For a metal detection program to be successful, there must be enough personnel conducting the bag checks. Security staff also must be properly trained on the equipment, and the policies and procedures supporting the technology. Photo courtesy Garrett.
Metal detection is one important aspect of an effective strategy to keep campuses safe. The following best practices will help you make the most of your detection efforts.
Random Searches Often Effective
Although it seems logical that everyone entering a campus should be screened for weapons, when these checks are conducted regularly and at the same location, K-12 students in particular often find ways to circumvent the process. It is for this reason Mike Dorn, executive director for Safe Havens International, recommends the random deployment of metal detectors.
"Students can't know they are about to be checked," he says. "Also, I've seen districts on random days check everyone at the door. But if a violator has the chance to dump a weapon because they know they are about to be searched, it's not as effective a deterrent because all they've lost is their knife. The next day, they'll bring another one."
Instead, Dorn suggests schools randomly draw classroom numbers and search every student in the selected classroom. This approach provides an element of surprise, which discourages students from bringing weapons to school.
Special events, such as concerts, graduations and athletic events, are also good venues for random checks. Dorn recommends using an alternating sequence of random detection.
"For example, use a system of numbers like three, seven, four and nine," he says. "You check every third person until you've checked three people, and then you go to the next number. You check every seventh person until you've checked seven." Repeat the process with four and nine.
According to Dorn, this approach keeps the line moving while preventing individuals from changing places in line to avoid being screened. When paired with purse hand searches, this method works well to combat common criminal activity.
High risk areas may benefit from two checkpoints. The first screens everyone, and the second is a surprise screening that could either be random or involve everyone.
Policies, Personnel Support Detection Efforts
All of these approaches to weapons screening, however, won't be as effective if there aren't enough officers operating the equipment and doing bag checks. Proper training, which often is offered free by metal detection vendors, also ensures the detectors will be used correctly.
Good campus access control is another practice that helps counter the ways a weapons violator might try to beat a detection station. "Otherwise, I might just go through your check point, go into a restroom, open the window and have someone hand me the gun," explains Dorn.
Security of the checkpoint should also be considered. The gunman responsible for the 2005 Red Lake School shooting, for example, shot the unarmed security guard operating the school's metal detector before shooting his intended targets -- students. To counter this threat, a campus might deploy a roaming armed officer.
Officers must also be trained to use their eyes, ears and common sense to detect weapons. An officer should be trained to notice things like the sag of a jacket and the outline of a weapon, which might indicate a person is carrying a knife or gun. Simple visual screening methods, as well as the approaches described above will do much to prevent weapons assaults.