Building and maintaining a secure campus can save lives, so it’s crucial to be prepared ahead of a crisis situation. When evaluating classroom expansion options, consider two components of effective preparation:
Make sure existing and new construction meets all safety standards.
Safety requirements for any portable-type classroom is virtually identical to those of traditional buildings. Therefore, it’s important to take note of the quality of manufacture, which can vary between portable trailers, precast concrete modular classrooms, and other structures. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends attention to “selection and specification” of any portable structures under consideration to avoid “inexpensive, low quality designs,” which may not hold up in dire circumstances. One way to be confident of quality is to ask your manufacturer or builder what state and federal standards their construction meets. All Florida classrooms, whether site-built or portable, must be:
- Florida Building Code and SREF (State Requirements for Educational Facilities) compliant
- ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) 7-10 certified for severe weather
When researching precast concrete modular options, also ask if your supplier’s facilities are NPCA (National Precast Concrete Association) or PCI (Precast Concrete Institute) certified. These organizations inspect manufacturers for quality control and conformance to the engineering. These are voluntary programs that responsible manufacturers choose to go through during the certification process.
Keep in mind that the strength and durability of site-built construction and precast concrete classrooms can, based upon school policy, render them safe enough to house students during a lockdown or weather emergency, whereas portable trailers generally need to be evacuated. This can expose students and staff to potentially dangerous situations. The exterior of precast concrete modular classrooms are bullet resistant, and they can also be made with bullet-resistant windows and doors that can electronically lock from the inside.
Maintain your structures to maximize their security potential.
Organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, and the Modular Building Institute offer checklists to encourage proactive planning for emergency scenarios like severe weather, fire, and the necessity of lockdown, and ongoing hazards like sick building syndrome, mold, and mildew.
Actions you can take to mitigate hazardous situations ahead of time include:
- Ensure a continual healthy air supply by locating air intakes away from standing water, exhaust, or other hazards.
- Monitor HVAC systems to make sure your ventilation system is adequate and working properly.
- Regularly check for water entry and immediately sanitize possible mold growth (Water entry and mold issues tend to be more prevalent in portable trailers than traditional site-built or precast concrete modular classrooms).
- Keep new classrooms far away enough from buildings to comply with fire codes, but close enough to minimize exposure when students are walking to and from classes.
- Make sure teachers and students know crisis protocol and regularly practice emergency procedures.
- Perform frequent tests of security features such as communication devices, cameras, and door and window locks. Make sure each teacher has a key to lock and unlock doors from the inside, and keep posters and display materials from blocking teachers’ view of the outside.
Work with manufacturers or builders to ensure the most secure possible structure for your campus. Doing your due diligence on the front end can help ensure that a school is set up to be as safe as possible.
Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah