Influential Projects: School Security

We wanted to hear about the most influential projects to our Cx and TAB personnel over the past ten years. A few of their stories provided professional outlooks, intriguing obstacles, and personal motivation. Read on for more of our Influential projects series.

Published June 4, 2021. By Erik Rottman, CxA.

We were hired to perform functional testing on a security system upgrade project for 16 schools in a district. The security contractor claimed the work was complete, but upon assuming control of the system the district was not convinced. The district owner’s rep got us involved to test every installed device for proper functionality.

Discovering the Issues

When we got into the building we determined that the as-built drawings intending to show the locations of installed devices were not accurate. The documents provided by the owner were outdated, and the security contractor could not be convinced of the value in accurate drawings. This created more of a challenge in locating and testing every device on the system.

Most of the schools required some attention before being capable of functioning properly. In a lot of cases the solution was a small programming or device adjustment. But at one school, an entire wing was non-responsive. The security contractor said it had been fixed—but the functionality could not be proven through testing. We then opened a locked cabinet and saw the device wiring had never been connected to the control panel.

I quickly learned if a device failed the initial round of testing, the best use of time was revisiting failed devices with the installing contractor onsite. This streamlined the process by allowing us to witness and discuss problems together, and work towards resolution.

I didn’t hesitate to discuss the real world situations that made proper installation and verification essential.

Safety, Security, and Responsibility

A big motivation for me was: Why are they doing this project? In this particular case it was to make the district safer in response to a recent school shooting. This is what I used as encouragement and motivation. I brought up how badly it would look for our companies if something bad were to happen as a result of our work—but also the personal responsibility I felt to do this work fully, and to the best of my ability.

Out of scope, or not—beyond device functionality issues, other problems affecting the safety and security of the building and its occupants were also reported. Some areas had pressurization or door hardware issues that were preventing them from latching closed. Other areas allowed the door hold button to open a door that was “disabled” in the security system.

Securing Lockout Systems: At one of the high schools, I was in the process of testing the Panic/Lockout/Lockdown buttons intended to disable card readers. Suddenly the card readers started granting access to the building. I returned to the device used to set condition and confirmed it had not been reset. Previously locked out devices had also been re-enabled. The installing contractor suspected a relay issue, reported it as resolved, and I was unable to replicate the problem. The potential real world implications that could have resulted from this intermittent issue presenting itself at an inopportune time were hard not to think about.

Those heavy thoughts and feelings provided me with the motivation and encouragement I needed to overcome the frustration, handle the adversity, and verify that the tested systems and components were installed and operating as intended to provide the function they were designed for. I hope those buttons never have to be pushed, but it feels good to believe they will work if needed.