In the first six weeks of 2018 there were 8 school related shooting incidents in the United States, all but one of which were seen as events where someone intended to, and succeeded in the harm of another person. This innocuous statistic averages out to more than one incident per week. If one looks back to 2013 (the Sandy Hook CT. shooting was on December 14, 2012), there have been more than 290 incidents… again averaging about one per week. So, if there is any good news, we seem to be holding steady in the regularity of these events in the last five years. At the time I am writing this, the most recent event is of course the Parkland, FL school shooting at Stoneman Douglas HS, which resulted in the deaths of 17 people.

While it is not the only example, the Stoneman Douglas shooting occurred in a relatively affluent community in Broward County, FL, indicating that this is not a problem that is limited to poor, disenfranchised communities. There will undoubtedly be discussion and debate about how to address gun ownership, arming teachers, and the issue of adequate mental health treatment for some time to come, but any solutions will take time to implement. In the meantime, the clock continues to march toward the next incident that may be across the country…or in our town. One thing that can be done immediately is to evaluate our existing and new school campuses, and incorporate three fundamental ideas into them:

  • Natural Surveillance – using windows, lighting and enhanced views to communicate that you always have “eyes on the street.”
  • Natural Access Control – separating public and private spaces through fencing and clearly defined points of entry.
  • Natural Territorial Enforcement – maintaining clean, orderly grounds, which affirms the idea of active ownership, belonging, and responsibility of the property.

Beyond these fundamentals, other components such as mechanical surveillance and access control (cameras, door position switches, card readers) enhance the natural or passive design concepts listed above.

Recently, BRPH designed buildings for Florida school districts and incorporated this philosophy of safe school design into all of our projects. Many of our schools are single buildings, which easily allow for a single point of entry to be designed. An elementary school prototype that we built over a dozen times for Orange County Public Schools successfully incorporated this strategy. Even when we have a multiple building campus, as was the case for Volusia County’s new elementary school, we are able to design the buildings and the site in such a way that there is a strong, central point of controlled entry and the location of windows and fencing provides an open but secure campus that is easily monitored.

The concepts identified as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) are not rocket science, nor are they limited to educational buildings. In fact, these concepts can, and SHOULD, be used in all building types. But they are strategies that need to be contemplated consciously as early as possible in the design of a building to maximize their effectiveness without incurring significant increases in cost. In addition, while it isn’t necessary, I think that it is important to understand how the type of facility being designed operates. Schools operate differently than hospitals, which operate differently than movie theaters, and so on. In my particular case, being an Accredited Learning Environment Planner (ALEP) as well as a Certified CPTED Practitioner provides some insight into the operation and function of a school and allows me to ask the right questions at the beginning of the design process.

Since February 14, 2018 we have already begun to hear the call for more extreme forms of security … bullet proof glazing, metal detectors, additional Security Resource Officers, etc. While well intentioned, and borne out of legitimate concern for our loved ones who either attend or work in schools, in many of cases the costs to implement such measures will prove to be staggering and probably unachievable with the limited funds available to most schools. In addition, what is the cost to the student being subjected to daily searches and scans on their desire to attend something that, regardless of intent, treats them more and more like prisoners and inmates rather than students…like our children?

There is a better way…but it requires intentional planning to balance safety with education, and the openness of ideas that education promotes.

Sean Tracy is the Director of Education for BRPH’s Florida markets. He is a registered architect and a graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is one of only four ALEP’s in the State of Florida. Sean is also a CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) Practitioner Certified.