Protect Your School: Physical Security

Security measures can protect schools from vandalism, arson, and violence

School security has been at the forefront for many years. Modern challenges to traditional security measures have caused a resurgence in efforts to keep students and staff members safe while safeguarding ministry resources. You’ve already installed security cameras, taken active steps to illuminate your building at night, and locked exterior doors. But what are some additional steps your school can take to improve its physical security?

A Layered Approach

Enhance your school’s safety measures by looking at your property and buildings with fresh eyes. Grab a notepad and take a walk. Ask “what if” questions as you scrutinize every access point. Think of physical security in layers. Start at the perimeter of your school’s property, then assess outbuildings, parking lots, entry points, and interior spaces. Then consider the following:



  • Establish your school’s boundary. This can include installing or repairing fencing, planting dense hedge rows, or other physical barriers. This is your school’s outermost physical layer.

  • Those charged with campus safety responsibilities should take daily perimeter walks. In addition to your security cameras, it’s important to use natural surveillance to keep an eye on things. Taking walks is more than just getting some fresh air. It can serve to let others know that you are aware of what’s going on around your facility.


Parking Lots

  • Take care of lighting features in the parking lot. Many light poles have metal bases to cover wiring. Secure these bases to prevent hiding spots for weapons or drugs, which can reduce criminal activity on your property.

  • Use signs to direct people to the main entrance and help control the flow of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

  • Because perpetrators often target their violence, assigned parking spots should not feature the person’s name. In one study, more than half the time the targeted victims were administrators, faculty members, or staff.1 Instead, consider using a random method for assigning parking spots. Keep in mind that if your assigned spots are all close to the front door, it will be obvious where staff parks.



  • Keep landscaping near your buildings trimmed to reduce hiding spots and to eliminate climbing access to upper-level windows or the roof.

  • Install barriers, such as aluminum covers, on exposed gutters, fencing, or ducting to prevent someone from gaining access to a flat roof.

  • Locking roof access points is critical. Make sure your facilities staff lock roof access ladders and doors to prevent unauthorized entry onto the roof.

  • Regularly inspect your buildings and immediately repair any broken windows, door handles, or other items.

  • Routinely pick up garbage/debris and clean any graffiti or markings in a timely manner.



  • Consider installing bollards (protective steel and concrete posts) to minimize the risk of vehicle traffic on sidewalks, at entrances, and bus loading zones.

  • Install safety film, an adhesive window film that makes it harder to break through glass, on all main entrance windows. While this won’t prevent someone from gaining access, it will help slow them down, giving you precious seconds to act in the event of a violent attack.




  • Communicate. According to guidance published by the United States Secret Service, open and honest guidance about recognizing behaviors of concern and how to report them creates an environment that seeks to intervene early, which can lead to a safer school environment.2 Additionally, consider developing strategies to help isolated kids feel connected to classmates and the school.

  • Require ID badges to be worn by all staff. This helps teachers and students quickly identify anyone who may not belong in the school.

  • Create a photo directory of all students so teachers can become familiar with enrolled students, enabling them to quickly identify anyone who may not belong in the school.

  • Depending on your staffing resources, consider implementing a chaperone system to escort visitors and vendors throughout the building.

  • Become familiar with CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design), which has proven effective at reducing violent crime incidents.3 The idea is that crime is deterred when you enhance certain aspects of your school’s appearance. One component of CPTED is using interior design to foster positivity and an overall sense of school pride. Consider painting or hanging positive messages or decorations in common areas. Even restrooms can benefit from a bright, cheery paint scheme.



  • Classroom doors should be locked from the inside, but make sure you use building code-approved locks. Consider installing impact safety film or impact-resistant glass.

  • Ask teachers to stand in classroom doorways during passing periods to monitor activity. Also, school administrators should take random walks throughout the building. This increased visibility can be an effective deterrent to school crime.

  • Consider working with your local fire department to discuss new methods and ideas for handling unscheduled fire drills. Active shooters have used fire alarms to lure teachers and students into the open.

Keys to Success

Thinking about your school’s physical security as a series of layers can help you find gaps in your plan. Additionally, you can find a wealth of information about school security from state and federal resources. Here are some resources to get you started.

United States Secret Service 

United States Department of Homeland Security

Safe Hiring Solutions



  1. Vossekuil, B., Fein, R., Reddy, M., Borum, R., & Modzeleski, W., The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center, Washington, D.C., 2002.
  2. National Threat Assessment Center. (2018). Enhancing school safety using a threat assessment model: An operational guide for preventing targeted school violence. U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security.
  3. Youth Violence: Using Environmental Design to Prevent School Violence., accessed August 2018.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.