School Perimeter Security: The First Line of Defense

School Perimeter Security: The First Line of Defense

The key to having a successful perimeter and security strategy


From a design standpoint, security should be thought of in concentric layers, and the perimeter is that first layer of defense. Schools need to prevent unwanted intruders from entering the secure space that has been defined for students and staff. Whether that’s a fence perimeter or the exterior of the building, it’s the primary line of defense in protecting students and faculty.

In recent years, we have seen more investments in physical security in the form of gates, fences, vehicle barriers and other perimeter protection systems to ensure that campuses are not easily accessible. At its core, perimeter security has more to do with understanding and controlling patterns, not just locking doors.

We have worked with many school districts across the country. Each faces their own set of challenges while solving their unique requirements. The State of Florida, for example, has the Jessica Lunsford Act, or Jessica’s Law, which requires that before stepping onto campus, new staff have to go through an extensive background check. In other words, you have to be approved to carry a badge before you can even think of walking onto campus. This is just one example of how schools in some areas have implemented policies and procedures to mitigate risk externally before potential offenders get on campus.


encing is often a starting point for establishing perimeter security. And in the higher education space, fencing often extends from the campus all the way through to other facilities like sororities and dorms. Arizona State University, for example, uses perimeter fencing systems around the outside of sororities to prevent unwanted trespassers from entering that space. Those gates and access points are controlled by a mix of mechanical and electromechanical locking devices. With many options to choose with varying levels of complexity, these devices simply control and limit who has access to secured areas.

Even within fencing, there are a variety of options. From the low end of the spectrum, using a mechanical key to control a padlock that secures a chain to a gate, to standalone keypad locks that function independent of the access control system at the school, all the way to wired and wireless integrated electromechanical locking solutions that can be tied into an access control system. One of the more common ways we have seen pedestrian gates with rim exit devices electronically controlled is using surface mounted electric strikes from HES. This allows for free egress from the space, but ties the entrance to the access control system.

It can often be prohibitive for a school to try to control and implement access control at every opening, so many schools start by identifying key entry points that can be used to limit and control pedestrian traffic. The next step is to mechanically lock down all other preceding points that were not identified. The objective is to maximize physical and electronic resources by reducing the number of entry points, thus limiting exposure.

Let’s take a step back and consider the fundamentals as it relates to hardware. Every aspect of your security hardware should be routinely inspected to ensure everything is working properly—all access control openings should have a door closer, locks should be functioning and latching correctly, and there should be no loose hinges. It’s very likely that adjustments or modifications will have to be made over the life of a door opening. Note, there shouldn’t be any instances where locks or exit devices are intentionally defeated—for example, if a door stop is placed under a normally locked door to keep it open for convenience.


Schools are often faced with trying to mitigate risk and exposure with very little budget. CPTED (pronounced sep-ted) is the acronym for the crime fighting technique known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. CPTED is based on the theory that the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the incidence of crime.

CPTED’s emphasis is on natural and environmental design. In this way, it deviates from the traditional target-hardening approach to crime prevention, but is complementary to all security efforts. The target-hardening approach traditionally focused on denying access to a crime target through physical or artificial barriers (such as locks, alarms, fences and gates). CPTED focuses on natural barriers, is very versatile, and can be applied anywhere.

There are many initial low-cost to no-cost strategies schools can implement to add layers of security or improvements to an existing security plan. This includes improving visibility by not planting bushes and shrubs in front of windows, improving lighting, and strictly limiting access to rooftops and basements.

CPTED offers a number of strategies, several of which directly enhance perimeter security:

  • Provide clear border definition of controlled space;
  • Provide clearly marked transitional zones that indicate movement from semi-public to private space;
  • Re-designate the use of space to provide natural barriers to conflicting activities;
  • Redesign space to increase the perception or reality of natural surveillance.

There is a good deal of CPTED guidance and information online. We encourage security professionals and school administrators alike to review the information and become familiar with the many simple-todeploy, common sense strategies for improved security.


When beginning the process of evaluating and upgrading a security plan, start by answering the following: Which departments will be affected? Which departments have a budget for this type of project? And be sure to involve those decision makers from the start.

Walk around the campus and do a quality check on your own before engaging an outsider. Pay special attention to older facilities; they often include additional complexity, especially when adding electronic security to existing doors. Note the condition of hinges, doors, and locks, which can wear out after many years of use by thousands of students.

It’s important to always take the time to speak with local security professionals. Many industry events provide opportunities to share best practices and lessons learned with other schools, which offers the opportunity to ask for references. Whether it’s a security consultant or systems integrator, an adept security professional’s experience and knowledge can be invaluable. Find someone in the industry who attends the annual security shows, collaborates with other professionals and manufacturers to keep up with industry trends, while staying current with codes and standards.

Basic cost estimates are easy to get from providers, but there’s so much more that goes into large-scale security projects. A certain amount of due diligence is required since there is no one-size-fits-all. Every security system is uniquely tailored to each situation. And it requires more legwork than most end users expect.


The best way to approach perimeter and security design is to consider solutions starting from the street and working your way into the facility, all the way down to securing the pharmaceuticals in the nurse’s office.

As part of a perimeter security plan, a trend that’s happening more and more in K-12 schools is the creation of entry vestibule—a single, controlled access point that prevents a visitor from moving past that point without authorization.

This creates a control point where a visitor comes into the vestibule, speaks with someone at the front desk who greets and identifies the visitor, and then is either allowed or denied access into the controlled area, which is usually the main hallway of the campus.

Perimeter security isn’t always just about violent intruders. Good perimeter security greatly reduces opportunities for vandalism and theft during school hours as well as after. Schools today are full of valuable equipment, including computers, laptops, tablets, lab supplies and equipment, projectors, sound systems and more.


Don’t just depend on the physical security hardware alone to ensure occupant safety. Schools need trained people in place who know the procedures that can circumvent incidences from occurring or guide everyone to safety in an emergency.

An ongoing analysis of the habits of people flowing through the facility should be performed by administrators and security professionals to ensure the plan remains relevant and effective. Seek out potential gaps in your plan and look for any holes. Work with local law enforcement professionals—their knowledge and advice are essential. Always consult with your team of service providers that may include security consultants, systems integrators, IT professionals, manufacturers and other experts.

Having a successful perimeter and security strategy in place means making sure that the physical aspects of a security system – locks, exit devices, electronic access control systems and other hardware – are in place. And just as importantly, it means that security personnel, students, and administrators are as prepared and trained as possible. Within the concentric layers of a security plan, the total plan is only as strong as the weakest layer. Plan accordingly.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Campus Security Today.


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