Security design in schools

As a board of trustees, you should consider a range of measures to increase security at your school. These include creating an effective school boundary, and installing appropriate lighting and security cameras. A security consultant can help you choose and operate a security system.

Assessing security risks

See security management at schools to learn about security audits, using security consultants, and creating a risk management plan and policy.

Funding the recommendations from a Ministry-funded security audit

If you get a Ministry-funded security audit done, you may be eligible for a 5 Year Agreement (5YA) budget top-up for half the cost of the security improvements. In this case:

  • your minimum contribution (from your 5YA budget) will be 10% of your 5YA budget
  • your maximum contribution will be 50% of your 5YA budget.

If you act on the recommendations of a security audit, we see this as necessary health and safety work. Therefore, you can get Budget Plus funding for this work if your 5YA funding is insufficient.

Use our security top-up funding calculator to work out your 5YA top-up eligibility.

Use your 5YA funding to pay for a security system that is not coming from a Ministry-funded audit recommendation. (You will not be eligible for the top-up in this case.)

Security for new schools and new facilities

All new schools must have a security system. Also, if you are building a new facility or updating an existing building at your school, and the work will cost over $200,000, you must install a security system.

If the area for the project is over 1000m2, you must have a security design report done to:

Security systems

Some important advantages of an alarm system are that it:

  • discourages people from entering the school without permission, especially if you have clearly visible external and internal sirens and detectors, along with warning stickers on windows and doors and signs at each entry to the school
  • alerts staff, neighbours and passers-by that someone has entered the school without permission
  • can scare off intruders before they do significant damage or steal anything
  • alerts security guards if it is a monitored alarm system.

Getting advice and information before choosing your security system

When buying a security system, consider your options in terms of both:

  • proven performance
  • price.

Be wary of cheap systems, new companies and new brands. Before making your decision:

  • ask other schools that already use the product you are considering for their views on the product, and the company and its after-sales service
  • view a working system.

Standard specification for your security system

You must use the Ministry’s standard specification for security alarms for the supply and installation of a security system at your school. The specification includes:

  • the contract conditions to engage your security contractor – you may need to update these using the current Government Model Contract Services
  • a tender response
  • a schedule of material
  • commissioning inspection check sheets
  • the technical specifications for alarm systems
  • ‘site specific information’ that you can use to identify the best option for your school.

Using the specification will ensure the system you choose:

  • is of good quality
  • meets national performance standards
  • is reliable
  • is compatible with new and existing fire alarm systems
  • can be expanded as your school grows.

You must use a qualified security consultant to manage the installation of your security system following the specification. Give them the full standard specification document. If you have trouble understanding the standard specification document, ask the security consultant to explain it to you.

The security consultant develops the site-specific information to meet the particular needs of your project.

Off-site monitoring of your electronic security system

You will need to plan your alarm response strategy before buying your electronic security system.

By having an off-site monitoring and alarm response contract, you make the best use of your investment in an alarm system. If the alarm is triggered, a security guard will respond swiftly.

The alternative is to have a staff member respond if an alarm is activated. However, this approach could:

  • put the staff member at risk, whereas a security guard is trained to handle the situation
  • slow down the response to the alarm – thieves soon notice if there is no response or a slow response each time an alarm is activated.

The fire alarm is now the lead system over the security system

Under the Ministry’s Fire Safety Design Requirements, the fire alarm must be the lead system where it is combined with the security system. The fire alarm can activate the security system but not vice versa.

Tendering for a security system

When you tender for a security system, ask for:

  • a comprehensive, programmed maintenance contract
  • full ‘as-built’ records, which should be held on-site and available to the contractor when they visit, including drawings of the installation
  • a maintenance log book so the contractor can log and detail maintenance, call-outs, system changes or alterations – this includes updating drawings, where applicable.

Note: In their tender responses, consultants must confirm that they have read and understood the standard specification.

Commissioning inspection of your security system

Once your security system is installed, your security consultant will arrange a ‘commissioning inspector’ to do a final inspection of a new security system. The inspector must be independent of the security consultant.

Your security consultant signs off the job, not the security system installer.

Maintaining your security system

Buy a comprehensive, programmed maintenance contract along with any new or upgraded electronic security alarm system.

Security systems need regular, programmed maintenance to perform well. When you have a maintenance contract:

  • the contractor remains responsible for the system
  • the contractor fine-tunes and manages the system’s performance over time
  • your security system is cost-effective – a preventative maintenance contract will pay for itself by saving the cost of your time and call-outs (including for false alarms).

The cost of maintaining the system will come from your Property Maintenance Grant (PMG).

Installing security cameras

When used properly, security camera (CCTV) systems can be useful to:

  • discourage would-be vandals
  • make staff and students safer
  • record evidence when your school has an intruder.

Planning for a CCTV system

When you are planning to install a CCTV system, keep in mind that:

  • partial CCTV coverage will only give you partial protection – vandals and others quickly find out which areas the cameras do not cover
  • you need a specific type of security lighting to get clear camera recordings that allow you to identify colour easily
  • you need a good-quality camera, lens and recording system
  • your system works better if you buy a long-term, comprehensive, programmed maintenance contract with it.

If you have a CCTV system on site, advertise it clearly. This will:

  • make outsiders reconsider targeting your school
  • make students reconsider their behaviour in areas monitored by cameras
  • help to prevent thefts from lockers when you have displayed clear signs that you have cameras in locker areas.

The Privacy Commission has produced guidelines about what to consider when choosing a CCTV system including who can see the images. See Privacy and CCTV: A guide to the Privacy Act for businesses, agencies and organisations.

For more information, go to questions to ask when purchasing CCTV systems.

Installing signs for security

Clearly signposting your security alarm systems, CCTV systems and security patrols will help deter vandals and thieves.

Use signs that have large lettering, bold graphics and simple directions. Keep them well lit at night.

To stop people from hiding behind signs:

  • build up the earth (create a berm) behind the signs
  • raise the signs off the ground
  • plant thick, thorny hedges or shrubs below the sign
  • place the signs behind see-through fences.

Installing lighting for security

General lighting

General lighting provides light for staff, students and visitors in car parks, pathways, courts and other areas after hours.

Good general lighting will:

  • give an even light across a public area
  • light up those parts of the building that can be seen from public areas, including exterior doorways and parking areas
  • not create blind spots and shadows.

You need to be careful to choose the best light fixtures for your school’s needs and to install them in the best locations. Keep in mind that:

  • light fixtures can cast shadows – position them so that they don’t cast shadows in dark corners
  • the best fixtures cast a light pattern over a broad horizontal area rather than a tall vertical area
  • light-coloured surfaces reflect light more efficiently than dark-coloured surfaces
  • ‘dark sky’ light fittings, which direct light down to where it is needed, may be helpful
  • light-sensitive switches that turn lights on when it gets dark and off in daylight are inefficient – neighbours can become used to the school being ‘lit up’ and may not notice when security lighting is triggered.

Security lighting

Security lighting turns on if someone enters the school after hours. It is specifically designed to provide natural surveillance, work well with CCTV systems and discourage unwanted visitors.

Infrared lights are activated by human presence. It is best practice not to have security lights on all night. By activating suddenly, they:

  • surprise intruders and discourage them from going further
  • send a message to trespassers that they have entered a private area and can now be seen
  • signal to neighbours and passers-by that someone may be trespassing.

To make security lighting most effective:

  • use passive infrared lighting that is activated when there is a human presence
  • mount it high enough so that it cannot be vandalised
  • have inaccessible detector heads, so that an intruder cannot tilt the sensor to stop it from detecting their presence
  • have lamps that allow colour to be identified when used with CCTV – metal halide lamps provide a white light that makes it easier to identify colour.

Seek professional advice about what kind of lighting is most suited to your needs.

Guarding against vandalism of light fixtures

Light fixtures are frequently vandalised. If they are damaged, the area can become vulnerable to thieves and dangerous to walk through.

To guard against vandalism:

  • mount the light fixtures as high as possible while still providing the illumination required
  • flush-mount them or set them into a recess whenever possible
  • cover them with an impact-resistant material
  • cage them so they can’t be broken.

Designing your school boundary for security

A good boundary will give the impression that your school is a user-friendly but secure environment. To create effective boundary security, you can:

  • use fencing and ground surface treatments that identify the boundary
  • use landscaping, such as tightly spaced rows of trees and low-level plants, but do not plant trees in positions that allow people to climb them to get onto roofs and balconies; trees lining footpaths and driveways can help to stop motorists from driving over lawns and fields
  • allow for natural surveillance, such as with see-through perimeter fences
  • make a psychological boundary with symbolic markers such as archways, entry posts and student artworks
  • use integrated security features
  • have low, see-through barriers along the main pedestrian and bicycle routes
  • include planting that creates attractive barriers.

Designing roofs for security

A well-designed school roof should be inaccessible and have no entry points for intruders. Having lower parapets also allows natural surveillance of the roof from the ground. Avoid permanently mounted ladders that give access to the roof.

Read more about roof design.

Skylight security

Skylights are often used to gain illegal entry to school buildings. You can make access more difficult by installing an internal security grill or mesh.

Designing covered walkways, screens and walls to prevent access

People can use verandas and covered walkways to get to roofs or windows. Having smooth columns makes them difficult to climb.

Many schools use ‘screen’ walls of metal or decorative concrete block to separate areas without reducing ventilation. However, intruders can use screen walls as ladders to get onto roofs and upper-level areas. Screen walls made from decorative block or wrought iron are particularly likely to be used in this way.

For more secure screen walls, design them so that:

  • they do not provide footholds
  • the top metre or so is smooth and un-climbable.

Screens and walls may also be targets for graffiti. You can coat graffiti-prone walls with a product that makes it easier to remove graffiti. You can also check with your local council and the Police about whether they run graffiti removal programmes.

Designing doors, entrances and key systems for security

To make building entrances more secure, you can:

  • use angled side walls so it is easier to see entrances that are set back to provide protection from the weather
  • reduce the number of doors that can be opened from the outside, while still making it possible to open all of them from the inside in an emergency
  • have a policy of locking all doors when cleaning and school staff are working inside the building after hours.

Good-quality doors

All exterior doors should be solid core doors with good-quality commercial door furniture and locking systems. Lever-style handles are preferable as they are easier to use, including for people with disabilities.

See our page on joinery and hardware installed in schools.

Commercial-quality locks and keys

Your school should use a good-quality commercial locking system. Domestic-quality systems will fail rapidly. You should also get regular maintenance on your locking system.

Aim to update your locks and locking system over time so that:

  • your keys cannot be copied except by a registered locksmith and with written authorisation
  • your locks cannot easily be ‘picked’ or drilled
  • you have a ‘master key’ system, where all locks are the same type and keys are available to open one, several or all locks as necessary
  • prompt servicing is available
  • each key issued is accounted for in a key register.

See our page about managing your school’s keys.

Keyless security

Consider having a keyless security card entry system, in which each staff member and student has a customised access card.

If a card is lost, you delete it from the system. You do not have to replace locks or have keys cut.

You can introduce keyless security in stages. First, you can install a base system and then gradually extend it throughout the school.

An ideal time to install a card entry system is when you are having a major upgrade.

Further information

When designing your school boundary, use the ‘National guidelines for crime prevention through environmental design in New Zealand - Part 2’ which you can find by searching on Find a publication on the Ministry of Justice website.

For further information about managing security, including doing a risk assessment/audit and developing a risk management plan and policy, see security management in schools.

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