I’m a father. The most precious thing in my life is my children. I suspect the same can be said for almost any parent. My children are grown now, but when those grandchildren come, I need to know they will be safe in school.
As someone who designs lots of schools, I thought I’d share some insights on just how safe our schools are. Let’s talk about the triple threat: Fires, Tornadoes and Guns.
Building designs are highly regulated and the predominate focus of the code regulated is fire safety.
Today our buildings are largely non-combustible, they are detected, alarmed and sprinkled. They have adequate exits and regular fire drills. There has not been a fire death in an American school since 1958. If your school was constructed in the last 25 years you can feel comfortable that fire is a very unlikely threat.
In 2013, seven people died in a Moore, Oklahoma school. In 2007, eight people suffered tornado-related deaths in Enterprise, Alabama. Statistically, it seems school tornado-related deaths occur roughly once a decade, usually in small numbers.
Surprisingly, most areas have no codes dictating storm protection measures in schools. There is a lot of discussion that codes may be adopted and enforced for some of our Midwestern states beginning at some point in 2017. CMBA always recommends including a storm hardened area, even thought not required. In some cases, we work with school boards to include ICC500 rooms or FEMA-approved shelters.
Most of our schools are masonry, and pretty tough, but if your school board chose to build a pre-engineered or “metal” building to save costs, I’d recommend open enrollment. I went to a FEMA seminar where the presenter suggested this was a perfect place to send your child if you don’t love them. Pre-engineered buildings have a place, but not for schools. They are designed at minimum “factors of safety” for economy.
Statistically, tornado deaths are rare, but you may want to ask a few questions about your school’s design if you’re concerned. Remember, this is surprisingly unregulated by code.
Unfortunately, school shootings are a regular story on the nightly news. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013 resulted in 28 deaths (mostly children). Do a Google search on “List of school shootings in the United States,” and you will find a very long list, going way back. You are likely to be surprised that list contains a school near you.
An article about design features for secure schools is too technical and long for this newsletter, but improving school security is one of the most significant building design demands currently.
The #1 item on the “to do” list of designing secure schools is having a clearly identifiable, single point of entry that is visually and physically controlled by adjacent administrative staff. The sketch below is an example of that.
A few of the many schools where we have improved entrance security in the last few years are shown below:
Is my child’s school safe?
Fire – most likely
Tornadoes – the threat is rare, but ask questions (the design is unregulated)
Gun Violence – it’s getting a lot of attention now, but unless your school is new or newly renovated, there is room for improvement
Please contact CMBA if we can help you improve the safety and security of your facilities!