It’s an unfortunate reality that those who design public spaces—particularly schools—have to take into consideration the possibility of a violent attack. The recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which claimed the lives of 17 people on February 14, once again reminded the
nation of the terrifying reality that mass murders on school grounds continue.
What’s comforting in the midst of this national crisis is that recent studies show
schools as a whole are safer than they were two decades ago. However, this
doesn’t mean designers in the education sectors nor school administration should
consider mass shootings as an unlikely scenario where they work or live.
Sean Ahrens, security market group leader for Affiliated Engineering
Incorporated (AEI), said, “Regrettably, in this day and age, [those who don’t think it
could happen to them] are the weakest neighbors. When you think of an aggressor,
[they think in] the path of least resistance. Are they going to go to the most hard-
ened facility or are they going to go to the facility that’s easiest to get into?”
Interior designers are often well versed in the ways in which the spaces
they create are not only aesthetically appealing but also operationally beneficial
to the end user. Whether designing a school from scratch or redesigning an
existing facility, what can interior designers and architects do to create safer
environments that are equipped for the unimaginable?
i+s interviewed both Ahrens and Julia McFadden, AIA—associate principal at
Svigals + Partners who recently designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary
in Newtown, Conn.—to get their advice on how to leverage design and technology to create safer schools.
For the purpose of this article, it should be noted that the aggressor is an
individual whose objective it is to kill as many people as possible with disregard
to whom the victims are rather than someone who goes to the school with
an intended victim in mind. While both are certainly possible—the latter more
so than the former—and some tips can be useful for any sort of aggression,
there are many different sociological and behavioral aspects to consider when
discussing the two types of school shootings.
It’s not always possible or in the budget, but both Ahrens and McFadden
suggest bringing in a security consultant before planning gets underway.
Security experts can help the team to evaluate how to distribute assets and
budgets to create a safer environment from the get-go rather than try to fill
in any shortcomings after the fact. Ahrens explained that oftentimes when
he gets involved, the design is already completed, leading to less cost-efficient safety solutions.
McFadden explained, “Working with [security] experts can help architects
and interior designers plan for cost-effective and creative solutions that not only
make schools safer but also create a nurturing, inspirational school environment.
That’s always the main goal for K- 12 and university settings.”
It’s uncomfortable, but thinking like a school shooter can help determine
areas that need more security, Ahrens said. “Put yourself in the mind of an
aggressor and identify how you would circumvent the architectural program
that you’ve put in place.”
Consider if you were anxious with adrenaline while trying to get to as
many people at once as possible. What path would you take? Are there
18 interiors+sources april2018 interiorsandsources.com
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By Kadie Yale Photography by Robert Benson, courtesy Svigals+Partners
A NATIONAL CRISIS
Tragically, school shootings have become a regular occurrence in the United States. Experts in
education design are revamping their approach as occupant safety has become paramount.
The new Newtown
designed to deter