Does your kids’ school have these 5 Safety Elements?

As students world wide return to school, some parents, administrators and community members may also have their mind towards safety and the rash of violence that affect some schools each year. Did you know there are some elements of architectural design that makes some schools more safe than others?
 Brian P. Whitmore, AIA, LEED® AP, Vice President of Design at BCA Architects, provides these 5 elements to consider:
1.       Engage the Community – Nobody knows better the safety or security of a particular environment than that community. By engaging the stakeholders in conceptualization, a design team can learn a tremendous amount about what that community needs to protect itself, and what level of security is appropriate for its design. Additionally, by involving the community in the design effort, that design becomes more valuable to the community, hopefully raising the awareness to preserve that value long term.
2.       Position Administration Front and Center – If a building or campus design houses an administration component, it’s important to locate that administration element adjacent to the primary entrance and with good visual access to that entrance. More than likely, an administrator will be occupying that space at all times so as to have eyes on the entrance.
 3.       Provide Door and Window Hardware with the ability to “Lock Down” – In an emergency, it’s important that occupants in a building have the ability to escape. On the other hand, the ability to protect occupants inside a building may also be a strategy for safety. Providing door and window hardware that has the ability to remain open, or be automatically or manually locked from the inside is of particular importance when a lock down scenario occurs.
4.       Consider the overall placement of Security Systems – Nobody wants a building or campus to look like an institution, unless that is the intent of the design. Careful consideration of the placement of lighting, fencing, gates and camera systems can complement the architectural design and also maintain security. Buildings, other structures and landscape can provide good “barriers” to access and provide safety and refuge where necessary. They can also create blind spots and dark corners when not designed properly.
5.       Develop an “inward focus” design – Access to natural light is critical to the design of educational, corporate and residential spaces, but can also weaken the line of defense. Consider the placement of glazing facing inward, or toward a safe environment. If glazing must be placed adjacent to the exterior or public way, consider locating it above reach, or with enough strength and the ability to be obscured in case of an unsafe situation.
Is your kids’ schools designed with these tips in mind? If not, these are things to consider and think about and perhaps bring up if there is an opportunity to redesign or retrofit the school.
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