In the wake of the tragic shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, parents are asking if there’s any way to make schools more secure. Architect Roger Lewis joins Kojo to explore the current thinking about school design and the challenge of creating buildings that both keep kids safe and make them feel welcome.


  • Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
  • Chris Graae Principal at Cox Graae + Spack Architects
  • Mwangi Kimenyi President, RETA Security; Credentialed Physical Security Professional

Photo Gallery: School Security Architecture

Images and illustrations depicting how two D.C. public schools, Woodson High School and Wilson High School, secure the inside and outside of their academic buildings.

School Security Vestibule Schematics

Schematics for schools that have an entry vestibule for security. Document courtesy Paul Timm at RETA Security


  • 12:06:47

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Roger Lewis is here. During this week of funerals for 6-year-old victims of a grade school massacre, parents around the country are profoundly sad and also uneasy, concerned about how vulnerable their own children are at school.

  • 12:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhile some people are focusing on guns, others are looking at the architecture of our schools, asking whether the doors, windows, entryways and halls can be designed to be more secure. What if the gunman hadn't been able to get into the school in Newtown, Conn.? What if the building had tighter security or bulletproof glass? Here in the Washington area, school districts have their own security standards when they renovate or build new schools, but it's a challenge.

  • 12:07:49

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHow do you design a building that meets tough security standards but still feels like a nurturing environment for kids to learn and thrive? Helping us to sort this out today is Roger Lewis. He's an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for The Washington Post. Roger is also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Roger, good to see you. Happy holidays.

  • 12:08:14

    MR. ROGER LEWISSame to you. Thank you.

  • 12:08:15

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Chris Graae. He is a principal at Cox Graae + Spack Architects. Chris Graae, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:08:23

    MR. CHRIS GRAAEGlad to be with you, Kojo.

  • 12:08:24

    NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Lombard, Ill., is Paul Timm, president of the RETA society. He is a physical security professional. Paul Timm, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:36

    MR. PAUL TIMMGlad to be here. Thank you.

  • 12:08:37

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. How do you feel or do you feel as if your kids are safe when they're at school? 800-433-8850. We've seen massacres at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University and now, Sandy Hook Elementary School. I'll start with you, Roger, but this question is for all of you. Are schools especially vulnerable from a design standpoint to armed intruders?

  • 12:09:07

    LEWISWell, that's a relative question. I think that schools are probably no more or less vulnerable than a lot of other public facilities. One thing a lot of the schools do after the students arrive is they do lock the doors. That's very common. Schools have surveillance equipment, video cameras, often both outside and inside.

  • 12:09:29

    LEWISSome schools have security personnel there at certain times of the day. So in that sense, I think they're probably a little more secure than other public facilities. But as we've talked about on this show before, a dedicated, pathological terrorist or somebody who is intend on doing harm can often defeat whatever defenses you mount.

  • 12:10:00

    NNAMDIPaul Timm, schools -- especially vulnerable from a design standpoint?

  • 12:10:05

    TIMMWell, I think from a design standpoint, the issue has been that security has not been the priority in the past. Aesthetics have been the priority -- having a welcoming look to them, having an open look to them that's why we see a lot of glass. And I don't necessarily knock architecture for that. I just want to say, though, that we are changing the way that things are done as a result of some of the vulnerabilities that have been highlighted.

  • 12:10:33

    NNAMDIWell, I will ask you a more specific question, Chris Graae, because you were the lead architect for the recent renovation of Wilson High School here in the District of Columbia's Tenleytown neighborhood. The school has metal detectors inside the front door, but your goal was to make the security screening as unobtrusive as possible. Before last week's shootings, what was the philosophy about frontline security and how, well, how visible it should be? And while we're at it, you may talk about what the security considerations were in general for your design at Wilson.

  • 12:11:04

    GRAAEWell, I think for a public school, we take our guidelines from D.C. public schools and Department of General Services, which prescribe what a school like that should have in its security program. Wilson -- you can't really do a lot with metal detectors. They're there. They are a certain kind of equipment that has a look to it. Those are required. There were three sets of those.

  • 12:11:29

    GRAAEWe tried to put them -- they are in a very obvious place, but we tried to put them in a context which was attractive and not feeling prison-like. But we did not put bulletproof glass, for example, on entrance doors, which is clearly a lesson we can take from Newtown. That's an example, in my view, of where there might be a place to go in terms of looking at upgrading certain features of our schools because that's exactly how he got in.

  • 12:12:00

    GRAAEHe shot through the glass of a locked door and immediately penetrated the environment that way. And if it was bulletproof, which is an expensive material but it -- visually, you almost wouldn't know it's there. It's heavy. But it's very effective. And that would certainly have given people enough time to perhaps do something before he attempted some other location to get into the building.

  • 12:12:24

    NNAMDIYou can see drawings of the new entry ways and security screening at Wilson and at Woodson High School, which we'll be discussing later, on our website at, where you can also join this conversation with your question or comment. What do you think of the idea of bulletproof glass on the doors?

  • 12:12:41

    LEWISWell, bulletproof glass is one alternative. Let's back up a second. I mean, I think that -- I was talking to Chris earlier before the show about a middle school I designed in the '90s our in Charles County, and I remember, we were talking figuratively about how the school had to be bulletproof but not because of real bullets but rather to make sure that the junior high students didn't destroy the building. The building is steel-framed. It's all pre-engineered concrete masonry block, and it's pretty durable.

  • 12:13:18

    LEWISBut, in fact, there's a lot of glass. One of the things that you can do as an alternative to bulletproof glass is in fact have some -- have a combination of mullions and glazed opening and decorative or ornamental grills or -- which you see more commonly in Europe. You see them all the time, particularly on ground floor windows. There are ways to keep people from getting in if that's the goal, other than using bulletproof glass. And that would apply to windows as well as doors.

  • 12:13:53

    LEWISBut again, I go back -- I think that the point that you made about the aesthetics and that Paul made, I don't think we have to give up the quality that we were talking about at the top of the show, creating places that are open, that are inviting, that have light. I mean, there are some very important, I think, aesthetic and environmental considerations that are really paramount. And I don't think we want to turn our schools into fortresses. That, obviously, perhaps is on the minds of a lot of people right now.

  • 12:14:25

    LEWISI think that would be a mistake. I do think that there are, as Chris has pointed out, some things that could be done, lessons learned that we could perhaps do a little bit better. Just one other point, you know, we keep concentrating on the last incident, which is a guy with a semiautomatic rifle. I mean, there's nothing to keep someone with an automobile loaded with explosives from driving up and smashing into probably 90 percent of the school buildings around. We've taken that...

  • 12:14:55

    NNAMDIA possibility we will be considering in a little greater detail shortly after you finish.

  • 12:15:01

    LEWISAnd all I'm doing is broadening the spectrum. I mean, if you start looking at the menu of risks, you'd get into -- you'll really get into trouble. I mean, it becomes scary.

  • 12:15:12

    NNAMDIPaul Timm, you've said controlling access to the school building is a top priority in school security. How do you accomplish that, with metal detectors, intercom systems, surveillance cameras?

  • 12:15:23

    TIMMActually, none of those fall into the heading of access control, but I do want to touch on a few things. First of all, I don't want to give up aesthetics either. I just want to make sure that we are -- have prioritized security, I wish, a little bit more than we have in the past. And let's start with vehicles. You can go downtown or you can go to your local Target and find that there are vehicle barriers outside that keep vehicles from getting the pedestrian areas.

  • 12:15:47

    TIMMNow, I don't want to set them all up around the building, but we can discourage some kind of vehicular incident with very aesthetically pleasing vehicle barriers. In fact, Target uses them to advertise the market themselves with the big round balls. But I will say this as well. Access control begins with running a closed campus which means their exterior doors are locked. They're secured.

  • 12:16:11

    TIMMAlmost all of those exterior doors are not going to be glass. They're solid doors. At the main entry, we will generally have glass, and I don't mind that, but we should -- locked vestibule at the front entrance. So I come in out of the elements, but I don't get access to the entire facility until I state a purpose for being there and get authorized than to get into the rest of the building.

  • 12:16:33

    TIMMThere, we an use some kind of bullet-resistant materials, whether it's laminated glass, which is a step up from tempered glass, or some kind of a window film just in that area that hardens that particular place. Then we head into visitor management and all the rest of those. That's what comes under access control.

  • 12:16:52

    NNAMDILet's go to Bob in Wheaton, Md., who has a question that has already been addressed in a way in terms of how the shooter got in in Newtown, Conn. But, Bob, go ahead please.

  • 12:17:03

    BOBWell, thank you. And then because I did have my radio turned down, I didn't get a chance to hear the whole explanation. If -- as time is valuable for you, I'd want to move forward. I went to schools in Montgomery County that had nothing to do with nurturing, and they were ugly buildings. But yet back then, no one -- the thought of somebody going into a school and shooting people was unheard of. And I would think these schools are a place of business.

  • 12:17:32

    BOBI don't know where aesthetics come into this. And because these are public schools you're talking about presumably, my thoughts are they're places of business. Just build them for business. Don't worry about what they look about -- what they look like. And in terms of a school being nurturing, well, this isn't a nurturing world. So I would think that would be the last one -- one of your design criterias.

  • 12:17:59

    NNAMDII think the word that's cold would apply to what you just said, Bob, because I don't think that -- I don't think we can see schools as places of business. Can we, Roger?

  • 12:18:10

    LEWISNo, no. And -- not at all. And I think, Bob, you -- I can understand where you're coming from. It's a very utilitarian philosophy you're espousing. But I think that the point was made earlier that we can achieve a reasonable level of security without sacrificing architectural quality and functionality. And that -- I think that's one of the things that we architects believe in.

  • 12:18:38

    LEWISAnd we've always believed that. I mean, there's -- we've always had to think a little bit about security, just like we have to think about accessibility for people who are impaired. We have to think about sustainability, building green. I mean, there are a whole lot of issues that we, architects, worry about. And I hope Chris...

  • 12:18:55

    NNAMDIWell, I'd like to go back to what you talked about earlier, and that is the middle school that you designed in Charles County, Md., back in the 1990s. At that time, what were the security considerations for the -- I think it's called the Mattawoman Middle School?

  • 12:19:07

    LEWISMattawoman Middle School. Well, for example, as Paul mentioned, we had the exterior vestibule. One of the things that I remember designing this glass cube, it was, you know, it was on the outside of the building. It was like something had been plugged into the building. It was exactly what Paul was describing. You had to buzz -- you had to signal that you wanted to get in. You could only get through the outer door. There was another door. And at that point, you have to communicate with the office.

  • 12:19:35

    LEWISThere were video cameras. I was never sure that anyone was really watching the screens. That's another -- there's a cost to this, you know, monitoring what's going on. There were video cameras around the perimeter of the building looking at all directions. It was a very large building. It was 120,000 square feet on two floors. Part of it was two floors. And it was -- but there was a lot of glass.

  • 12:19:57

    LEWISI mean, there were a lot of windows. I was very adamant about creating windows so that kids could actually see out, which probably a security consultant might tell me was a bad idea. We did some things that were innovative, but we weren't forgetting security. But we certainly weren't making a literally bulletproof building. I mean, none of the glazing was anything but off-the-shelf standard glazing and standard windows and doors.

  • 12:20:37

    NNAMDIChris Graae, what Roger just said reminded me that sightlines and transparency are important in school design. How do you create an interior space where it's easy to see what's going on?

  • 12:20:49

    GRAAEWell, I think, for example, just to use Wilson as an example, it -- by the way, we did add a vestibule to the front of the building. That's what you see as the entry point

  • 12:20:59


  • 12:21:00

    GRAAEMy little gears were going in the sense that probably the next set of doors that go from the vestibule into the building are now open so that the kids can just flow through this -- the metal detectors. Perhaps that's an opportunity for us to take that lesson and put some bulletproof doors on the school side of that vestibule. But Wilson is a very open environment.

  • 12:21:21

    GRAAEThe nature of the schools that we're designing a building today really are -- essentially are required to be provided with a great deal of natural light, which in a way is going the opposite direction, if you will, of some thinking in terms of view sheds and sightlines. But Wilson is very open. You can see across the atrium.

  • 12:21:41

    GRAAEYou can see from one side of the building to the other. There aren't -- we think about being careful not have sort of too many hidden corridors or nooks and crannies, although those are always going to occur to some extent. But we're certainly cognizant of how to arrange things in a manner where you can have a sense for what's in front of you or behind you.

  • 12:22:02

    NNAMDISpeaking of nooks and crannies, Roger, when I was in high school many, many years ago, there were always people who found a place to, well, smoke cigarettes in the interest of transparency. Some schools build airport-style bathrooms that don't have a door to the hall so teachers outside can smell if someone's lighting up a cigarette and can hear what's going on inside the bathroom. Is that common in schools today?

  • 12:22:24

    LEWISYeah. I mean, that, again, even at this middle school, we do not -- we did not have doors between the hallway and the bathroom. There was a privacy lock. And I wouldn't be surprised if you did the same thing at Wilson. That's very -- that's pretty standard practice. And again, the goal there isn't necessarily focused on worrying about threats from outside. It's to make sure that the kids behave themselves. I think there are probably -- because I haven't designed a school recently, there are probably some things that Chris has done that he might want to add to this.

  • 12:23:00

    LEWISI think the notion of trying to design these things so that they're not so obvious, I mean, you know, just like we've gotten rid of the Jersey barriers around buildings in Washington, we've -- we have other elements in the streetscape that look like they belong to the streetscape, that they're pedestrian-friendly. We've secured the Washington Monument. You can't get a vehicle to the base of the monument because the other olden design is a landscape with retaining walls that are part of this scheme.

  • 12:23:32

    LEWISNo one -- probably no one who visits that monument realizes those are security barriers. But they -- there are things we can do in the schools, probably more than we've done, that would not be intrusive and not remind people that the place is a target. But the fact is, I go back to what I said at the beginning, somebody who's really a bit crazy and dedicated and has some technical wherewithal can defeat almost anything we cook up.

  • 12:24:00

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on designing secure schools. If you have called, stay on line. We will get to your call. If the lines are busy, you can send us an email to, a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:26:20

    NNAMDIWe're talking about designing secure schools with Roger Lewis. He is an architect, the "Shaping the City" columnist for The Washington Post and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Chris Graae is a principal at Cox Graae + Spack Architects. And Paul Timm is president of the RETA security.

  • 12:26:36

    NNAMDIHe is a physical security professional. Paul, a burst of violence like the one in Connecticut focuses our attention on extreme events. But among the concerns about the everyday security in a school building that one is designing, you certainly have to be looking at threats that come from the inside also, don't you?

  • 12:26:56

    TIMMOh, no doubt it. In fact, a larger threat is the insider threat. And so before that -- and by the way, my firm teaches an AIA-approved course for campus security trends, and one of the things that we talk about there is crime prevention through environmental design, which is CPTED. And CPTED says, what can we do to reduce crime? And a lot of people think of that from a community standpoint.

  • 12:27:21

    TIMMBut certainly, principles like natural surveillance to make sure that we're able to see what's happening in certain areas as you have referred to earlier -- border definition, locating safe activities in unsafe areas, natural access control -- all of those principles help us not just with the outsider threat but with the insider threat as well.

  • 12:27:43

    NNAMDIRoger, Chris, how do you figure out what kinds of windows to put into a school building? You want to allow as much natural light as possible. Windows are also the building's most vulnerable point. How do you reconcile those competing concerns?

  • 12:27:57

    GRAAEWell, I -- as I mentioned earlier, we're -- there's a certain threshold of natural light that's required in a school nowadays just by code and to meet energy and environmental standards. But I think the concern that you have to look at where the window is and what its proximity is to, perhaps, an outside pedestrian or vehicular way, something that's in a sightline, a shooting sightline, which is the same as a visual sightline would -- could -- that you could actually see physically people behind the glass.

  • 12:28:30

    GRAAEThat would be a condition to probably we'd be thinking about. High windows up high, I think, is less of an issue. And then, as I mentioned earlier, focusing on where someone is going to try to enter and putting -- investing the dollars and, perhaps, measure at strategic locations, I think, is -- would be effective.

  • 12:28:51


  • 12:28:52

    LEWISWell, I think Paul's -- this crime preventions are designed to something that has been on agenda in the architecture profession for a long time, not just related to schools but in general, for example, having good lighting. You know, one of the most important things one can do to deter a crime -- this isn't related to what happened in Newtown.

  • 12:29:17

    LEWISBut it is to make sure that there's good lighting when after the sun goes down, both inside and outside, particularly outside. Avoiding the creation of niches or recesses or places where someone can lurk and not be seen. Remember, we recently did the show about the new dormitory at the Gallaudet University...

  • 12:29:42


  • 12:29:42

    LEWIS...for the hearing impaired, where, in fact, transparency and visual accessibility are absolutely paramount. You know, doing things like chamfering around or eliminating 90-degree corners so that as someone is moving in one cart or near another one, they don't run into each other because they can't hear the footsteps of the other person.

  • 12:30:08

    LEWISI mean, there's a huge array of things that we architects need to worry about when we design any building and certainly schools that can do -- that can prevent or deter bad behavior both by people in the school and people who might come from outside. That's -- I think that's just part of what we architects need to worry about.

  • 12:30:31

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. What design changes would you like to see at your children's school to make it more secure? 800-433-8850. We'll go to Tom in Baltimore, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:46

    TOMHi. Thanks for taking my call. It's been a really very difficult week for most of us in law enforcement and emergency medicine. It's just been insane, and particularly listening to shows like this one, which is just a perfect example of kind of magical thinking. You are 200 times more likely to be struck by lightning than for something like what happened last week to happen in your school.

  • 12:31:21

    TOMAnd to change our schools into prisons and to encourage police officers to arrest people instead of dealing with discipline problems is just sickening. It's just -- we could use all that extra money on -- for bulletproof glass, to hire more counselors and train more teachers and do things that will really make a difference to the future of our country than putting up, you know, metal detectors, you know, and turning the schools into prisons and making our children feel like prisoners and criminals. It should be perfect.

  • 12:32:08

    NNAMDIYou seem to be suggesting, Paul, that architects trying to design schools to make them more secure is a complete waste of good time and money and that we should simply leave our schools completely unsecured, correct?

  • 12:32:26

    TIMMThe caller -- if you're asking me, you know, the caller obviously has a little bit of an agenda here. And I -- in no way do I want to suggest that we can put a perfect security in place. Agree in one respect that the incident in Newtown is an anomaly, but I also want to say this. We have risk levels, and it's responsible to try to reduce that risk as much as possible.

  • 12:32:54

    TIMMAnd, yeah, I want counselors. They're part of the solution, but we're having a program today that's not a magical program. The program is about practical solutions, and so I respectfully disagree. There is no agenda here other than trying to take our part as part of a giant pie in reducing risks as much as possible.

  • 12:33:12

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Tom. And, Paul, thank you very much for your response. We can move on to Barbara in Warrington, Va. Barbara, your turn.

  • 12:33:21

    BARBARAI just had two ideas about architectural features that might be useful. It seems to me that in some circumstances, it's more important to be able to get the children out of the classroom that's having some kind of emergency exit that doesn't empty out onto the same center aisle might be a useful thing. And then speaking of the center aisle, most schools have these long straight hallways so that it's easy to have one teacher be the hall monitor so they can see all the children. But then, of course, that allows children to be targets, in the case of a shooter, and it seems to me that the halls ought to be broken up.

  • 12:34:01

    BARBARAThey ought to be, you know, designed to have more zigzags in them, or I can imagine them being retrofitted with some kind of a little, you know, triangular thing sticking out on some classrooms into the hall to give some kind of visual break. And maybe those could be, you know, safe rooms that could be gotten in to from the inside of the classroom or something like that. But it just seems to me that having long straight hallways and having each classroom have two doors that empty into the same hallway is not really terribly safe.

  • 12:34:34

    NNAMDICan you talk about the business of doors in these designs, Chris Graae?

  • 12:34:38


  • 12:34:38

    NNAMDIAnd of course, hallways too since Barbara's interested in that.

  • 12:34:41

    GRAAESure. Well, it's -- you obviously have several arguments, some which conflict with one another in terms of being able to see what's going on and having good visibility and yet, I guess, providing some protection and refuges. My view is that you don't want a hallway that's endless and unrelentingly long. On the other hand, you do want connections and visual proximities. And we have to foster the ability for people to be able to either be secure in their classroom, let's say, or to have a way -- two ways to get out of a space.

  • 12:35:22

    GRAAEI just briefly like to go back to that earlier caller that I do have a sort of a strong reaction to. I don't think a problem that's as complicated as this is -- there's no one solution. You attack it in many different directions. You don't take any viable, reasonably efficient solution off the table. So I think you come at it with every direction including architectural and guards and operational protocol and things like that.

  • 12:35:53

    NNAMDIIn the final analysis, Roger, what you want to make sure is that you not only have a safe environment if you're talking about schools, but an environment that even while secure, still nourishes the learning and teaching that needs to take place in that environment?

  • 12:36:09

    LEWISOf course. I'm mean, and I think that applies to all buildings. I mean, I feel that way about libraries. I mean, you know, all of our public buildings, we have the same issue to deal with when we design them, whatever they area. And, I mean, I do -- I share Tom's view that if you -- if you're objective and you analyze the probability that something like this is going to happen, the probability is very low.

  • 12:36:33

    LEWISI mean, these incidents are, fortunately, are few and far between. But I think that without investing untold fortunes and things many of which are probably really placebos, I mean, I think some of things that are going on in this country, in this culture these days not related to schools are more placebo than truly effective counterterrorist devices.

  • 12:37:03

    LEWISBut I think that we can, as Chris has said, I think we can achieve a reasonable level of security without giving up the -- all of these nurturing qualities, these aesthetic benefits, these other goals -- meeting these other goals that we think are worth pursuing. We cannot build a world that's 100 percent risk-free. It can't happen. It never will happen.

  • 12:37:31

    NNAMDIBarbara, thank you very much for your call. Paul, if one is concerned about an intruder, you want to be able to lock down the building. But if your concern is fire safety, you want the kids to get out quickly. How do you reconcile those needs?

  • 12:37:46

    TIMMWell, I mean, there are two different issues, one is a safety issue and fire safety. And remember, I'm in the Chicago area. Fifty-three years ago, Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School burned to the ground and almost 100 people died. And after that, everybody followed the first law of loss prevention, which says effective loss prevention is always preceded by extensive losses.

  • 12:38:06

    TIMMAnd they said, you know, we should probably have like fire codes and fire drills. And parents rose up and said, no, our kids will be traumatized if they hear, you know, an alarm go off in the middle of math and actually have to get out of class and even more, out of the building. But kids have not been traumatized. They've been prepared, and as a result, there's not been one student who has died in a school-related fire incident since time in all of America.

  • 12:38:31

    TIMMAnd so what we're doing with lockdown is we're saying there is a security issue. It's not a safety issue. There's a security issue, and we need to be able to put people into safe havens, which is nothing more than a room that has a door that locks, and it provides delay for the bad guy getting in and find a way that worked really well. In Newtown, the carnage could've been a whole lot worse had not teachers followed lockdown procedures. Without a bona fide announcement, they follow lockdown procedures. So if we're doing those kinds of things, all we're doing is reducing risk.

  • 12:39:02

    NNAMDIHere is Jay in Washington, D.C. Jay, your turn.

  • 12:39:06

    JAYHey. Thanks, Kojo. I just want to make a quick comment. I've been a contractor with DCPS for a couple of years now, and first, I'd like to see Wilson High School looks absolutely amazing, great job. However, the design can only be as effective as the people that are running the buildings. And what I mean by that is I walked into Wilson High School numerous times without so much as anyone looking at me or giving me a second glance or asking me for a security or where I'm going or anything.

  • 12:39:40

    JAYSo at this point, I guess the point I'm trying to make is it doesn't matter about the design. It's about the people that are running these places. Same thing in Hardy when I've been there, I just walked right in, and you have to actually search for a desk to sign in. And that's where I think the problem lies, not so much in the design but in the people that are running them.

  • 12:40:00

    NNAMDIUnfortunately, our current conversation is focusing on design, and we're talking with architects. So I don't know the extent to which they can speak to the vigilance of the individuals who happen to be either running the school or participating in the oversight of the kids who happen to go to that school. Know anything about that at all, Chris?

  • 12:40:19

    GRAAEWell, you know, we obviously want to provide them with the best tools that we can, but absolutely right. If they're not using them properly...

  • 12:40:26

    NNAMDIYeah. Roger talked earlier about cameras and really not knowing whether anybody was really watching them at all.

  • 12:40:29

    GRAAEYeah. That wasn't -- that hasn't been my past experience at Wilson, but perhaps you walked in at an unfortunate moment. But absolutely. There should be somebody at the front end. It should be staffed properly. You should be tested as to why you're there and sign in and go through the system. Absolutely. It's useless if you don't enforce it.

  • 12:40:50

    LEWISYeah, Jay's point is -- again, applies across the board in any facility. The people who run and manage these facilities, buildings, whatever they are, if they're not diligent, you're, you know, all bets are off.

  • 12:41:06

    GRAAEOne thing we did at Wilson, by the way, was it used to have three entrances, believe it or not, and we consolidated it into one. That seems like a pretty basic observation. But when you have three points of entrance and exit and you have to monitor those, you got three times the risk and the problem. So we consolidated it down into one and presumably made it easier to operationally administer, you know, entering and exiting the building. But...

  • 12:41:33

    LEWISBy the way, going back to Barbara's point about...

  • 12:41:35


  • 12:41:35

    LEWIS...getting out, having a way to get out other than through the halls, as I recollect when we did the Matawan Middle School, there was -- every classroom and the windows, one of the sash, one of the window openings could be opened -- I mean, one of the window panels, I should say. And that was an alternative means of egress if -- in an emergency. And that -- I don't know if that -- under the -- I haven't designed a school in D.C. Is that called for under the...

  • 12:42:07

    GRAAENo, it's not. I mean, it's not. It depends on the age group, but at Wilson, I mean, obviously you got a four-story building. So, you know, you could do that at the first floor, but not...

  • 12:42:16

    NNAMDIPaul Timm, Roger mentioned this a little earlier, but I'd like to hear you talk about how landscaping and exterior features can improve the security of a building.

  • 12:42:25

    TIMMYes, and I'm right with Roger on that. In fact, I would put landscaping and exterior lighting sort of in the same category. And from a CPTED standpoint, it just helps with natural surveillance. If we have good exterior lighting in three areas -- 'cause you can't light up everything perfectly. That's just the bottom line.

  • 12:42:44

    TIMMBut we want to have good exterior lighting in parking lots, at entrances and in walkways. And that's the same place that we want to follow landscape design rules for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, which basically says we're not going to plant shrubbery that's going to be more than about 24 inches tall because it could conceal somebody.

  • 12:43:04

    TIMMAnd as I go to a parking lot or on a walkway or near an entrance, somebody could be on top of me before I know what was happening. CPTED also says all tree limbs should be cleared at least 6 or 7 feet high to promote natural surveillance. So I'm right with Roger. Those two areas, you know, we can plant shrubbery that is anything, you know, with -- as long as it's got the word miniature in front of it in those three areas.

  • 12:43:28

    NNAMDIOK. We got to take a short break. When we come back, if you've called, stay on the line. The number is 800-433-8850. If you would like to call, where's the happy medium between a school that's as secure as possible and one that's an inviting place to teach and learn in your view? 800-433-8850, or send email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:45:52

    NNAMDIWe're talking about designing secure schools, and joining us by phone is Paul Timm. He's the president of RETA Security. He's a physical security professional. In studio is Chris Graae, principal at Cox Graae and Spack Architects, and Roger Lewis, architect and columnist, writing the "Shaping the City" column for The Washington Post and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park.

  • 12:46:15

    NNAMDIRoger, it's one thing to talk about designing buildings today, but a lot of the school buildings around the country are, well, quite old and do not need a lot of the modern standards for design of schools today. How does one retrofit and renovate those schools? Of course Chris just had that experience himself over at Wilson High School.

  • 12:46:34

    LEWISYeah. I think Chris can really speak to that. It's -- I think for most school districts, the first challenge is financial. You know, how to retrofit, to come back and upgrade a school that's 60, 70, 80 years old is very expensive. It's disruptive. I mean, that's the biggest challenge, I would say. If we had a bunch of school superintendent -- system superintendents here, they would immediately start talking about the fiscal challenge.

  • 12:47:03

    NNAMDII know they would. Chris?

  • 12:47:04

    GRAAEWell, the interesting thing is they don't even have to be that old. Take Wilson High School that we just completed.

  • 12:47:11

    NNAMDI55th Street Northeast?

  • 12:47:12

    GRAAERight. That used to be a, I believe, a six-story school back in the '70s, in the Brutalist period. People couldn't envision schools working that way, with elevators and stairs and multi-levels. It was not a conducive environment at all. And so we replaced that with a very contemporary -- in fact, it was decided that it wasn't worth saving, and it was taken down and replaced with a brand-new, you know, 21st century school.

  • 12:47:41

    GRAAEBut Wilson's the other spectrum, a landmark historic building that we could not take down, which was protected, and we had to find creative ways to bring it back into full function in 21st century standards and yet weave new construction and new design into multiple buildings. And that's the other thing I would say about a campus like Wilson that's very -- that somewhat is maybe perhaps more unique to public schools than private or independent schools, is most of the public schools are fairly compact, and they have a pretty securable perimeter, if you will.

  • 12:48:16

    GRAAEWilson is a series of four, five buildings connected by walkways and other elements, and it relies on a secure perimeter that connects to the buildings that are each connected. So there is effectively some overall perimeter security, but it's a real challenge to try to bring those older buildings into today's standard.

  • 12:48:37


  • 12:48:38

    LEWISOne of the challenges for -- at elementary schools, a lot of elementary schools in the United States, including where I grew up in Houston, are designed not as buildings like we see in D.C., which are large three -- two- or three- or four-story brick buildings that are essentially one structure or maybe a structure with an addition, a lot of schools were designed as little, mini villages where there are a number of buildings connected off by breezeways or passages.

  • 12:49:11

    LEWISThey have a -- which means they have a tremendous amount of perimeter area. I mean, they're particularly difficult to secure because of the multiple buildings or -- it's essentially a series of pavilions. I mean, that's very common. The kindergarten might be sitting over here, and then you have one -- grades one and two in a couple of buildings here. Those are real challenges. The other thing we should remember is schools are used for things other than just teaching the kids.

  • 12:49:40

    LEWISWe should probably talk a little bit about the fact that schools are used for many civic purposes, meetings in the evenings of groups, not just the PTA. So that's another dimension, another challenge for the architects designing schools. They're designing not only a place for education but also a place that serves as a kind of civic town hall.

  • 12:50:02

    NNAMDIAnd, Paul Timm, when you say Chicago, I think of a lot of old school buildings.

  • 12:50:07

    TIMMNo doubt about it. And I think good points are being brought up here. Let me just speak to a couple of them. First of all, situations are challenging. There is no doubt about it. And that's why we help point people to things like there is title funding that might come out of your state that can help with these kind of renovations and access control and hardware issues. But I want to go back to what one of the other caller said earlier. A lot of these things are people-driven solutions. So if we've got afterschool or weekend activities, we shouldn't just have a rental form at the school.

  • 12:50:39

    TIMMWe should have some kind of addendum with security and access control procedures, which are telling people, you must park in the west parking lot. You can only enter the building through door 15. Once you're in the building, you only have access to the gym or auditorium. And we say, well, boy, that would only keep the honest people honest, to which I would respond, good, let's start with that 'cause even honest people can step over the line some time in doing these things. Again, I go back to the mantra of we're reducing risks.

  • 12:51:08

    NNAMDIOn to Steve in Burke, Va. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:13

    STEVEGood afternoon, Kojo, interesting discussion. I was involved with the Department of State actually running their security technology division for protecting embassies and consulates overseas. And as your guests will know, I mean, the parallels between, you know, an open inviting atmosphere to do the business of diplomacy, you know, countered with the need to provide security against the threats that are posed are very much something that the State Department's dealt with for a number of years.

  • 12:51:45

    NNAMDIAnd something that's very much in the news right now.

  • 12:51:48

    STEVEExactly. And I think that, you know, as the guests comment, you know, the risks formula, you know, that they talk about lowering risk, you know, involves vulnerabilities, threats, assets and then the countermeasures that you been put into facility security design in order to lower the overall risks. I think that the other parts of the equation are just as important as installing the countermeasures and, you know, looking at the threats that are posed and then developing countermeasures associated to lower the risk.

  • 12:52:23

    STEVEI think, you know, that goes to the larger debate as far as, you know, mental health and, you know, access, you know, parking vehicle, you know, proximity to the buildings. I would guess though that the assets that are being protected are, you know, our nation's youth. And, you know, looking at the recent school shooting, you know, again, it's a congregation of people. And that, you know, any large congregation of people now seems to be the vulnerability having to do with movie theaters, whether it would be movie theaters or schools.

  • 12:52:57

    STEVEAnd you could even guess at what other large congregations of people are available to people that want to do harm. So I would just say that, you know, looking at the State Department's history of what they had to go through with designing embassies and consulates, they're open and inviting. And all of the architectural work that's gone into that, there's quite a lot that can be learned from that. And I would just encourage...

  • 12:53:19

    NNAMDII guess so.

  • 12:53:20

    STEVE...people to look at that.

  • 12:53:21

    NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. And I think, in a way, it's related to this call we're getting from John in Washington, D.C. So, John, go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:32

    JOHNHi. You know, humanitarian organizations have been building schools for women in Afghanistan for quite a long time, so this is not a problem domestically that only we have here. The women schools and the child schools for girls in Afghanistan are still under attack. And the humanitarian organizations and the NGOs has referred to what they call as a security strategy which is really based on four components.

  • 12:53:54

    JOHNMost people today are talking about two components, which are deterrence, and the other one will be protection. Deterrence is a use of a counter threat. Protection is the wall which prevents things from happening to you or causing you harm. But the two other elements are, number one, avoidance which is the -- which is, you know, described by a risk assessment.

  • 12:54:12

    JOHNSome place is dangerous, so you avoid it. You don't go there. And then the last one is acceptance, building acceptance in the local communities. And I think that acceptance portion is part of your strategy is what's not being talked about.

  • 12:54:26

    NNAMDIWell, let's talk about it in this way because, Chris, talk about how the location -- he's talking Afghanistan -- of the school affect security features you design. You just mentioned the new H.D. Woodson High School building on 55th Street in Northeast D.C. How did that differ from the security layout for Wilson High School?

  • 12:54:45

    GRAAEWell, I don't think they differ that much in terms of the equipment and the layout. As I said, they're -- they are two distinctly different buildings in the sense that Woodson is one contained. Although it's divided into three essential parts, it's still one large single building. Wilson is a distribution of several buildings that where, as we said earlier, historic that had to be retained. But I think, you know, the location certainly has something to do with the immediate context that the school is in.

  • 12:55:14

    GRAAEI think it would be fair to say that the Wilson neighborhood environment is different. It has different issues than Woodson's. But I don't think that they really differ much in terms of the way the building was designed, how you enter it and how the perimeter is secured other than that distinct difference, as they say, between one being a single building and the other being multiple buildings.

  • 12:55:38

    NNAMDIRoger, is there a different -- significant difference between designing urban and suburban schools?

  • 12:55:45

    LEWISWell, I'm not sure how to answer that. I think the main difference from the point of view of we who designed them is that suburban schools tend to be more of a campus-like setting, and there is usually -- I know the school I designed out in Charles County is a huge campus. Actually, it's large enough that there's an elementary as well as the middle school. And on the other hand, an urban school might be on a much smaller site of, you know, might be on a site that's an acre or two.

  • 12:56:18

    LEWISAnd you get -- so you get the building type that you end up with is different. But I think the risk measures one would take are not that different. And -- but I have -- and I've designed -- he mentioned the schools in Afghanistan. I designed a couple of schools when I was in the Peace Corps in Tunisia. We didn't -- there was just no discussion even of these kinds of issues. I mean, it just -- it was on the radar screen.

  • 12:56:47

    LEWISIn fact, I remember when I grew up in Houston, what we used to do is practice sheltering against the nuclear -- the threat was a nuclear bomb dropping on the city of Houston, the likelihood of which was close to zero. But we used to have these drills periodically where we go out in the hall and sit down to the -- next to the lockers and put our head between our knees.

  • 12:57:04

    LEWISI mean, it was silly. I don't think any of us were traumatized. That and fire drills, I remember the fire drills. But the -- what was talked about in the early '50s was, what happens if a bomb drops? So, you know, the landscape changes from decade to decade. I think we'll continue designing urban and suburban schools intelligently and -- but we're never going to completely eliminate -- 100 percent eliminate risks.

  • 12:57:32

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Roger Lewis is an architect. He is a columnist who writes the "Shaping the City" column for The Washington Post. He is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Roger, always a pleasure.

  • 12:57:47

    LEWISLikewise. Thank you.

  • 12:57:48

    NNAMDIChris Graae is a principal at Cox Graae + Spack Architects. Chris Graae, thank you for joining us. Happy holidays to you.

  • 12:57:53

    GRAAEMy pleasure. Thanks very much.

  • 12:57:55

    NNAMDIPaul Timm is the president of RETA Security. He's a physical security professional. Paul Timm, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:01

    TIMMKojo, excellent job again. Thank you.

  • 12:58:03

    NNAMDIHappy holidays to you. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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