Hoax sparks UK schools security debate

Threatening emails sent to schools across the country this week resulted in hundreds of students being evacuated, sparking a national police investigation. Although later being dismissed as a hoax, the incident has reinforced the importance of effective perimeter security and controlled access in schools to keep students and staff safe.

Hundreds of schools, from Lewisham, Uxbridge and Feltham in London to Durham and Birmingham, reported receiving “malicious communications” detailing an imminent attack.

One email reportedly demanded cash, stating that if the money was not received a vehicle would be driven into the school around 3:15pm, targeting children leaving the site at the busiest time of day. Some messages also implied an explosive device would be detonated within the grounds; others suggested armed attacks like those seen in the US.

A spokesman for the Met Police in London confirmed the emails were being treated as a hoax and not terrorist-related, while the National Crime Agency has opened an investigation.

With many schools going into lockdown for several hours, the incident raises an important question on the effectiveness of school security, particularly in relation to the rising trend of hostile attacks employing vehicles as weapons.

For schools, effective perimeter security and Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) can present a challenge, as specifiers, designers and head teachers will need to secure whilst avoiding creating a ‘fortress’ aesthetic or disrupting school operations.

Jacksons Fencing is a UK-based perimeter security solutions provider with extensive experience securing schools in an effective yet stylish way; in fact, the company delivers an average of 750 projects to schools and higher education facilities each year. In London’s Northwood School, Jacksons reviewed an initial specification for low-level timber fencing to enclose the school grounds and subsequently designed a bespoke 3m high fence with steel posts in a Hit & Miss style, providing the required level of protection whilst presenting an inviting timber facade.

Effective HVM, however, typically entails more than fencing alone. Strategically placed raised kerbs, bollards, gates and speed bumps can all delay and reduce the speed of a potential attacker’s approach, without impeding pedestrian movement or upsetting the site’s aesthetic.

The most important things to consider when dealing with potential vehicle-borne attacks are:

  • Approach: A long, straight road approaching a gate allows an attacker to build up speed, while bends and traffic calming measures, speed bumps for example, will reduce the risk of a high velocity impact.
  • Environment: Avoid fencing that looks overly imposing such as the use of barbed wire fence toppings. Try to blend any security measures with the surrounding aesthetic. Bollards attract little attention, yet have the potential to stop a vehicle. Crash-rated fences, like the Jacksons Linebacker PNR range which features steel cables concealed within timber sections, would not warrant a second glance but will stop a 7.5 tonne vehicle travelling at 50mph.
  • Quality: Ensure you only specify products that have been tested and certified to a recognised standard and that they are installed correctly and maintained to the manufacturer’s specification.

The effectiveness of the security products specified is crucial to HVM measures for schools; British Standards Institution (BSI) PAS 68 is the UK standard and the security industry’s benchmark for HVM products.

Jacksons offer a range of PAS 68 barriers, fencing and bollards designed specifically to mitigate vehicle-borne attacks and with many certified to be able to stop an HGV travelling at 50mph.

Jacksons Fencing has been designing, manufacturing and installing school security for many years, creating bespoke solutions for the specific needs of every site. As well as offering child-safe timber fencing approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), security fencing and access control products, Jacksons carries out design consultations and site assessments to match security solutions to individual schools’ needs.

For more information about security solutions for the education sector visit our website or contact Jacksons Fencing by email.