By: Brian G. Minnich, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Associate, Rubeling & Associates a JMT Division
AIA / CAE K-12 Subcommittee Co-Chair
The National AIA Committee on Architecture for Education K-12 subcommittee, in response to recent events such as the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook, is partnering with other organizations to help improve the awareness of the important role that architectural design plays in the safety of K-12 educational facilities.
There are many factors to consider when creating a safe and secure environment that still allows students to focus on learning without fear or concern for their safety. There has been no shortage of articles, webinars, and town hall meetings on the subject. This is a topic that touches each of our lives so it is not surprising that the conversations have focused on the issue from many different angles.
One of the organizations that has recently been formed to look at school safety is The School Safety Infrastructure Council (SSIC) by the Connecticut Congress to set standards for assessing schools for security risks in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting incident. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate, Resilient Systems Division, along with the National Institute for Building Sciences hosted meetings last year to discuss the topic. The purpose of the meetings was to present the findings of the SSIC to the Department of Homeland Security and to work on the development of a manual and risk assessment tool to help improve school safety. Currently, RSD is collaborating with the SSIC, NIBS and other organizations to prepare a risk assessment manual and tool that meets the needs of the educational system; develop guidance that helps the design community to design and build better schools; and set threshold requirement scores that all school’s should meet to ensure a safe environment for students and teachers. The working name of the manual, now progressing through a second draft, is Integrated Rapid Visual Screening (IRVS) for Schools: A How-to Guide to Mitigate Multihazard Effects Against School Facilities and the accompanying tool, which is yet to be developed, is called the Integrated Rapid Visual Screening (IRVS)for Safe Schools. This is based in part on the work in the DHS Buildings and Infrastructure Protection Series publication Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings, published by FEMA previously and updated by DHS in January 2012.
DHS currently has a building assessment tool for rating the safety of federal buildings, the Integrated Rapid Visual Screening (IRVS) Plus Interagency Security Committee (ISC). However, most federal buildings do not function in the same way as most school buildings. Therefore, they plan to adapt this tool to be more relevant to school buildings. They are working on a prototype software tool that allows the criteria of the assessment, being identified in the manual, to be input into a laptop or tablet electronically in lieu of manual analysis. This has allowed a process that typically takes a week to condense down to a few hours.
Currently, there is no national standard, or benchmark, to measure the security of existing school buildings. The AIA, along with other organizations, has been tasked to help in the review process of this working document. The AIA/CAE is focusing specifically on school building design. We are looking closely at the current design recommendations contained in the first draft of the document to ensure that current safety recommendations within the document don’t preclude designers from providing the basic design principles that enhance the learning environment. Elements such as transparency, simplicity of circulation, and small learning environments not only enhance the learning environment, they can also aid in the ability to secure the school quickly and efficiently. School buildings cannot be designed as fortresses and still be effective. The learning environment needs to be open and comfortable. They need natural daylight and connections to both the surrounding environment as well as other students in order to promote the type of 21st century learning environments that support current teaching pedagogy. School districts need a tool to help them analyze their existing facilities and give them a better idea of where to prioritize their capital improvement planning. The AIA / CAE is excited to be part of this process. Though a release date for the IRVS has not been announced, the next phase of revisions is expected to begin soon. Look for the IRVS design guidelines available to school districts across the county in the near future.