Making Schools Safer Through the Use of Murals and Artwork

Willard City Schools in Ohio gets an A+ for the use of murals and artwork to enhance school climate, culture, and safety.  The district’s superintendent was able to raise more than $300,000 from area businesses to hire a muralist who works with K12 schools across the nation.  Each major donor-funded $25,000 for murals in a hallway or other area of a school and the muralist, teachers, and students designed the murals for their area.  Actual students are depicted in the murals creating an even closer sense of connection to the school. We would recommend that any school official, architect, or law enforcement officer who wants to see excellent application of the use of murals and artwork to create safer and more effective schools arrange a visit to Willard City Schools.

Making Schools Safer Through the Use of Murals and Artwork

One of the powerful components of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design involves the creation of what is known as positive territoriality.  Positive territoriality is designed to create a greater sense of ownership and connectivity between legitimate users of a place and the physical place.  Murals and artwork are two of the more common ways schools can improve positive territoriality to improve school climate and culture.  Murals, student artwork and other approaches designed to create positive territoriality also can help to tone down the use of physical security measures such as access control, visitor screening processes, security cameras as well as the assignment of security and police officers to schools.

While CPTED does not replace physical security measures, it augments and supports them. Because of the extensive research on CPTED, its principals have been accepted as evidence in courts in all 50 states making it a good standard of care approach to help mitigate civil liability exposure while more importantly making schools more pleasant, effective, and safer learning environments.

 

 

Masters of Utilizing CPTED to Improve School Safety, Security, Climate and Culture

©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020 Magnolia Middle School in Mississippi serves as an excellent example of how architects with a high degree of expertise of the utilization of crime prevention through environmental design can create safer and more welcoming schools.
©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020
Magnolia Middle School in Mississippi serves as an excellent example of how architects with a high degree of expertise of the utilization of crime prevention through environmental design can create safer and more welcoming schools.


©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020
Thoughtful utilization of CPTED in school design can reduce the types of hidden and difficult to supervise areas that are the locations of many sexual assaults, acts of vandalism, deaths from medical emergencies, drug overdoses and homicides.  The open stairwell and extensive use of magnetic holdback devices on stairwells and main hallways dramatically reduce the risk of death in schools.


©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020
The thoughtful utilization of visuals creates a greater sense of connectivity which improves school climate.  As demonstrated in multiple peer review studies, school climate is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of homicide in K12 schools.  While CPTED does not replace physical security measures, law enforcement and security personnel, policies, technology, hardware, mental health services, and other important options to enhance security, it is a powerful life-safety tool that can help prevent even heavily secured schools from feeling like prisons.  I wrote the original draft of this blog on my return flight from a keynote more than a year ago and it, like a dozen other blogs, was not finished and posted due to the massive workload we have experienced.   I am excited to finally get this blog out as I think it is still very timely.  Every time a see a new school designed to look like a fortress, built with poor sightlines and other dangerous concepts, I wish more school officials and architects were familiar with crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) that proves why it is so effective.

I have been blessed to meet many gifted and inspiring advocates for school safety when I keynote conferences.  I feel particularly blessed to have met someone whose work I have been admiring for a couple of years now.  He is the architect who designed a K12 school that best epitomizes the use of the principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) I have ever seen.

As a very slow convert to CPTED, I have become a huge proponent of this research-based approach to safer as well as more welcoming schools.  CPTED can help architects and school planners create beautiful, more secure schools without degrading school climate and culture in the process.  In fact, the thoughtful application of CPTED can increase security while helping to improve school climate and connectivity.

For several years, I have been showing photographs that I took while conducting a site visit to Magnolia Middle School in Moss Point, Mississippi when I present and when I work with clients.  If I could recommend only one school for architects and school officials to visit to see a superb example of how CPTED can be used to create safer schools that are also beautiful and welcoming, my choice would be Magnolia Middle School in Moss Point, Mississippi.  As I was showing photos of the school during a keynote for the Learning SCAPES School Design Conference in Chicago last year, I happened to mention, as I have at many other architectural conferences, that if anyone in the audience was responsible for this superb design, I would be honored to meet them.  As I was answering questions from participants after my presentation, I had the opportunity to do exactly, that.  Gary Bailey AIA from Dale Partners Architects informed me that he was indeed the architect who designed this amazing school.  As I told Mr. Bailey, it was truly an honor to get to meet someone who was such a gifted practitioner.   Though I keynote a lot of school architectural conferences, I feel fortunate to have been able to connect to Mr. Bailey.  I shouldn’t be surprised that someone who does such high-end work with CPTED would attend the SCAPES National Conference to continue to learn his craft.

When I visited his website after the conference (http://www.dalepartners.com/about-dba), I learned that Mr. Bailey is a very successful architect whose firm has designed an astounding and increasing number of the schools built in Mississippi in recent years.  His work and his success demonstrate that architects who understand how to apply CPTED can be quite successful from a business standpoint while dramatically improving safety for tens of thousands of students and school employees for decades to come.  Mr. Bailey and his colleagues will never know how many fights, sexual assaults, acts of vandalism, incidents of gang violence, and perhaps even homicides will not occur due to his skill and expertise.  His work will also help many students stay in school and graduate because he has worked closely with his clients to craft welcoming schools where students feel more comfortable and engaged.

I have been truly fortunate to meet so many incredible teachers, school leaders, school resource officers, mental health professionals, coaches, school bus drivers, attorneys, engineers, architects and others who have made our nation’s schools far safer than they were when I was in school.  I experienced severe bullying, being robbed at knifepoint and attacked with a box cutter as a student in the 1970’s when violence was so prevalent in our schools.  A highly competitive 24/7 media, social media, and the Internet make it easier for those with products, services or ideologies to sow fear with alarmist disinformation and wildly inaccurate data developed to sell using fear.  Thankfully, many professionals like Mr. Bailey have been helping schools become safer and more effective places of learning in spite of the hype spewed forth by those who regardless of intent, are doing great damage to our schools and thus hurting the students who represent the future of our nation.

 

 

 

Biting Off More Security than You Can Chew

©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020

School officials should exercise care to implement school security enhancements they can sustain with fidelity.  One commonly discussed option for the prevention of school shootings is the use of airport and courthouse style entry point metal detection.  While excellent metal detection equipment is relatively inexpensive, staffing, security, X-ray screening equipment, and security measures to support effective entry point weapons screening of this type can cost between $500,000 and one million dollars a year for a large high school.  For this reason, alternative approaches to weapons screening such as demonstrably random numerical sequence entry point screening and randomly selected classroom and school bus occupant screening can be more practical and, in my experience, are often more effective.

While we have been seeing many of the same harmful patterns that we saw after the tragic attacks at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School in the wake of a series of five major school attacks in the 2017-2018 school year, we have noted an even more pervasive and troubling trend during the past two years.  While many schools and districts have implemented considerable positive life-safety enhancements, some of the reactions to these terrible events have resulted in a considerable amount of damage to school safety across the nation.  This damage has resulted from demands from the public that school and public safety officials “do something” to stop school shootings without proper evaluation, consideration of reliable national school fatality data, and a comprehensive view of risks to safety and security.  

The negative effects of poorly developed and implemented active shooter training programs that became common after the Sandy Hook attack have caused significant degradation of school emergency preparedness in many schools.  As I have mentioned in other writings, we are seeing increasing evidence that these types of training programs can be quite dangerous.  However, in addition to the severe problems from emotively driven active shooter training approaches, we have been seeing intensive pressure for schools to implement security measures that people hope can ensure that a school shooting cannot possibly occur.  As there are no such security measures in any setting let alone in K12 schools, this is placing tremendous and potentially dangerous pressure on school officials.

One particularly prominent and concerning tendency of this type is the pressure to implement extensive target-hardening, security technologies, and emergency communications systems without the human resources to support them. 

For example, many school districts have been under considerable pressure to implement entry point metal detection by a public that is typically unaware of the actual costs required for adequate supportive security measures.  For example, security X-ray technology required to reliably and effectively screen bookbags, purses, musical instrument cases, and other hand-carry items can be staggering.  This is even more difficult for large K12 schools due to the challenges created by the need to screen massive numbers of students in short time spans each morning.  In addition, perimeter access control technology and most importantly, the significant ongoing budget required for personnel to accomplish reasonably reliable entry point metal detection are very costly.  For many of our nation’s larger and more complex middle and high school campuses, running reasonably reliable entry point metal detection during the daytime and all evening and weekend hours the facilities are open, personnel costs can run from between $250,000 to $1,000,000 per school per year depending on a variety of factors such as local labor costs.  As with an airport or courthouse, if screening is not conducted during all hours of operation, it is very easy for a student to defeat the screening process.  For example, a student or non-student can enter a school and hide a gun to be retrieved later while an evening event is being held but no security screening is being conducted. 

One of our primary concerns is that school officials may agree to conduct entry point metal detection or other security upgrades without receiving the funding to support them that is needed to make them work with reasonable reliability.  This inherently results in problems the technologies were purchased to address taking place in spite of significant expenditures.  In many cases, the discussion and resulting litigation moves from “why didn’t you use metal detectors” (or a variety of other security technologies) to “you were incompetent because you spent X dollars and still had a shooting.”  In my experience, thoughtful explanation of the resources and thus funding that will be needed to effectively support the security upgrades combined with a tactful but clear message that while there are ways to reduce risk, but there are no 100% reliable ways to absolutely assure that violence will not occur in any setting is not only honest but critical for success.  As an example, I have tried to help parents understand the limits of even well-funded, professional and extensive security measures, repeated breaches of White House security by multiple intruders over the years demonstrate that something as seemingly simple as keeping an intruder out of one of the most heavily secured and budgeted facilities in the world has been challenging. 

Regardless of the type of enhancement being considered, we caution school officials to take care not to attempt to implement approaches that may make people feel good in the short term but require resources beyond those available to implement with fidelity.  The cost of appeasement to urgent demands in the short-term can be dire when unrealistic approaches are revealed as a facade of security in the long run.  My advice is to thoughtfully develop a comprehensive and sustainable approach to school security while not biting off more than you can chew for short-term pacification which creates great risks of long-term failures.