the gap between an alarm being tripped and the arrival of the police. The smoke is harmless and leaves no traces in the room. This device can be linked to a security system. A stand-alone installation costs under Pounds 1,000.

Keeping tabs

Your villains steal a computer. Unknown to them, it has been marked with a special product, nicknamed "smart water". They may unwittingly get some of the product on their skin if the school opts for a sprinkler. When the police find your computer, they apply a substance that tells them not only that it has been stolen, but that it is from your school. If they apply the same substance to the villains, the smart water will also show up on them.

Equipment is marked with Indsol Tracer. The thief is sprayed with "Index Solution". The clever bit is that the smart water in your school has a unique chemical code, a copy of which is kept on secure file by the Forensic Science Agency of the Home Office. Every user has a different code. For Pounds 145 (a special price for schools), you can mark all your school equipment - from cricket bats to soft toys. Police forces love this product, and are pushing it to schools.

Brooke Weston City Technology College, Coomb Road, Great Oakley, Corby, Northants NN18 8LA. Tel: 01536 460110

Where to buy

* I was shown the smoke alert and the computer alarm by Status Alarms, Venture House, Status Business Park, the Avenue, Holbrooks, Coventry CV6 4AF

* British Standard five-lever mortice deadlocks are made by many lock-makers including, ERA Security Products, Straight Road, Short Heath, Willenhall, West Midlands WV12 5RA. Chubb Locks, PO Box 197, Wednesfield Road, Wolverhampton. Yale Security Products Ltd, Wood Street, Willenhall, West Midlands, WV13 1LA

* Keysolve proximity locks and digital door locks are supplied by ERA Security Products.

* Brooke Weston's turnstiles were from CMB Radford Gudance and Security products Sherborne Drive, Tilbrook Milton Keynes, Bucks MK7 8BA

* GTi Educational Systems, Spitfire House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury SP4 6EB

* There are many CCTV suppliers. The West Midlands school used Central Telecom, Central House 138-140 Lichfield Road, Branston, Burton on Trent. Staffs DE14 3HD

* Group Four Systems, Challenge House, Northway Lane, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire GL20 8JG.

* Smart Water is supplied by Probe-FX UK Ltd, PO Box 23, Newport, Shropshire TF10 7BR

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