Security in the School – A Timely Reminder

Every September, we receive an increasing number of property damage notifications following the re-opening of schools. As school summer holidays are approaching, school buildings and grounds will in most cases, not be used over the summer months.

We would therefore recommend that you carry out a security check prior to the school closing for holiday periods.

The following areas should receive particular attention:

  • All exit doors, windows and skylights should be securely locked. Limit the number of key holders to senior personnel only and ensure that all keys are removed from the premises when they are unoccupied.
  • All valuable equipment such as laptops, iPads and such like should be out of sight and if possible stored in strong rooms, particularly during holiday periods.
  • Internal doors should be left unlocked with the exception of fire doors.
  • Keep yards and grounds free from material that could be used as ammunition. Loose materials left outside the buildings can be used for arson and vandalism i.e. waste left in rubbish bins and skips.
  • Coat scalable walls and drain pips with anti=climb paint.
  • Ensure that external lighting is in working order. The advantages of external lighting are twofold. It illuminates pathways and car parking areas to enable authorised individuals see and move safely around the school grounds after dark whilst denying intruders the cover of darkness by illuminating their access routes and target areas and thus making them more visible to passers-by and neighbours.
  • Water supply should be turned off at the mains. All water taps should be checked to ensure they are fully closed. This is particularly important during winter holiday periods.
  • Basketball rings, goal posts, playground equipment likely to attract children should be removed where practical.
  • Ensure that any Burglar Alarms, Fire Alarms and CCTV cameras have been activated.
  • Regular patrols of the school buildings and grounds during holiday periods are recommended, as is the removal of any mail from public view.
  • Cash is an attractive target. It should be a firm rule that cash is not kept on the school premises overnight and particularly during weekends and holiday periods.
  • Management embraces the way in which activities of maintenance and housekeeping are carried out. It is a fact that schools, which look neglected, are more prone to vandalism, theft and arson. A good working relationship within the school and local community and well understood procedures are highly effective in reducing losses at little or no cost. Security and Prevention require discipline. The best and most comprehensive Burglar Alarm and CCTV system is only effective if it is switched on.
  • Finally, have a well earned and enjoyable summer break.
  • conduct fire safety inspections, preferably every term;
  • make more frequent informal checks to confirm that the fire safety rules are being followed;
  • ensure fire escape routes and fire exit doors/passageways are unobstructed and doors operate correctly;
  • check that the fire detection and protection alarm systems are maintained, tested and records kept;
  • include fire safety in the regular health and safety reports to the Board of Management.

Under a Code of Practice issued by the Department of the Environment it is a requirement that all schools should maintain a Fire Safety Register that must be available for inspection by the local Fire Office upon request. The Fire Safety Register should be used to record essential information such as evacuation procedures, tests of fire fighting equipment, details of training sessions and results of fire drills.

Fire detection and alarm systems should be installed or upgraded to comply with Standard I.S. 3218. The Board of Management should give serious consideration to connection of the fire alarm system to a central monitoring station linked via the intruder alarm, which can alert the fire authorities immediately on activation of the alarm. This is particularly relevant, bearing in mind the majority of fires occur outside of school hours or during the summer holidays.

Emergency Plans

Emergency plans and fire notices are a key element of fire safety management. The plan should include agreed evacuation procedures, arrangements for calling the fire brigade and any other actions to be taken by staff in the event of a fire. In order to familiarise both staff and pupils with the evacuation procedure it is recommended that each room should have a fire notice action document conspicuously displayed informing the occupants of:

  • how to raise the alarm if they discover a fire;
  • the action to be taken on hearing the alarm;
  • the escape routes to their assembly point;
  • the location of their assembly point.

For clarity, the last two points are best displayed on a schematic plan of the school. The age and ability of the students must be taken into account when preparing the notices. When drafting the fire emergency plan, consideration should be given to all users of the premises, such as those attending sporting events, schools concerts, residents on site, the needs of speakers of other languages, and members of the public who may use the school premises to attend evening classes or meetings.

The School’s Emergency Plan should also include arrangements for the safe evacuation of those with disabilities that may include learning, physical and sensory difficulties. This may require special training of staff.

Members of staff should only consider fighting a fire after they have seen to the evacuation of the pupils in their charge and raised the alarm. They must inform other members of staff of their intention to fight the fire and they must be certain that their actions will not place themselves or others in danger. If they are in the slightest doubt then they must evacuate the building along with their pupils.

Malicious Fires

Many fires start accidentally because of a momentary act of carelessness or failure to take account of obvious hazards. However, an increasing number are started deliberately and therefore consideration should be given to the following in an effort to reduce the risk of Arson: -

  • Deter and prevent unauthorised entry onto the school premises. This can be done by use of signs, delineating the boundary of the premises by use of robust security fencing, good security lighting, CCTV surveillance and/or a monitored intruder alarm detection system.
  • Eliminate features such as deep recesses and alcoves around the exterior of the school building.
  • The weakest point of entry into a building is via the windows and doors. Clearly, means of escape must never be compromised but inspections should be carried out to ensure that windows and doors are adequately secured after school hours and external doors fitted with approved locks. The local Crime Prevention Officer can provide advice on this subject.
  • Refuse and Recycling containers including wheelie bins should ideally be kept in a secure compound or alternatively secured by a padlock and chain to a post sited no less than eight metres from the building to prevent them being moved against the building.
  • Obsolete combustible materials such as old tables/chairs should be stored in a secure compound or disposed of on the same day.

Most fires can be prevented by a few simple precautions and those that do start can usually be held in check or quickly controlled by fire safety measures that can be addressed under a proactive School Fire Safety Policy.

Every fire in a school has the potential to cause considerable destruction, disruption, and damage to property that can result in extensive costs and expenses being incurred in rectifying the damage. However, of much more serious concern is the fact that it can also threaten the lives of children, school staff and others who may be on the premises. Those who have experienced a serious fire at their school have difficulty in forgetting the pain and despair caused by the incident. It is important to remember that fires don’t just happen; they are caused.