Connecticut School Safety and Security
In April 2013, the Connecticut General Assembly passed and Connecticut’s Governor signed Public Act 13-3, An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety. This legislation, which followed the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, was known mostly for the changes to Connecticut’s gun laws. However, P.A. 13-3 contains two major initiatives directed to the safety and security of Connecticut’s public schools.
Construction Design Standards
P.A. 13-3 created the School Safety Infrastructure Council (“SSIC”) and charged it with developing school safety infrastructure standards for school construction projects. The SSIC was directed to examine a variety of school building safety infrastructure areas, including: entryways, ballistic glass, solid core doors, locking systems, closed circuit television monitoring, use of security cameras, classroom security and other infrastructure features and design strategies. The SSIC was directed to develop design standards by January 1, 2014 for an effective date of July 1, 2014. This means that beginning on July 1, 2014, all municipalities/public school districts applying for a school construction grant from the State of Connecticut must comply with the design standards developed by the SSIC or the application will be denied (C.G.S. §10-284(a) was modified to authorize the Commissioner of the Department of Education to deny grant applications for failure to comply with the SSIC design standards).
As per P.A. 13-3, projects receiving grants pursuant to the School Safety Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program must comply with the SSIC’s design standards. In 2013, over 100 school districts applied to the Competitive Grant Program for funding in connection with approximately $40 million in security-specific infrastructure projects. Almost half of the project costs were reimbursed pursuant to the program.
The School Building Project Advisory Council, which is developing model blueprints for new school building projects, is now required to incorporate the SSIC’s standards into its designs.
How Did the SSIC Approach Its Charge?
The SSIC, which is chaired by Connecticut’s Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, was appointed shortly after the passage of P.A. 13-3 and consists of 9 members. The SSIC met five times between June-September 2013 and received testimony from a broad range of experts and laypersons. Among the testimony that the SSIC heard was testimony from:
- The State Building Inspector;
- The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (“DESPP”) and the Director of Emergency Management from the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (“DEMHS”);
- Architectural and other design experts;
- Lock experts;
- U.S. Homeland Security;
- Educational professionals;
- Public officials;
- Police, fire and other first responders; and
The SSIC was provided with/reviewed a variety of resources, including school construction standards utilized in other states, materials prepared by various federal agencies and demonstrations of various technologies. The Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was especially helpful and provided the SSIC with a demonstration of an Integrated Rapid Visual Screening (“IRVS”) tool for use in performing pre-design security assessments. The SSIC also considered the report and recommendations from the Sandy Hook Advisory Committee.
In early January 2014, the SSIC releases its “Draft” Report, which included the initial design standards. The SSIC released an updated report on February 9, 2014, with a few modifications to the design standards. The SSIC noted that other than incidental Code requirements, there were no specific security requirements applicable to school building projects. Although school security features, for the most part, represent eligible expenditures under the school construction grant program, no uniform standards existed and school districts vary widely in terms of local plans and implementation of security measures.
The SSIC determined that a uniform comprehensive threat assessment process and corresponding school security infrastructure standards will ensure a threshold level of awareness, responsiveness and security compliance. Four major goals of the security assessment and subsequent compliance measures were identified: improvement of deterrence, detection, delay and response.
Significantly, the SSIC found that school security infrastructure planning must be based on an “all hazards” assessment, rather than limited to protection against man-made hazards. Moreover, the assessments must be uniform and performed via an all-inclusive process (i.e., police, fire, medical, school and other local officials must be involved) throughout the design and construction phases.
In developing school security standards, the SSIC found that it should encourage the use of protective infrastructure design features in all levels/layers of school facility construction, including site development and preparation, perimeter boundaries and access points, secondary perimeters up to the building exterior and, of course, the interior of the building itself.
The SSIC also found that an emergency response time analysis (“ERTA”) is necessary as part of the assessment process, in order to determine the actual amount of time needed for a police response to a specific school in a crisis situation. An ERTA is critical to the security assessment process and development of a school security infrastructure plan because the nature and extent of certain security design features and strategies will vary based on response time challenges.
In developing design standards, the SSIC sought to adhere to five basic themes:
- achieve a balance between uniform school security infrastructure standards and the needs of local communities;
- preserve a positive educational environment for children;
- establish uniform school security infrastructure assessment procedures;
- establish a school building and planning process that is inclusive of all local decision makers; and
- establish a cooperative and constructive compliance system that facilitates attainment of the new standards.
The SSIC opined that a uniform, “all hazards” school security assessment tool, one that allows users to recognize and differentiate between the unique security challenges at each facility while providing a security analysis of the common school security infrastructure characteristics that are a part of most school construction projects, is preferred. In order for an assessment tool to serve its purpose, it must allow users to perform an assessment of the threat(s), an assessment of the consequences or severity of the threat(s) and an assessment of the facility’s vulnerabilities. The SSIC concluded that the preferred tool is the automated version of the IRVS being developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in consultation with the SSIC, for use at Connecticut’s (and other) schools.
The IRVS for Connecticut is expected to be completed in mid-2014. It will allow users (on a PC, laptop or tablet) to perform a school security level analysis (quantification of risk at a particular school); an undesirable event analysis(the user will review geographic, demographic and structural features of the school and its location); and a level of protection analysis(users will identify vulnerabilities by comparing actual or planned infrastructure elements to the recommended level of security). The SSIC added a compliance determination process for the Connecticut IRVS. After a grant applicant identifies vulnerabilities and plans to remediate same, the Office of School Facilities Plan Review Unit will evaluate the plan for adequacy and work with the school district/applicant to ensure compliance with the standards. Until the IRVS is completed, it is recommended that school districts use the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities’ Safe Schools Checklist.
The IRVS organizes points of reference into three groupings: mandatory compliance areas (Codes); critical compliance standards; and recommended guidelines. The mandatory compliance areas, of course, already exist. The recommended guidelines are still under development. Thus, the actual SSIC standards, at least as of March 14, 2014, consist of the critical compliance standards. The critical compliance standards fall into nine primary areas of school infrastructure design:
- School Site Perimeter: Access Control, Surveillance, Points of Entry and Accessibility, Signage, Lighting, Fencing, Bollards, Landscape.
- Parking Areas and Vehicular and Pedestrian Routes : Access Control, Surveillance, Points of Entry and Accessibility, Signage, Lighting, Speed Calming, Landscape, Drop Off/Pick Up Areas, Sidewalks.
- Recreational Areas: Playgrounds, Athletic Areas, Multipurpose Fields.
- Communication Systems: Mass Notification, Alarm and Information Systems, Interoperable Real Time Response Systems, Radio Systems, Wireless Systems and Multimedia Systems.
- School Building Exterior: Building Perimeter, Access Control, Main Entrance/Vestibule, Administrative Offices/Lobby, Doors, Glazing/Films, Signage, Lighting, Surveillance, Locking Systems.
- School Building Interior: Access Control, Surveillance, Points of Entry and Accessibility, Classrooms, Large Assembly Areas, Doors, Locking Systems, Signage.
- Roofs: Access Control.
- Critical Assets/Utilities: Access Control, Surveillance, Screens, Critical Building Components, Signage, Hardening, Redundancy, Location.
- Other Areas: Dumpsters, Receptacles, Hazardous Materials Storage, Signage, Locker Rooms, Rest Rooms, Specialty Areas, Courtyards.
All nine areas of design must be complied with or the grant application will be denied. This has caused considerable anxiety amongst owners and design professionals because while the SSIC design standards appear to be Code-like, they were not developed via a process that created the required specificity and, with all due respect, are in many areas vague or unclear. We thus expect that more refined, more specific, more practical standards will evolve over the coming months. The SSIC is required to meet at least annually to review and update the design standards and is required to submit the standards, annually, the Commissioners of DESPP and the SDE, the SBPAC and the Joint Standing Committees of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to public safety and education.
A significant and very helpful requirement is the creation of a School Safety Design Committee during the design phase of the project. The Committee should not merely be a sub-committee of the project building committee. Rather, the Committee should be comprised of members of the School Safety and Security Committee required by the school safety and security plan standards (i.e., public safety personnel, school personnel and others with the expertise to maximize the effectiveness of the endeavor). We envision the School Safety Design Committee working with the design team throughout the design and construction process.
All-Hazard School Security and Safety Plan
The second school security and safety initiative created by P.A. 13-3 was the requirement that the DESPP, in consultation with the SDE, develop school safety and security plan standards. All school districts have been provided with a plan template, as an interim measure until the IRVS is completed. There are essentially 12 requirements of the plan standards:
- Local officials must be involved in the development and implementation of the plan, including the municipality’s CEO, Superintendent of Schools, police, fire, public health, emergency management and EMS personnel.
- The plan must set forth an organizational command structure based on National Incident Management System (NIMS), plus a description of responsibilities for those in the chain of command.
- Each school is required to provide an orientation on the plan to each school employee, and provide violence prevention training in the manner described in the plan. Training shall be coordinated with the school safety and security committee.
- Beginning July 1, 2014, each BOE must annually establish a school security and safety committee at each school to assist in the development of the school security and safety plan and administering the plan. The committee shall include police, first responder, teacher, administrator, parent, mental health professional, and anyone else BOE deems necessary (e.g., facilities manager, IT professional, school nurse).
- Each BOE shall review, update and submit a school security safety plan annually for each schoolto the DESPP.
- Each plan must be annexed to municipality’s Local Emergency Operations Plan filed annually with the DESPP/DEMHS pursuant to Connecticut General Statute §28-7.
- Each plan must forth procedures for managing various types of emergencies, including crisis management procedures.
- Local law enforcement and other local public safety officials shall evaluate, score and provide feedback on fire drills/crisis response drills. BOE to annually submit report to the DEMHS regarding types, frequency and feedback related to drills.
- BOEs shall conduct a security and vulnerability assessment for each school every two years and develop a plan based on the assessment.
- The safe school climate committee for each school shall collect and evaluate information relating to instances of disturbing and threatening behavior that may not meet the definition of bullying and report such information to safe school climate coordinator and school security and safety committee (see C.G.S. §10-222k). The BOE must provide violence prevention training in the manner described in the plan; training shall be coordinated with the school safety and security committee.
- Each school is required to construct a reference kit available for first responders which include several copies of easy to read floor plans, master keys to interior and exterior door locks, and other items determined as needed, after consultation with school officials, local law enforcement authority, emergency management directors and first responders.
- Each plan must be constructed using the format of the “All Hazard” school security and safety plan template, as released and revised by the Division of Emergency Management of Homeland Security and DESPP, in consultation with the SDE.
At the March 12, 2014 seminar “School Construction in Connecticut in 2014: Safety, Security and More,” a program sponsored and organized by Ciulla & Donofrio, LLP, Jeff Donofrio and professionals from the design and security fields, respectively, provided the attendees with an introduction to both the design standards and the security and safety plan standards. The new legal requirements can be overwhelming and difficult to interpret. If you have questions or need assistance with this or any other aspect of school construction, please contact Attorney Jeff Donofrio at (203) 239-9828 or JDonofrio@CD-LLP.com.