(Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted on Facebook. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)
By Steve Wiser, AIA
What can be done NOW to minimize future tragedies like Sandy Hook?
While the debate over gun control, mental health, etc., will take months / years to determine what should actually be done, there definitely needs to be an immediate response in the near future to prevent such devastating violence.
As an architect, my focus is on how can the buildings help deter such an attack. Certainly there are those security experts already evaluating this dilemma, but here are my initial thoughts:
Placing metal scanners and armed guards at the doors does not seem to be a realistic solution due to the thousands of school buildings.
If an attacker is determined to enter a school, he will initially kill the guards. (As an example, a similar situation occurred in the recent James Bond movie where the building’s entry guards are no match from the attacker’s firepower.)
However, the entry areas can be “hardened” in a manner to prevent how the Sandy Hook assailant entered that school.
Solid doors along with strengthened adjacent side wall areas should be installed at all schools. There should be no large panes of glass near the solid doors.
Any existing glass should either be replaced with impact-resistant glass, or some sort of security screen/panel.
As after 911, the cockpits of airliners were “hardened,” so should school entry doors. While this will only delay an attacker, just a few more minutes will allow the police ‘cavalry’ to arrive.
There is a new addition to a local school here in Louisville whose entry vestibule is all glass, including the doors. Such design features need to be re-evaluated in light of Sandy Hook.
While having guns on hand in a school should never be a consideration, perhaps “bear-mace’”(or some other non-lethal device) should be provided at strategic locations in a school. For those unfamiliar with bear-mace, it is a very powerful form of mace that can spray out 50 feet.
When the courageous teacher, who opened the door to confront the attacker, if she could have sprayed him with bear-mace, it would have easily dropped him to his knees.
Panic buttons should be placed at strategic locations in a school that connect directly to the nearby police department. Yes, this could result in false alarms, but this is more preferable than what happened at Sandy Hook.
And, when the panic button is activated, security doors (strategically placed in the corridors) would automatically close, compartmentalizing the building. What if such doors were just inside the entry vestibule that the principal could have immediately shut? How much more time would that have prevented the attacker from entering the school?
Classrooms once had their own exit doors but were removed for various reasons. Considering this new threat, such emergency egress options should be reconsidered.
“Safe rooms” could possibly be strategically placed throughout a school building. This would not be a fool-proof deterrent, but it could delay an assailant for a few minutes – again enough time for the ‘cavalry’ to arrive.
I am not sure how feasible the above suggestions might be, but to do nothing NOW is not an option.
A determined assailant will always find a method to achieve his goal of destruction as what occurred in Oklahoma City. But, delaying the attack by just a few minutes can save many lives. Hopefully those in responsible positions are already initiating prompt security reviews of school buildings to minimize this tragic situation from ever occurring again.
About Steve Wiser: Steve Wiser is a Louisville, Ky.,-based architect who specializes in healthcare design and regularly includes life-safety features within his projects.