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Last Updated: 19th February 2021
School Security
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While safety and security are primary considerations in the design and construction of today’s schools, many of our nation’s schools were built in an era when safety and security were not paramount concerns. School districts nationwide are often forced to operate in outdated facilities that are not capable of protecting students and staff from today’s changing threats. Many school districts have a portfolio of schools that do not meet modern security requirements and that do not have a standardized process for identifying and correcting the most serious deficiencies. 

School safety and security assessments have been highlighted as a best practice by the U.S. Secret Service, and a growing number of state legislatures are requiring schools to undergo safety and security assessments. An effective assessment should include an independent, professional, and systematic evaluation of the safety and security of schools and support facilities. The goal of a school security assessment is to identify strengths and shortcomings and to develop recommendations for short- and long-term safety and security improvements. This comprehensive approach includes security and procedural assessments that incorporate both quantitative and qualitative methods. Fentress has developed a comprehensive physical assessment process using our Security Assessment and Facility Evaluation (SAFE) tool, which includes a detailed inspection of all interior and exterior spaces within each facility as well as access control procedures and vehicular traffic movement. 

The quantitative side of a school security assessment includes a review of all available data, including the following:

  • Crime trends in the local area 
  • Land use plans in the local area
  • Incident reports
  • All other available information related to known threats and intelligence on the safety and security of each facility

A school security assessment focuses on more than just physical facilities and security systems. Security involves people and processes at all levels. The qualitative side of the process incorporates facilitated group sessions and interviews with key personnel at each location to glean input on:

  • Operating procedures
  • Protective physical security systems and measures currently in use
  • School culture
  • Existing security policies and procedures and their effectiveness

The involvement of key stakeholders during these assessments is critical, as individual schools often vary in how they interpret, implement, and follow security procedures. During each site visit, facilitated interviews are held with key staff, including the principal, assistant principal(s), crisis team members, facilities staff, and other designated personnel. These interviews include discussions on the unique culture of each school, system deficiencies, and the operational procedures and practices in place for security. These interviews also provide an opportunity for school personnel to provide feedback about security programs and practices that have worked well, as well as areas of need. 

The figure below displays the school security assessment process.

SAFE Process


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Our proven SAFE tool is used to assess the security of any school from preschool through high school.o This interactive tool includes a checklist of over 200 security-related factors and accompanying performance measures, which are tailored to the school district and assessment location. The tool provides a consistent and objective method for efficiently gathering and recording data for an individual school. The ratings produced by the SAFE tool form the basis of the recommendations and prioritized security strategies for each site. 

During a facility assessment, our assessors use secure tablet computers to score each factor as they conduct a physical examination, recording the individual performance measures, notes, and observations. This functionality allows us to record all ratings in real time, as the assessment is being conducted.

The SAFE tool also incorporates Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTD) principles in its security performance factors. CPTED is a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to security and crime prevention that uses architectural design and behavioral science to make a space or site more safe and secure. CPTED places an emphasis on designing, planning, and manipulating the built environment in a way that increases the perceived risk of detection and apprehension in the mind of a person looking to do harm, thus reducing the chances of such unwanted behavior.

The basic CPTED principles and examples of how they relate to school security are as follows:

  • Natural Access Control. Clear and obvious differentiation between public and private/restricted spaces. For example, the main entrance should be clearly identifiable to prevent attempts at accessing restricted doors.
  • Natural Surveillance. A design that provides clear views and sightlines so that potential threats can be seen. For example, there should be a clear view from the school office to the main entrance.
  • Territoriality. A sense of “ownership” and community that create a higher awareness of potential suspicious activity. For example, staff who are more connected to and personally invested in the school are more likely to have a sense of ownership and community. 
  • Image and Maintenance. A building and site that looks well maintained is a less attractive target for unwanted activity. For example, a school with overgrown landscaping and broken windows provides the impression that the users of the building do not care about their space and have a greater tolerance for criminal activity.
  • Legitimate Activity Support. A building or site that is regularly filled with legitimate users and activity provides safety and security. Is the school used regularly for school and community activities during the evenings and weekends?  Is the school in a vibrant neighborhood or is it in an area frequented by unlawful users?

Together these CPTED principles create what is known as a “defensible space.” The principles are integrated into our SAFE tool assessments and are used to develop strategies to mitigate safety and security deficiencies identified by the assessment.



The security factors included in the SAFE tool fall into the following major categories:

  • Electronic security. Includes CCTV, duress alarms, communications, and intrusion detection
  • Physical security (exterior and interior). Includes building and grounds design and CPTED practices, as well as interior design and features
  • Security policies and operational procedures. Includes interagency involvement, prevention strategies, local and state security standards and requirements, and crisis management plans 

The figure below displays a score for a school based upon the SAFE assessment and factor scoring. An overall score, as well as scores for each of the main categories, are included. 

SAFE summary screen

Each of the individual security factors has an accompanying performance measure, or rating (with "A" representing an optimal rating). Examples of performance measure definitions are shown in the table below. The performance measures are unique to each factor and indicate how a facility rates on each factor. While some factors are rated on all six performance measures (A through F), others require less granularity and are scored as either A (Pass) or F (Fail). 

Safe factors Excerpt_New Colors

A total SAFE score is calculated for each facility during the assessment process. The SAFE tool scores each school between 0 and 100, with 100 representing a school with ideal security. The scores are calculated using the analytic hierarchy process, which is a well-established decision support method. In general, a grade of 90-100 represents a facility that offers optimal security, a grade of 80-89 represents a facility that meets most security standards, a grade of 60-79 represents a facility that is lacking in significant areas of security, and a grade of 60 or lower represents a facility that is in serious need of critical security updates. The scoring methodology allows for the effective comparison of all types of schools on the same scale to provide a school district with an overall picture of its portfolio’s needs. Even though there are different types of schools and supporting facilities, all facilities are  graded on a similar set of factors and performance ratings. 

In addition to a total overall score, facilities also receive a subtotal score in each of the three categories (electronic security, physical security, and security policies and procedures). This enables comparisons between school facilities in each of these specific areas to determine consistency or priority throughout the district.

School Security Pillar_Site


school zone

The assessment process is a dynamic process that provides a rich level of understanding and awareness for school officials. To ensure that all findings and recommendations are clearly identified and documented, Fentress provides the following materials at the conclusion of its school security assessments:

  • SAFE Tool Database with Dashboard. When a security assessment is completed, a database is created to store the assessment results in a system that displays summary graphics, generates reports, and enables updates. The data can be filtered and managed in a variety of ways. As displayed in the image above, the data are typically displayed in a dashboard form, and can be easily used by the school district as a decision-making tool to identify and compare security deficiencies within a single school or across their entire portfolio. The database is a useful tool that enables the school district to better understand their security needs and to prioritize projects for funding.
  • Final Report with Recommendations. Following the interviews, reviews of policies, and facility assessments, Fentress produces a detailed report that documents the results of the overall assessment. The report includes a threat analysis that identifies both internal and external threats, as well as recommended security improvement strategies. The report also describes each site’s specific security issues identified through the SAFE tool, and proposed actions to mitigate or reduce the risk.  These recommendations provide decision makers with comprehensive strategies for addressing all safety and security concerns within a school district.
School Security Pillar Page Recommendations_2021-01-29
  • Prioritization Plan. One of the key benefits of the SAFE tool is its ability to score and prioritize improvement strategies to close the performance gap between the actual SAFE score and an ideal security score of 100.  We produce a detailed list of district-wide security improvement recommendations, prioritized as: 
    • Critical. Security strategies that should be implemented immediately to meet basic security standards and to address an urgent deficiency 
    • Standard. Security strategies that should be implemented in the near future to meet basic security standards
    • Optimal. Security strategies that are not time-critical and would surpass basic standards
  • The SAFE tool allows us to determine the performance gaps for each facility. We use this analysis to recommend improvement strategies to “fill the gap,” bringing the school closer to an ideal score. Typically, an ideal score is not possible in all schools given the physical limitations and constraints of existing facilities. Therefore, the goal is to optimize our recommendations so that the score for each school can be increased to its greatest value.

  • Cost Estimates. Cost estimates for the implementation strategies are developed, including the cost of modifying school space and the cost of security equipment and installation. The costs are based on a rough order of magnitude that is reasonable and comparable among schools. 

    A cost-effectiveness analysis is also conducted for the school district. This calculation yields a cost-effectiveness ratio, which allows the district to determine which projects yield the greatest gain in benefits (i.e., an increase in the SAFE score) for the most reasonable costs.

    With budgetary guidance from the school district leadership, we produce a prioritized implementation plan that includes estimated costs for the recommendations. We develop the implementation plan as a multi-year strategy to systematically improve school security across the district.




The school security assessment process provides leadership with all the information they need to make defensible plans for improving security across their portfolio. The results can be used to:

  • Develop a Capital Improvement Plan. The final recommendations and prioritization plan can be used to develop a district-wide capital improvement plan that communicates and justifies the district’s security priorities and multi-year mitigation strategies to elected officials and the public.
  • Target Risk Areas. The results produced by the SAFE tool allow decision makers to understand and target risk areas at a granular level. For example, the SAFE tool can provide a listing of all facilities with main entrances that are below standard, or all facilities that are lacking intrusion detection systems. 
  • Improve Safety and Security Policies. A comprehensive safety and security assessment can uncover the need to draft additional policies or to update existing policies. 
  • Identify Staff Training Needs. The results can help decision makers identify areas where additional training is needed for school staff, students, parents/guardians, school security officers, and law enforcement partners.