Staying safe at educational facilities

Educational facilities such as schools, colleges and universities are constant hives of activity, with the number of people visiting their sites throughout the day ranging from hundreds to potentially tens of thousands of people. However, with so many people to keep track of and a large amount of high value property, belongings and personal data on site it can be a challenge to stay secure.

Schools, colleges and universities can all be at risk from a whole variety of different crimes, ranging from opportunistic students committing petty theft, to organised gangs attempting to gain access to the site or deliberate criminal damage and vandalism. However with proper and effective security measures in place the risk of these types of crimes occurring can be greatly reduced and a safe environment can be successfully provided for everyone on site.

This article looks at some of the common risks faced by educational sites and explores some of the methods and steps that can be taken to make them more secure.

Threats to educational facilities

The threat of crime is very real to schools, colleges and universities throughout the UK and the effects can sometimes be devastating. The cost of replacing stolen equipment and repairing physical damage which can occur as a result of crimes like theft, arson and criminal damage can have a significant impact on a school’s budget and mean that they have less money to spend on improvements to facilities, equipment and personnel. There are also the non-financial costs to consider, such as damage to an institution’s reputation, fear of safety among staff, parents and students and the significant disruption to learning that can occur as a result of a serious crime.

Every educational site is different and therefore both the threats to security and the level of response that is needed will vary accordingly. However, when it comes to theft, vandalism and criminal damage, some of the most common types of crime that occur within these facilities, all educational sites need to be vigilant and well prepared.

Theft

Educational sites such as schools, colleges and universities are highly attractive to thieves. Not only can opportunistic criminals easily blend in with students, staff and visitors but should they gain access they will often have a whole range of high-value equipment such as computers, cameras, televisions, scanners, stereo equipment, projectors and other expensive electrical goods at their fingertips.

There is also the risk of personal theft; many students and staff alike will choose to leave vehicles such as cars, motorcycles, mopeds and cycles on site, all of which can be targeted by criminals if proper safety protocols are not put in place. They might also leave personal items unattended such as electrical equipment, mobile phones or purses and wallets which could be taken by opportunistic thieves.

Additionally there is also the risk of identity theft and theft of data to consider, which could be achieved through physical means like searching through discarded documents in bins or through means of a cyber breach by gaining unauthorized access to computer networks or through email phishing scams.

Criminal damage

Vandalism, deliberate damage and arson are also very real threats to educational sites and could be carried out by both visitors to the site and students. This could be anything from broken windows and graffiti of bathroom areas to serious arson and destruction of property. An unfortunate result of such actions is that in many cases money which has been earmarked for improving facilities has to be used for the maintenance and repair of damaged items and property instead. These types of crimes could be carried out by students, or equally by outsiders if security is poor and access is easily gained to the site.

Assault

Another worrying form of crime that can and does occur in educational facilities is assault. This can include violent crime such as common assault, grievous bodily harm and sexual offences. Assault could occur in a number of different ways and could be perpetrated by visitors, staff, students or people from outside of the site. From 2012 – 2015 an estimated 5,500 alleged sex crimes were reported in UK schools and an average of 878 children are removed from classes for abuse or assault on fellow pupils and teachers every day.

Combating crime in educational facilities

Providing a safe learning environment is the key obligation of any educational facility. However to do this properly they must find effective solutions for preventing crime from taking place.

Reception security

Reception areas often serve a dual purpose at educational facilities. Not only do they act as a meet and greet area for visitors but they also play a role as the first line of defence against criminal activities. A properly trained concierge will know that they can prevent crimes from outsiders by enforcing relatively simple systems such as ensuring that all visitors are signed in to reception and provided with a visible ID badge to be worn on their clothing at all times. This means that any unwanted visitors on site can be easily spotted by the absence of a visitor pass and it can reassure staff and students.

Perimeter security

Another key element to safely securing a school, college or university is carefully planned perimeter security. Perimeter security needs to form part of the overall architecture of a site and should aim to restrict the movement of people and vehicles for example through gates, fences, bollards and vehicle barriers.

Schools in particular are required to safely oversee and protect their students during school hours and to safeguard them against criminals and intruders. This means that all entry points to the school should be locked down during the day and access only permitted through a manned reception.

Installing high, durable fences can not only help to prevent criminals from entering the site but can also stop students from leaving without permission. Meanwhile, gates, bollards and vehicle barriers can prevent access and restrict the movement of people who may not have permission to be on the site.

CCTV monitoring

From museums and football stadiums to hotels, airports and shopping centres, CCTV cameras are one of the most popular ways of securing a site and schools, colleges and universities are no exception.

CCTV cameras are a powerful form of security as they are able to monitor individuals as they move around a building or site, recording them as they go. This footage can be live streamed and monitored by a trained operator looking out for signs of criminal activity and can be later used as evidence in court.

The visible presence of CCTV can have a powerful impact, reassuring students, staff, parents and visitors and also acting as a deterrent to anyone who tries to commit a crime such as theft, assault or criminal damage.

Anti-vandal paint

Careless vandalism such as graffiti can be a serious problem for schools, colleges and universities, costing large amounts of money in repairs and projecting a negative image of the institution to the public. In order to combat vandalism it is important to first highlight vulnerable areas and then to make sure that action is taken to secure them from further damage. This could be in the form of a CCTV camera, or other deterrents such as anti-vandal paint.

Security tagging and cable locks

When it comes to high value products such as laptops, PC’s, televisions, scanners, cameras and other goods, thieves are far less likely to steal something if they believe they won’t be able to sell it on. One way to ensure that items have no re-sale value is to make the name of the institution clearly visible on the product, either with a sticker, pen, or chemically bonded tag or security plate that cannot be easily removed.

Cable locks can also be effective in securing items that may be stolen easily such as TV’s, PC’s and accessories such as keyboards and computer mice.

Cyber security

In today’s age, computers and the internet play a huge role in education, allowing students and staff to conduct research, communicate and create like never before. However, IT brings with it its own security risks.

Many schools, colleges and education facilities have gone ‘paperless’ in recent years which means that lots of personal data is now stored online or on computer networks. While this reduces paper wastage and minimises the risk of data falling in to the wrong hands there is still potential for risk and it is important that steps are taken to protect data. This can be achieved by making sure that data is backed up regularly and encrypted, that anti-virus software is kept up to date and that only approved individuals are given access to sensitive information such as medical records and home addresses.

Vetting staff

It is crucial in an educational environment that employers perform thorough background checks on members of staff before they are employed. The job market is highly competitive and many job seekers may lie about their work history and their qualifications. Although this alone can have damaging consequences, failing to check for criminal convictions and an employee’s right to work in the UK could have catastrophic results.

Manned guarding and patrolling

While CCTV monitoring can provide valuable evidence of a crime taking place on an educational site, it cannot be solely relied upon. If for instance a criminal is spotted breaking into a site at night on CCTV then they can only be dealt with once the security company has been alerted and is able to respond and make their way to the site, in which time the criminal might have already made their escape.

With a security guard on site 24/7 the time it takes to respond to an incident is vastly reduced and the presence of a uniformed guard may deter an individual from attempting to gain access at all.

Depending on the needs of the facility a manned guarding presence might also be required for facilities that have a reduced number of people on site after hours, as this is ideal for criminals looking to break in and steal from the facility under the cover of darkness, such as organised groups looking to steal scrap metal.

Conclusion

Security at educational sites has to be managed properly and a balance must always be found between providing a safe place to educate and also maintaining a pleasant and positive atmosphere for everyone on the site. This can be achieved by highlighting areas of weakness in a site’s security strategy and developing the safest and most practical solutions for each unique set of circumstances.

Kingdom’s dedicated education team has extensive experience and in-depth understanding to meet the special demands of the education sector. Officers complete enhanced vetting and are vigilant but discreet to assist education establishments in striking a balance between an educational building that is welcoming yet secure. For more information about Kingdom’s security services for educational facilities, please visit http://www.kingdom.co.uk/services/security-personnel/education-sector/ or call 0845 051 7702.