What are the security challenges for schools and colleges?
As the new school term begins, awareness of security at all levels of educational institutions is higher than ever. Technology plays an important role in protecting educational facilities and their students, faculty, staff and visitors. Specific security challenges drive which technologies and other measures are used, and those challenges are evolving, along with the dynamic institutions security is tasked with protecting. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the security challenges for schools and colleges?
There are three major challenges that transcend the size, location and grade level for all schools and universities. The first is the need for wide area surveillance to adequately cover exterior and interior spaces without violating individuals’ privacy and/or labour agreements. The second is to provide a safe and secure environment impenetrable to intruders, while retaining a fluid environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors to freely navigate the facilities and grounds they need to access. The third is to maintain these security systems and controls in an environment that is open and conducive to learning. New surveillance, access and identification technologies are helping to resolve these issues along with a delicate balance of manpower, but there is no single end-all solution on the horizon. Each educational facility has its own set of nuances and security hotspots that security personnel need to address on a very individualised basis.
This is really a three-pronged answer. First of all, wide open spaces make securing schools with video surveillance cameras difficult since the vast amount of coverage required can be cost-prohibitive. Second, state and federal regulations must be taken into account and balanced with the need to protect student privacy. Finally, schools and colleges face dwindling budgets, which means security solutions must deliver more coverage and functionality, while also being cost-effective to deploy. Panoramic cameras are ideal to address these challenges, as a single 360-degree camera can replace between four and five traditional pan-tilt-zoom cameras, resulting in fewer cameras and more coverage – all at a lower cost for hardware and licensing.
By their very nature, educational establishments are open environments, but at the same time they need to protect young people, staff and property. This often presents specific security issues, needs and challenges. Education establishments need to strike the right balance between not presenting an oppressively closed facility, but at the same time protecting the student and teaching body and controlling visitor access. Generally, this means installing systems which are easy and rapid for authorised people to use, but that repel any potential intruders just as effectively. More often as well these days, security systems are integrated to school management systems which allows them to assist with attendance monitoring and vending/canteen point-of-sale integration. This helps to decrease administrative burdens and can even help to prevent bullying, by replacing the need to carry cash by authorising transactions using secure access control/ID cards instead.
As schools and colleges increasingly become vulnerable targets for threats and attacks, they face the security challenge of maintaining a welcoming and open environment while ensuring the comprehensive safety of the students, teachers and staff. Right now, effective visitor management is a key component of bridging this gap. A geofence must be set up around an educational facility or campus to ensure efficient monitoring of those entering and exiting, and in the event of an emergency, real-time information sharing is critical. Schools and colleges must achieve seamless communication between administrators and first responders by making their existing emergency response protocol real-time and utilizing a truly integrated security system.
Tracking the movement of authorised occupants and controlling access to facilities are primary concerns for the K-12 and higher-education markets. These campuses see a large number of visitors each day and are “soft targets” for crimes ranging from vandalism to terrorism. Monitored security and alarm verification are crucial. The monitoring of panic alarms and the management of the response to those alarms ensure a positive outcome. Universities are unique in that students are more mobile around campus and less likely to keep a structured schedule; therefore, access to buildings and understanding the movement of people around an open campus become much more challenging. The ability to have “eyes on” a situation both within the buildings and outside on-campus is critical. Administrators need to be able to quickly verify conditions when incidents and threats arise — video surveillance with remote access is a valuable asset both to administrators and law enforcement.
A growing security challenge for schools and colleges is protecting campus visitors including contractors, vendors, parents, conference attendees, sports fans and summer campers. If institutions only think about students, faculty and staff, they place visitors at a greater risk and expose the school to negative press. Colleges and universities need to have the ability to communicate directly with visiting groups to provide them the same timely updates and emergency notifications sent to students, faculty, and staff. By utilising a text opt-in to their alert database, visitors can text a keyword to receive alerts temporarily or on an ongoing basis. Communicating with everyone on a college campus increases safety, reduces reputational risk, and expands critical communications to a wider audience.
Schools and colleges share a common challenge: vast open spaces that can be tricky to patrol. One main concern is limited security personnel. Overwhelmingly, there is insufficient security personnel available to cover every required area. To address this challenge, robotic devices are emerging to augment existing security patrols, adding an extra layer of protection and manning the sparse or remote sections of a campus. This also frees up human guards to take on more robust security roles. Another challenge for a university or college campus is overnight patrolling. Security robots can take the place of human guards during these quiet, dark hours, when human interaction is low and alertness difficult to maintain. Large-scale events also provide a challenge for security directors, as manpower is crucial to maintaining coverage of an area surrounding a sporting event, concert or rally. Adding robots to cover some perimeter security can help minimise investment.
Schools and colleges have a variety of security challenges. Typically, they are securing multiple buildings scattered across a campus or a district, with a variety of people using these facilities. The balance between providing high levels of security with a certain level of convenience becomes crucial, especially when considering the large audience schools work with: staff, administrators, students, parents and other organisations that utilise the facilities. In addition, schools are budget-conscious and must use their resources wisely. With all of these challenges combined with the added pressure of current events on schools and campuses; security personnel need systems that are open, flexible and provide rich features and capabilities to function and scale geographically across locations. Open platforms and communities provide this vertical with the flexibility and choice to mix and match the best video management, access control, intrusion and other systems while managing many of them from a single interface.
There is a growing need for all manner of security at our schools and universities, especially those located in urban settings. These large campuses are open to hundreds, even thousands, of members of the public on a daily basis, and they want to increase security while still maintaining an atmosphere of openness. Often, students are employed to police fellow students in entering dorms and other facilities, so having a layer of technology between one student and another is quite effective. Increasingly, universities need to be able to prove to students’ parents that they are committed to providing a safe environment, but they need to do so strategically and affordably. In our business, we supply security entrances for higher education dorms, recreation centres, cafeterias, and other locations. Every year there is a 25% turnover on campus. So, the intuitive nature of security entrances like manual and optical turnstiles is crucial.
Schools today have made security a top priority, both for the good of their students and their staff. With the Clery Act annual October 1 report deadline quickly approaching, it’s become important that schools remain code-compliant to recruit and retain faculty and increase student enrollment. Furthermore, many smaller schools and universities rely on limited staff to cover security, fire and life safety. To meet the challenge of improved security with limited resources, many schools and universities look to technology like emergency communications and remote monitoring services. By reassessing legacy systems and integrating technology in new ways that leverage data analytics, they can help to keep students and staff safe and secure, all while maintaining compliance and maximising their human resources.
There are many complex challenges involved in securing an educational environment: How to protect open campuses without limiting the mobility of students? How to provide secure environments within cost-conscious budgets? The need to balance privacy and protection. How to ensure effective communication, especially in the case of an emergency response? How to verify conditions when an incident or threat arises? Fortunately, as our Expert Panelists note, there are multiple technologies available to help educators meet these challenges – in the current school term and for years to come.