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Security begins at the entrance

In fall 2014, a man entered a Hamilton elementary school playground via one of three unlocked gates. As nearly 30 kindergarten students played, the man flung one child over his shoulder and walked off campus. Fortunately, a woman parked across the street saw what was happening and opened her car door to confront the abductor. The man dropped the child and fled. The four-year-old was unharmed but shaken, as were parents of 250 other students.

May 13, 2016  By Bruce Czerwinski

A few weeks later, a man wandered undetected onto an Ottawa elementary school campus and offered candy to a young student. Fortunately, the student declined and the man walked away, never having been confronted by school personnel. A witness used her mobile phone to take a picture of the intruder and shared it with police.

While both of these situations ended well, smart security planning may have prevented them from ever occurring. Schools aren’t the only facilities that can suffer from lax access control. For example, office buildings face the return of a disgruntled former employee looking to gain revenge on a supervisor. Medical centres treating an injured gang member may encounter rival gangs seeking to continue fights begun in the street.

Creating roadblocks at facility entrances that rely on layers of security can stop potential criminals before they have a chance to reach potential targets — both people and property. And those layers can become part of security plans that are easily repeatable across various types of buildings, architecture and locations.

Since many organizations count on their security providers to offer solutions, it is imperative for integrators and dealers to become aware of current and proven best practices. Here’s a look at solutions that are working today across Canada.


Assessing the risks
The first step in the design of any new or retrofit security plan should be an all-hazards risk assessment. This assessment will highlight an organization’s security strengths as well as pinpoint weaknesses. It will also help the organization to spend its money more wisely to create the specific solutions required to secure entrances.

An assessment will include the surrounding neighbourhood and traffic patterns, perimeter landscaping, parking lots, lighting, outbuildings, fencing and gates and current security equipment, including communications systems. It will give special emphasis to potential entry points such as doors, windows — even the rooftop.

Protecting the entry
The process of protecting the entry begins by defining an entry to serve as the main entrance for visitors and those which will serve employees, vendors and delivery people. Best practices call for a single visitor entry.

The process of protecting any entry begins with a sturdy electronic lock with a pick guard. And locks are good only when used. So an end user should be encouraged to keep doors locked at all times except in those operations where main entries are kept open to allow a free flow of customers during business hours. But nearly all organizations have doors that should remain locked unless in use.

When visitors require access, a video intercom can serve as the doorbell. These units, usually mounted just outside the entry, typically include a colour camera (some with PTZ), call button and microphone and speaker for voice communication.

Visitors push the call button to connect with a base station often placed on a receptionist’s desk or in a security office. The base unit provides a view of the visitor and allows for a two-way conversation. An employee can safely make the determination to allow access from the other side of a locked door. A push of a button on the station remotely unlocks the door. If there are any doubts about the visitor, the door stays locked and a security officer or first responder can be summoned.

Entry vestibules are now considered a best practice for many campuses and office buildings. It adds an extra wall and door to create one more barrier between visitors and the interior facility and people.

While still in the vestibule, visitors are asked to present a government-issued photo ID that is swiped through a visitor management system. That checks the visitor’s information against national and provincial criminal databases and the RCMP sex offender registry. Each organization can add its own data to check for non-custodial parents, disgruntled former employees and others. Approved visitors receive a temporary photo ID badge to be worn on the premises. Then the final vestibule door is opened.

The process of requesting and receiving permission to enter and completing the badging process doesn’t take much more than a minute for most visitors. And the extra layers of security provide a much higher level of safety for those in the facility.

But most buildings have multiple entries. Best practices call for them to be locked at all times except when in use. And video intercoms have proven very useful in that the same receptionist or security officer can make judgments on entry requests for access. The units are ideal for allowing entry into loading docks without having to dedicate manpower to locking and unlocking these doors. Even staff members who have forgotten their access card for the day can be let in through an employee entry.

The same lock-video intercom combination also works well on interior doors — those at rooms with high-value inventory or data, such as cash and record rooms.

The Ontario government has given its thumbs up to protecting school entries. During the 2005-06 school year, the Ontario Ministry of Education offered the province’s public elementary schools up to $3,100 to buy and install front door locks and video intercoms. Nearly 850 schools took advantage of the Safe Welcome program. The offer was expanded in 2012, adding schools from among 66 of Ontario’s 72 school boards. In total, more than 75 per cent of the province’s 4,000-plus public elementary schools received Safe Welcome funding.

There are at least two more security tools that are part of the best practices being employed for entry protection. Security screens, made of stainless steel mesh, protect glass entry doors and nearby windows. The December 2012 Sandy Hook gunman shot his way through a window to enter the school. Security screens are virtually impervious to gunshots, knives, clubs or rocks.
Also panic buttons and related emergency notification systems located throughout a facility allow those inside to quickly contact first responders if there is a security breach.  

The adoption of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles also adds to overall facility security — especially at the entry — and often at very little cost. Many of the CPTED ideas will have been identified during the all-hazards risk assessment. For example, making sure that trees and brushes have been cut back to not provide a hiding place for criminals and contraband. Overgrown landscaping can also block the entry views to first responders patrolling the area.

Fencing and gates help to channel visitors to the proper entry. Inexpensive signage works in tandem with fencing to direct people from the parking lot to the main entrance. Signs can also provide information on the entry procedure, including use of the video intercom and visitor management system. Lighting discourages criminals and helps to identify visitors at the front door on dark winter afternoons. A well maintained front entrance sends a message that the organization is serious about maintaining security. That requires immediate removal of graffiti, repair of broken windows and replacement of burned out light bulbs.

Here are some other security layers that also help protect an entry. Basic cardkey/keypad systems are ideal for employee entries. They are relatively inexpensive and eliminate the time and cost of re-keying when traditional keys are lost or stolen. With wireless systems now available, they also can be added to protect entries to outbuildings and other entrances where cabling would be cost prohibitive or impossible. Also, systems hosted by a central station remove the cost, trouble and space required to maintain an onsite server.

Interior entries also need attention. All interior doors should be lockable from the inside. These locks represent one more layer between office occupants and gunmen and other criminals. A $10 peephole allows the occupant to see who’s requesting access without having to open the door.

It’s all about layers
Audio intercoms also play a role in the larger security plan. They can be used to simultaneously share messages with all offices should a security breech occur. They can also be integrated with video surveillance cameras protecting the perimeter.

If the budget permits, video cameras, placed inside and outside a facility provide valuable real-time and recorded images of emergencies.

By selecting one public entry and then hardening it with layers of security, it is possible to seriously deter criminals from entering a facility — from a school to a medical centre to an office building.

And these layers are among the most affordable available on the security market. They complement one another to synergistically heighten safety. They have also been proven effective and represent today’s best practice for securing the entry.  

Bruce Czerwinski is the U.S. general sales manager for Aiphone (www.aiphone.com).

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