Security Technology Gets Schooled

08/30/2012 | By Michael Fickes

Violence and theft in K-12 schools demand security technology

Violence and theft in K-12 schools demand security technology

Violence and other crime erode the quality of K-12 education. Students who don’t feel safe can’t learn well and teachers who feel threatened don’t teach confidently.

While gun violence doesn’t occur often in schools, it does occur regularly enough to create a security risk that needs attention. Even theft is a growing problem in many schools.

“Laptops, mobile phones, audio players, and tablets are all being stolen in schools,” says Paul Timm, president of RETA Security, Inc., a security consulting firm. “A growing awareness of these problems is leading school boards to approve more requests for security technology funds.”

K-12 administrators have begun to fight back against violence with technology such as electronic access control, video cameras, communications systems, metal detectors, and X-ray machines.

Access Control
Timm recommends using electronic access control systems to schedule when faculty and staff can card into the building. He also suggests securing the janitorial supply closets, the boiler room, or any areas that aren’t regularly monitored.

Electronic access control systems record who enters a door at what time, including who tries to enter but doesn’t get in. Timm suggests auditing the records periodically, following up on card attempts refused by the system.

Visitor management is another access control option. Such systems check credentials, snap photos of visitors, print badges, and log visitors in and out. Timm urges clients to pair visitor management technology with a credential exchange: the visitor exchanges his or her driver’s license for a lanyard that holds a visitor pass.

“Administrators, faculty, staff, and all but the youngest students should wear ID lanyards,” he says. “Color-code the lanyards too. Assign different colors to visitors, students, faculty, and administrators.”

Video Cameras
“Use cameras to support access control systems by covering the main entrances from inside the building,” Timm says. “This way you’ll get a time and date stamp for everyone coming in.”

After the entrances, cover interior trouble spots, adds Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit organization that consults on school and campus safety.

“For one client, we set up a mapping system and asked students to go online to a map site and place different colored dots at locations where they had seen fighting, bullying, stealing, and other bad behaviors,” Dorn says. “Students also noted the times of day the problems occurred. The school installed cameras at the trouble spots and assigned teachers to patrol those areas at the worst times of day. Those steps produced a 50% reduction in recorded incidents.”

Communications Technology
Security requires effective communications. Today’s K-12 schools need outside public address systems to complement inside systems, mass notification options, and two-way radios.

Outdoor public address capabilities make it possible to direct students and faculty in outside classes or other activities to go inside in an emergency.

Many schools now use web-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) mass notification systems to blast emails, text messages, and phone calls to those enrolled. While the public address systems will notify people on campus, mass notification technology can keep parents, district officials, or other interested off-site parties up-to-date.

Two-way radios complete the communications package. “When teachers go outside with students, they should take a two-way radio,” Timm says.  “In an emergency, you don’t have to dial – you just press a button to talk with others on campus with radios, including security officers.”

Metal Detectors and X-Ray Machines
There is nothing worse than deadly weapons – guns and knives – in a school. While many schools don’t need weapon detection technology, weapons may be a daily problem for some.

“We have school clients with security similar to airports: metal detectors, X-ray machines, and alarms on every door,” says Dorn.

In other schools, Dorn recommends random metal detection screening. Instead of screening students as they arrive, security officers show up at randomly selected classrooms and wand the students in class.

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure, and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies, and technologies.

People and Security Technology
People rank as the most important part of a school security technology system because they monitor video, send out mass notifications, and operate metal detectors and X-ray machines.

Schools need competent security professionals that can handle security technology properly and train others.

“While assessing security at one school, I watched a man screening students with a metal detector wand,” Dorn says. “The wand never made a sound – the battery was dead. He had no training. You have to operate the equipment properly and follow up on alarms. You can’t do that without training.”

Auditing access control systems and monitoring video also requires training. Vendors provide training videos, continues Dorn, which allows trained staff and teachers to support school security officers. Teachers, for instance, can take turns monitoring video, just like they help monitor the halls and the cafeteria.

With proper training and staff support, security technology can help make schools safer for students and teachers.

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