Schools need to be prepared for the everyday events that cause problems and put a strain on tight budgets
School administrators are now choosing products that make the biggest, long-term impact on campus security

Well-publicised events such as the U.S. school shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook lead to an increased demand of security equipment to protect kindergarten through 12th grade (primary/secondary) education campuses. But do they also result in buying decisions made on impulse that don’t necessarily meet a school’s most pressing security needs?

Increase in demand for security systems

In the immediate aftermath of the December 2012 Sandy hook massacre, for example, many security manufacturers saw significant interest in their solutions. Through 2014, that momentum slowed somewhat as school administrators became more deliberative in their selections, choosing products that made the biggest, long-term impact on campus security, says John Mosebar, Vice President, Marketing, Aiphone Corp.

Planning cost-effective school security

“Mass shootings put public pressure on school officials to act quickly to deter active shooters on their campuses,” says school security consultant Paul Timm, president of RETA Security. But in reality, these shootings are still relatively rare. Schools need to be prepared for the everyday events that cause problems and put a strain on tight budgets, he says. Those events include burglary, vandalism, gangs and drug sales. Electronic security products can help reduce these incidents.

“There’s always value to increased awareness,” says Timm. “Sometimes there’s a kneejerk reaction – let’s install bulletproof glass – but wouldn’t we rather have some improvement in safety measures than no improvement? Hardly ever it is a totally wasted expenditure, but we’re trying to educate people to have a holistic, balanced approach.” That’s where professional integrators and risk assessments play an important role.

“Here’s what I tell schools,” says Timm. “I’m not focused on the active shooter. I want to help you with the emergency of an active shooter, but don’t forget your environmental emergency plans (such as tornadoes). We’re always more concerned about what puts people in danger, such as lack of access control, which is relevant to an active shooter, or domestic violence or a mentally ill person. I think there’s an overemphasis on active shooter.”

Preparing for a security breach

Timm compares being prepared for a security breach to the importance of holding fire drills in the school environment. The dangers of fire in educational environments first became top-of-mind some 54 years ago after fire broke out in the Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School in Chicago, Ill. A total of 92 pupils and three nuns could not escape and died from smoke, heat, fire and toxic gases. As a result of the tragedy, today every school does fire drills and has fire systems. "We prepared the kids,” says Timm. “We should prepare people for acts of violence, just as we prepare them for fires or weather emergencies. There's too much violence to say we shouldn't run some drills."

Integrating surveillance with
access control and intrusion
systems in combination with
physical deterrents such as
laminate on windows and
bulletproof mantraps as well
as rigorous personnel training
drastically improves the likelihood
of a positive outcome stemming
from an incident

Employing various security technologies for a safe educational environment

School shootings are devastating to the students, faculty and community, says Bruce Montgomery, Business Development Manager, Honeywell. “I would hope it wouldn’t take an awful incident to prompt administrators to make improvements,” he comments. “That said, many schools have benefitted from taking more precautions, as there unfortunately still are many schools lacking adequate security. Many schools, for instance, have installed surveillance cameras for security purposes. But cameras alone aren’t enough to prevent an incident. Integrating surveillance with access control and intrusion systems in combination with physical deterrents such as laminate on windows and bulletproof mantraps as well as rigorous personnel training drastically improves the likelihood of a positive outcome stemming from an incident.

Anytime there is a school tragedy, the security and safety of the facility gets plenty of attention, says Andrew Schonzeit, CEO of Idesco, a security integrator. “I think when something happens, facilities become reactionary to what they believe they need to make them more secure, or feel more secure,” he says. ”Schools might implement their own internal lockdown drills and then, after a few weeks, there is a return to a sense of normalcy.” Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy to gain awareness, but that should not be, says Schonzeit. Primary/secondary education facilities should have a revolving three-year security plan that involves assessments, costs and a schedule for implementation, he says.

“With each of these events comes the realisation that an incident can happen anywhere,” says Sean McGrath, vice president of marketing and business development, ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions. “So in that sense, they are a wake-up call and spur quick action from schools that have put off security reviews. In this rush to action, some administrators make the mistake of not considering a holistic approach to security. They may install a few new products without first completing an audit of their facility and carefully researching all available options.” That’s a mistake.

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Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

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