ACCESS CONTROL/School ‘portables’ require extra security
In an ideal school district, all school buildings have ample classrooms to accommodate every student. However, increased student enrollment has forced many schools to find additional space quickly, and many schools have solved their space crunch, at least temporarily, with portable classrooms.
But portable buildings present security issues that the main school building typically does not have. For example, the units often are placed wherever a district can find space, perhaps far away from the rest of the school. In some cases, portables have to be situated a certain distance from the main building to comply with fire codes. In other cases, districts may place them at the rear of the campus because they often are eyesores.
A remote location makes teachers feel isolated and not secure, says June Arnette, associate director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif. It also provides cover for illegal activities such as vandalism and drug trafficking.
Many schools have solved security problems by placing portables in more visible areas so that people in portables, as well as those in the main building, can easily spot suspicious activity. “It’s better to have natural surveillance and clear views,” Arnette says. “If there are windows in the portable, don’t block them by using them as bulletin boards.”
Portables also need additional access control to discourage break-ins and safeguard the facility, while allowing authorized personnel – teachers and students – to move freely between the units and the main building. Installing locks can provide the needed security. “Portables should have steel doors and a keyed lockset,” says Linc Moss, president of the Modular Building Institute, Charlottesville, Va. “Schools should protect windows on portables with grates or other equipment that discourages unauthorized entry.”
Schools should look at locks that are appropriate to the ages of the students, according to Mike Gough, director of security for Montgomery County, Md., schools. “Older kids can handle a three-digit combination; younger kids could use a key,” he says. “And, the door should be equipped with a handle that is easy for children to operate.”
In addition, schools should place fencing or other barriers to prevent climbers from accessing the roofs of portables. Likewise, districts should make sure structures have skirting around the bottom to block access underneath the units.
If and when trouble happens, teachers in portables must be able to get in touch with someone in the main building. Many schools have phone connections in their portables, while others use walkie-talkies, computer linkups or closed-circuit television.
Merely connecting a portable with the school’s intercom system may not be enough protection. Gough recalls an incident in which a teacher was working in her portable classroom after hours when some students began to harass her. Her intercom calls to the main office went unanswered because the office staff had gone for the day. “You can’t rely on the intercom if there is nobody in the office,” Gough says.
“In such a situation, it also helps if a portable classroom has a secondary exit,” Moss says. “That way, students and teachers can flee from trouble if the main entrance is blocked.”