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Arson prevention in schools

Guidance on student and arson education and advice to schools.

The Effects and Consequences booklet (PDF) provides guidance on educating young people in schools.

Active prevention measures:

Deter unauthorised entry onto the site

  1. Discourage unauthorised entry onto the site by the use of signs and by delineating the boundary of the premises by use of a robust fence or hedge. This action makes it clear to potential intruders that they are on private property and for neighbours to see clearly that people are within the site boundaries. Consideration should be given to the type of fence or hedge used so that it does not obscure the vision of passers by or neighbours. It may also be necessary to consider security fencing for part of, or the whole site, if unauthorised intrusion is a major problem.
  2. Most trespass and associated vandalism occurs out of school hours and often under cover of darkness. Consequently, good lighting is recommended. Sodium lighting should be used on elevations, which are overlooked. Such lighting is inexpensive to run. In contrast, tungsten halogen lighting which is operated via infra-red motion detector is ideal for elevations that are not overlooked, but such lighting can be expensive to run. Lighting on elevations which are not overlooked or in recesses can attract unwanted visitors or provide intruders with 'working light'. The colour rendering of light sources needs to be considered where CCTV surveillance is in use. Bespoke advice on security lighting can be obtained from the local crime reduction officers.
  3. The presence of school staff living on the site is obviously a strong deterrent to potential intruders. Where this is not feasible, then roving patrols by either commercial or local authority security teams can be effective. Such patrols should be random in order to avoid a recognised pattern. If such a service is used, close liaison with the police is recommended.

Prevent unauthorised entry into the building

  1. Deep recesses and alcoves are particularly vulnerable. Ideally, building alterations should be undertaken to eliminate these features. Failing that, point lighting should be used.
  2. The weakest points of entry into the building are, of course, the doors and windows. The numbers of doors and windows, particularly those out of view from the public, should be kept to a minimum. Clearly the means of escape should never be compromised and the Fire Service should always be consulted prior to any changes being made.
  3. All external doors and windows should be fitted with approved locks (Thief Resistant Locks BS 3621:1980) and secured immediately the building is vacated. The local crime prevention officer would be pleased to advise on this subject.
  4. Door frame construction should be of good quality, with solid core doors without lower panels which may be easily forced. The hinges and frames should be reinforced to deter removal. Where letterboxes are fitted they should be fitted with metal enclosures on the inside to prevent damage arising from the introduction of burning materials.
  5. Break-ins via roof lights should be prevented by fitting grills or bars within the inside of the frame.
  6. Low level glazing should be avoided both on security and safety grounds. If this is not possible it should be laminated or toughened, and securely fixed within the frame.
  7. Intruder alarms should where possible be connected to a call monitoring centre.
    Where the coverage of the alarm has to be limited, areas of high value should be alarmed. Consideration should be given to alarming areas such as corridors where intruders might be detected moving between rooms.
  8. Schools should foster relationships with neighbours who are able to observe out-of hours activity on the premises. In addition, the school should become involved in local ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ schemes, or develop their own 'School Watch' in conjunction with the local police.
  9. The installation of CCTV has a high deterrent effect. CCTV systems which are not monitored have limited value, as the wide-angle lenses used to get the required coverage do not provide recordings of evidential quality. Some joint arrangements for monitoring CCTV pictures between schools and local Councils who operate a CCTV system have proved valuable in spreading the costs. The subsequent reduction in vandalism has proved such schemes to be cost effective, despite the initial high capital outlay. Specialist advice should always be sought before installation of CCTV is considered.
  10. With the use of school buildings outside normal school hours and the opening the premises to a wider public, it is imperative that access to other parts of the school is limited. A routine should be adopted by nominated person to check that all external doors and windows have been locked once the school is vacated at the end of the day. It is important that the means of escape are not compromised when deciding which areas to secure whilst the premises are occupied, and important also that the local Fire Safety Officer is consulted.

Reduce the opportunity for an offender to start a fire

  1. Refuse containers should be ideally placed in a secure compound or alternatively secured by a padlock and chain to a post sited no less than 8 metres from the building to prevent them being moved against the building.
  2. Many schools are involved in re-cycling or fund-raising initiatives where newspapers, clothing and other materials are collected. Recycling bins should be located at least 8 metres from the building in secure compounds, and collections made regularly to avoid a build up.
  3. Sheds and other storage facilities for sports and play equipment should be sited at least 8 metres away from the main building. This will avoid fire spread from such buildings involving the whole school.
  4. Similar precautions should be taken with heating oil, natural gas and liquid petroleum gas installations. In particular the vulnerable parts of these systems, such as the pipework and meters, should be secured and protected to avoid them from being vandalised and used as a ready supply of fuel. Bund walls should be provided around fuel tanks to ensure spillages are contained.
  5. 'Skirts' should be fitted at the base of mobile classrooms to prevent combustible materials being placed underneath buildings and ignited.
  6. Waste bins should not be fixed to walls or under roofs constructed of combustible materials, but secured to the ground and away from the school building.

Reduce the scope of potential fire damage

  1. Schools of open plan design are more difficult to protect that those with traditional layouts with separate classrooms. With the latter, the compartmentation (fire-stops in the roof/ceiling voids) is an essential element of the design - even though the classroom construction may not be fire resisting.
  2. During alterations and maintenance, consideration should be given to providing additional fire-break walls or doors to separate the building into compartments. This should include protection of concealed spaces such as roof voids. This needs to be properly designed and carried out with the assistance of professional advice.
  3. The compartmentation may require fire resisting screens and doors across corridors, and the restrictions this may impose can be reduced by installing hold-open devices linked to automatic fire detection. Doors not required to protect means of escape routes may be left open during the day but need to be closed at night as part of the close down routine.
  4. Partition walls need to be inspected regularly. When any maintenance, repair or alteration has been finished, such as installation of pipes/cables through partitions, the gaps around pipework should be made good with fire retardant sealant.
  5. Equipment of high material value, such as audio visual aids, computers and similar laboratory-type equipment, should ideally be located in a secure, separate room where it will be out of sight and better protected in a fire.
  6. Early warning of the outbreak of fire can significantly reduce the losses if early firefighting can be initiated. This ranges from a waste paper bin being extinguished by a member of staff to the alerting of the fire service whilst the premises is unoccupied. An automatic fire detection system, possibly using the same communication system as the intruder alarm, can mean the difference between containing the fire the compartment of origin and the loss of the whole building and contents. To be effective the alarm must give warning off-site.
  7. Sprinkler systems are rare in existing schools but are increasingly being fitted in new school buildings, particularly in those, which have been assessed as high risk.
    Sprinkler systems are best regarded as a combined detection and extinguishing system. They have a proven track record over many years for successfully controlling fires in commercial buildings. The number and distribution of the sprinkler heads is arranged so that they can cover the area protected. This is usually the entire floor area of the school.

Reduce subsequent losses and disruption resulting from fire

  1. Recognition should be given to the provision of the most appropriate form of extinguishing medium. Water is the most effective medium for most fires but inappropriate for fires in electrical equipment.
  2. Members of staff should be adequately trained in fire procedures, including how to summon the Fire Service, building evacuation and the use of fire extinguishers. They should also be aware of the location of high value materials and equipment, particularly school records, which may be irreplaceable, and have knowledge of a salvage plan to recover these items.
  3. In the event of a fire, a service recovery plan will be invaluable. This should be formulated in advance with the assistance of the LEA's Risk Management Group where this exists, or with the Local Education Authority. The service recovery plan, should include:
    • Details of people who can help in an emergency
    • Information on suppliers
    • Inventory information
    • How media enquiries will be handled

Download an Arson in Schools Leaflet (PDF)

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