Thoughtful Integration of Safety and Security in Modern Learning Environments

While recent news and social media focus on active shooting in schools, which accounts for 8% of all school related deaths, Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates (CRA Architects) encourages a holistic approach that embeds safety and security throughout a school while at the same time maintaining the approach that a school is a school and needs to be a warm, inviting environment that encourages and facilitates modern collaborative education.

In 2018, after the horrific incident at Stoneman Douglas High School, CRA Architects was invited to meet with and provide recommendations to the Pennsylvania Auditor General as a precursor to the Development of Pennsylvania’s Act 44 Legislation for School Safety and Security.  As a firm with 25 years of educational experience, CRA Architects has continually advised school administrators and school systems throughout the Mid-Atlantic & New England Region on school safety through a building by building evaluation and regularly speaking at conferences and working with educational associations on protocol measures.  CRA Architects has been embedding safety and security into our schools utilizing multiple approaches for safety including Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.

Our team includes professionals certified in Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), based on a series of principles for the built environment to discourage crime through the perceived likelihood of early detection and apprehension, known to be the largest single deterrent to crime.  Principles include Natural Surveillance, Access Control, Lighting, Maintenance, Appropriate Landscaping and Territorial Reinforcement.

Staged Access Control including the ability to lockdown entire classroom wing


Access Control in schools today should be a stage progression starting from entry to a school campus and creating a framework to engage individuals long before they would interact with a student.  These include glass (or glazing) to view individuals approaching a school from a distance, site lighting for identification, secure points of entry, cost effective utilization of safety glazing at strategic points, zoning learning communities for building lock down and proper use of classroom hardware to protect students as a final measure.

While safety and security can be embedded into design and construction, it is training and protocol with teachers, students and safety officers, that maintains safety during the day to day operation of a school.  Do staff train and talk about what to do in case of an event? Can staff identify bullying or harassment? Are security measures being circumvented?

Iron Forge Elementary School: main lobby includes clear lines of surveillance, ability to lockdown classroom wings and laminated glass for increased visibility


The number one safety concern in schools today is bullying.  “Feeling safe at school translates into higher academic achievement, increased student well-being and greater engagement.” Educating the Whole Child, ACSD 2012.  Today 71% of students report being bullied at one time during their schooling, affecting 3.2 million students per year and accounting for 160,000 students skipping school yearly.

The majority of bullying occurs in corridors, not in classrooms, where teachers are not able to monitor students. In contrast to limiting more glass in school design, modern safety and security techniques of “Natural Surveillance” encourage the inclusion of glass to increase visibility whether at the main entrance of a school or between classrooms and hallways.  Creating open learning communities within our schools fosters modern approaches to collaborative education, allowing multiple forms of teaching to occur simultaneously, such as teacher focused discussion, student centered groups, one on one instruction or quiet individual reflection.

CRA Architects Jeff Straub, AIA, ALEP (Far Right) and Seth Wentz, AIA, NCARB (Far Left) along with administrators after a Safety and Security meeting.


These design principles are not unique to new construction, transforming and modernizing 20th Century school facilities into secure, collaborative spaces while preserving a building rich in school and community history is a unique opportunity. Schools which are thoughtfully designed with input from school staff, students, public safety officers and community members has a positive affect on school safety and create warm, inviting centers for students to learn, thrive and grow.  Other approaches include integrating protocol, such as Shelter in Place, ALICE training and other commonly used programs.

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