How Security Technology Can Improve School Response to Emergencies

Security technology, such as gunshot detection, and training can help schools comply with Alyssa’s Law as well as mitigate risk.

How Security Technology Can Improve School Response to Emergencies

(Photo: Brocreative, Adobe Stock)

While students are in school, it is up to the administration, staff, school resource officers, and building facility managers to help create a safe and conducive learning environment. In order to do that, many schools are turning to security technology as a way to help prevent, intervene, better respond to and protect students and staff from acts that may risk their safety.

The range of technologies available – wireless sensors, video surveillance. automated notification, and gunshot detection, among others – make it crucial for K-12 campus officials to understand and implement the right components to be better prepared. In a situation where seconds matter, having a unified, smart, and customized approach to a school’s security may help better mitigate risk and protect lives.

Start by Establishing a Baseline

Enhancing safety protocols and procedures starts with an understanding of where a school can improve. Schools need to assess their existing infrastructure to understand which technologies may need to be added or updated. Is there currently an emergency notification system in place? How about video surveillance? When was the access control system last updated? Are there panic buttons in the classrooms?

In February 2019, New Jersey enacted Alyssa’s Law, which requires all public primary and secondary schools to install “panic buttons” throughout their facilities that silently and directly notify law enforcement of a potentially life-threatening situation. Both Florida and New York have followed suit, and federal legislation – the ALYSSA Act – is currently making its way through Congress.

Automated gunshot detection technology is not designed to supersede Alyssa’s Law, but rather to augment its compliance. If desired, a system can include pendants for teachers and staff to wear – as a backup to gunshot detection – that can set the automated response sequence into motion with just the touch of a button. This enables staff to act upon first observing an intruder, even before shots are fired.

Automated Response Sends Data Directly to the Police

Gunshot detection and response capabilities have evolved to become more accurate and to quickly provide an automated solution to alert first responders about an incident. If a shot is fired, a detection system triggers an automatic response sequence. Wireless sensors placed in unobtrusive locations throughout the facility analyze seismic wave forms and energy levels of the blast to pinpoint the shooter’s location and identify the type of weapon and ammunition used. Once pinpointed, the sensors can activate cameras in the area and superimpose those pictures onto an image of the school grounds and floorplan of the building.

A message would be dispatched directly to local law enforcement that provides critical details like the shooter’s exact location and their movements. The sensors can also activate the building’s mass notification system to instruct staff and students to take appropriate action, as well as transmit email and texts. The system’s open software architecture enables it to integrate with an existing surveillance system, if available, and pull live video from onsite security cameras.

The system can also notify parents, alerting them to the situation and sharing pertinent information. The sensors can also be integrated into the facility’s access control system, which enables lockdown protocol to be initiated automatically from a dispatch location, effectively locking or unlocking doors, depending on what the situation requires.

School Security Technology and Training Work Together

While a gunshot detection system automates the notification process, a school’s response plan should also include active shooter response training, otherwise known as ALICE – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. ALICE empowers teachers, staff and students to make decisions on how to react should an incident occur.

The training is based on the logic that if teachers and staff can get students out of the building safely, they should; if the danger is too close to allow evacuation, they should lock down and hide; and if an intruder enters the room, they are taught to fight. With a detection/response solution in place, ALICE-trained teachers and staff can get more information to help them make the best ‘run, hide or fight’ decision.

While automated gun detection systems plus ALICE training can cost more than minimal compliance with Alyssa’s Law, there is funding available to help. In March 2021, Congress allocated $1.9 trillion under the American Rescue Plan Act, available through Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief (ESSER) grants. While 20% of an ARP ESSER III grant must be used toward recovery from COVID-induced “learning loss,” districts are authorized to use the remainder to enhance school security or otherwise improve infrastructure. In addition, the Department of Justice funds Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants that can be used to fund gunshot detection and response systems.

While all U.S. schools may soon be required to comply with Alyssa’s Law, they should consider a complementary technology solution that does more to minimize response time and help law enforcement pinpoint a shooter’s location. With the ability to alert first responders in four seconds – versus the average 2½ to 3 minutes it takes to manually call 911 – it can help mitigate risk and protect lives.

Bruce Montgomery is Commercial Security Vertical Market Manager for Honeywell Building Technologies.

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