Because schools have traditionally been considered safe havens for students and teachers, design features - including fire safety - are addressed in detail in applicable codes and standards, while security design typically receives less planning and attention. This approach has generally seemed acceptable and reasonable for school settings, until something goes horribly wrong.
Tragic incidents like the one that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, while extremely rare, underscore the need for appropriate security measures in school systems. However, implementing certain security features can be at odds with other building safety features needed to protect people from fire and other hazards.
In a concerted effort to balance security and fire safety features within codes, standards and planning, NFPA hosted a two-day workshop, “School Safety, Codes and Security”, last December, which included a broad cross-section of stakeholders who influence the decision-making process of school design, administration, operation, and the critical planning elements that first responders have to manage when an active threat occurs.
The findings from that workshop are now available in a free, downloadable NFPA report, "School Safety, Codes and Security," which can be accessed on our new Codes and Security Workshop resource page.
The current challenge is to review the report content and determine how and where our codes, standards, recommendations and planning scenarios can be revised, updated and improved upon to ensure that security isn’t an afterthought. This will require a comprehensive effort from the standards and first responder (fire, EMS, law enforcement) community, as well as from the school administrators consisting of faculty, staff, parents and those who manage the finances.