Importance of Layered School Security Stressed by AIANJ Safe School Design Task Force

March 19, 2024

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Importance of Layered School Security Stressed by AIANJ Safe School Design Task Force

As problem solvers, architects should play a more active role in collaborating with schools to organize their Design Safety and Physical Security Plans in layers. This was a key finding of the newly released AIANJ Safe School Design Task Force whitepaper, which focused on how architects and schools can strengthen their partnership to ensure all areas of building design, safety, and security are integrated and interconnected to prevent gaps in protection or to identify any single point of failure. 

Embracing a “Curb to Core” strategy is recommended by the Task Force, which allows architects to collaborate with schools to design layered security features that maximize perimeter protection and better secure entryways and interiors.

According to the whitepaper, architects should partner with schools early in the design process to embed Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles that include enhanced natural surveillance, naturally controlled areas that limit entries, and territorial reinforcement that creates a clear delineation of spaces with layouts that help to mark and separate “user spaces” from non-legitimate users.

Six Key Areas Where Architects Can Take the Lead in Better Securing Schools

The whitepaper focused on six major areas where architects can play a significant role in better securing school facilities. These are:

  • Providing a highly-secured main entry and access path – ideally with one main entry point well regulated with access control, surveillance, and strong design features such as bullet-resistant glazing films and doors resisting breakage or compromise.
  • Incorporating innovative technologies and mass notification systems, including police-approved “hot zones” where ceiling smoke canisters can go off to isolate shooters and limit their visibility.
  • Using distinct floor patterns to mark “safe zones clearly.” This would be specifically utilized in classrooms and other areas where access is via single-door entries – allowing architects to use various floor colors and patterns to distinguish “safe zones” clearly.
  • Installing automatic door locking systems throughout, which would require all doors to be equipped with electronic hardware and doors that cannot be propped open by staff during the school day. These systems can be designed inconspicuously and be activated by remote FOB.
  • Using an abundance of glazing placed in the right locations – allowing increased visibility to the outside and enabling staff to identify a threat sooner than if it were hidden behind solid walls.

Designing Innovative School Neighborhood Door Lockdown Zones

An innovative design idea discussed in detail in the whitepaper involves creating small, safe, and secure “Neighborhood Door Lockdown Zones.” This design concept results in securing a safe school neighborhood quickly and remotely by sealing off a wing or a zoned area from the rest of the school community. Students, staff, and educators can follow protocols to protect themselves in safe zones while an intruder(s) is trapped within lockdown hallways or stair vestibules until first responders arrive.

According to the whitepaper, a key benefit of this approach is that intruders entering facilities with “neighborhood lockdown” devices will not be able to move around the school to continue shooting people.

This whitepaper was authored by Edward N. Rothe, FAIA, Emeritus, and significant contributions were made by Jeanne Perantoni, AIA, SSP Architects Principal.

To learn more, read the full whitepaper HERE.

Edward Rothe, FAIA, former Managing Design Partner of NJ-based Rothe-Johnson Associates and Fletcher Thompson Architecture. Ed is credited with the AIANJ Design Award-winning Bleshman Regional Day School, Paramus, NJ, for the Bergen County Specialized School District. The school, designed to educate children with multiple handicaps, features classroom “clusters” to reduce travel distances, non-institutional interior colors, warm air floors, and skylights and clear story windows to provide natural light. He is also responsible for the community-based, Highbridge Green School and Environmental Education Campus, Bronx, NY, for the NYC SCA (Schools Construction Authority). Green features include a rooftop garden, wind turbines, solar panels, a greenhouse, and a rain collection system. Ed continues to serve AIA NJ as an active emeritus member, lending decades of leadership to advance the profession. 


Ed’s co-chair of the AIA NJ Safe School Design Task Force is Jeanne Perantoni, AIA, ALEP, and LEED AP. Ms. Perantoni serves as Senior Principal at SSP Architects and has over 40 years of experience as an Architect and Educational Facility Planner. She is an expert in long-range master planning and designing PK-12 schools.

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