Council discusses 'best practices' when it comes to school design

Architects and police partner up to design safe schools

HOUSTON – With parents and students making their way back into their school routines, safety is a topic that is top of mind.

As school districts work on safety plans, so are architects and designers. One local architecture firm, PBK, is working hand-in-hand with law enforcement in a unique partnership that they say will save lives.

"Right now, if you're a school designer or you're a school administrator or you're a school teacher, there is no definitive list of security items that's ever been written by the true experts, which are the police chiefs that are responsible for that school security," said Dan Boggio, PBK CEO. "Along the way, school security continues to evolve, so we'll be having design charrette. We will be actually publishing a pamphlet on the conclusion that these police chiefs reach."

"Building schools correctly in the first place and putting as many security features as we can in there will just save time," said Alan Bragg, head of the PBK's Texas School Safety and Security Council (TSSSC).

Bragg, a veteran law enforcement official in greater Houston, is leading the TSSSC, which was created by PBK after the recent school shootings. The firm invited dozens of law enforcement leaders, school district chiefs, city chiefs and sheriff's office leaders from all over the region to take part in helping identify the best practices when it comes to designing safe schools.

LINK: Read PBK's preliminary findings

"If you were to go to the Internet right now and query, 'What are the best design practices for a school relative to school safety and security,' you won't get one hit, you'll get 10,000 hits, and there's such an overload of content that no one has a clue -- what is the best practice," said Ian Powell, PBK partner and architect. "Our goal working with TSSSC is to identify those from the people who are most expert, the chiefs of police who do this every single day."

Meeting at PBK's headquarters in central Houston, school district chiefs and law enforcement leaders from Houston, Spring, Conroe, Fort Bend County, Harris County and more came to the table to discuss best practices.

"We're finally getting collective thoughts on what --throughout the industry from the people who are the true experts," said Stephen Daniel, the Houston Police Department's active shooter instructor. "My hope is that we're going to have a collective conversation amongst the experts and come up with a consensus of each different type of approach on what is best -- 'Are fences the best? If so, what type of fence? Are man traps good? If so, what applications?'" 

In a full day charrette, the group offered recommendations based on feedback from each member. The group agreed upon suggestions including having camera systems -- 360-degree digital cameras with 24-hour recording at all entries, major corridors and the exterior of campus.

It also recommended having a front door video camera intercom granting access into secure vestibules. Other suggestions included hardening glazing, or bullet-resistant glazing on glass that would be installed at all entryways.

TSSSC also recommended schools have safe rooms, which would be rooms that have reinforced secure door hardware, ceiling, all systems as well as bullet-resistant glazing and direct external communications. Other suggestions included having a call station with automated alert capabilities and site fencing.

"All the minds at this table are far better than any one person sitting there so that's my hope is that we come up with really sound real-world answers to these situations," Daniel said. "Are we every going to stop school shootings? Of course not, but we can certainly mitigate the loss of life - we haven't done too good of a job of that in the past but right now this group holds terrific promise. and so I'm excited about this."

This council is supposed to be a resource to anyone in the community. They even hope to publish its findings in a book which they hope to release next summer.