Most of us understand our responsibility to protect our most valuable assets. We take steps to implement safety and security measures to protect our homes and vehicles. When we leave the house for the day, many of us lock our doors and windows without giving it a second thought to keep intruders out. We maintain control over our safety and security by ensuring that only people we trust have additional keys to our homes and vehicles.
But do you know if that is the case for your child’s school? Let’s face it, most of us do not. When we send our children to school, we are not in control of whether school personnel lock the doors when required or who has access to keys. This article will discuss the importance of key control in a school's safety and security plan and how school jurisdictions can implement or improve key control policies and procedures.
What is Key Control, and Why is it Important?
Key control refers to various methods for ensuring that keys are only used by authorized people. This is especially important for master key systems with many users. Today, a ‘key’ can refer to a metal, physical key that fits into a lock or a keycard connected to an access control system that provides electronic access when scanned and verified at the door.
As a school security assessor, my job is to evaluate security measures currently in place and help jurisdictions identify potential security improvements in their schools. This involves having access inside and outside each school building and the surrounding grounds, such as athletic fields.
As part of my assessments, I move around the school grounds throughout a jurisdiction observing the daily routines of students, school staff, and administration. To achieve this, school systems typically provide me with a key card that gives me access to every school in their district, similar to what a grand master (physical) key allows.
A situation like this exemplifies why key control is essential. Keys are given to me in my role as a security professional. But what about others requiring keys, such as substitute teachers or maintenance personnel? Part of effective key control is developing policies on vetting staff and temporary personnel through background checks before key distribution. School personnel must also immediately deactivate or collect the key card as soon as the purpose of the visit is complete.
Another reason key control is important is improved emergency response times. Every second counts when first responders are called to a school to handle an emergency. As part of a school’s centralized key control system, master emergency keys should be readily accessible to first responders. Providing first responders with this immediate access can save lives.
It could be difficult for school administration to focus on their jobs if they had to constantly worry about whether an unauthorized individual could access their school. Keeping up with each access card for multiple types of employees and visitors daily can be tricky. Implementing and following sound policies and procedures that address who gets keys, when they are given out, and documenting when they are returned is crucial to school safety and security.
A Closer Look at Key Control Policies and Procedures
When developing written policies and procedures regarding key control, they should also be included in the school’s security plan. The following are some considerations for starting or refining key control policies and procedures.
- Describe protocols for opening, closing, and locking exterior and interior doors. Formally defining these procedures helps reduce confusion and ensures there are no security gaps.
- Identify and include in the policies who oversees the key control inventory. This should be a single school employee, such as a front office administrator or maintenance supervisor, who is readily available during the school day and in emergencies. It is a good idea to identify a backup employee in case of the primary employee’s absence.
- Include policies for which school personnel, substitute teachers, and contractors are given keys and when those keys are to be returned. Keep keys in temporary staff members' hands only when needed. For classrooms that are locked with physical keys, have an inventory of each key that fits each door. It is a best practice to have ‘do not duplicate’ printed on each key. Meticulous record-keeping regarding key distribution should take place for permanent employees and temporary staff. Record keeping should be done for permanent teachers and school personnel at the beginning and end of each school year.
- Identify steps for vetting all temporary staff who are issued keys. Background checks should be completed by front office staff upon the individual’s arrival. This can be achieved by scanning an ID card through a verification system to ensure the individual is not an offender banned from school property.
- Document where master keys are located for first responders. Provide the location of a key control cabinet to all emergency personnel and a Knox Box for police or firefighters who may respond overnight so they can access all building areas in the event of an after-hours emergency. Provide first responders with immediate updates to any changes made in the policies or key control cabinet locations. Developing and maintaining policies on key control for first responders is critical to emergency preparedness.
- Train all staff on the policies and procedures for key control and repeat the training regularly to address any policy updates. Provide training sessions to any on-boarding staff throughout the year.
As a parent, don’t hesitate to ask questions of your children’s school administrators about key control. Ask the administration if they follow their policies and procedures for vetting vendors and contractors before activating key card access to the school and how quickly those access cards are deactivated after their required time on campus.
Teach your child the importance of key control and that if they ever find an access card or physical key on school grounds, they should immediately turn it in to the school office. This will prevent a lost key from getting into the hands of an unauthorized individual.
While we certainly understand our responsibilities at home, it’s also vital for us to keep the lines of communication with schools open to ensure the safety and security of our children every day they walk through their school doors.