Experts Tell How to Best Protect Our Schools

These electronic security specialists discuss blending technology and personnel to properly secure a K-12 campus.

In the wake of December’s horrendous shooting incident in Newtown, Conn., I spoke with several experts in K-12 security, and some of the conversation is picked up here.

Are the best safety solutions for K-12 schools people, security systems or both?

Dan Budinoff (Security Specialists): There is no question that there must be a blend of people and technology. School staffs must be well educated as to proper security procedures for allowing access to outsiders, and what their roles are in the event of an attack. Technology can be a great tool when used effectively in combination with staff training.

Aaron Alexander (Security 101): Both. It starts with the employees and students noticing anything out of the ordinary and reporting it. You can’t stop a nut with a gun, but you can try to prevent it as much as possible.

Matthew Ladd: (The Protection Bureau): Both. Electronic systems enhance the ability for onsite security. Systems like CCTV or access control allow the onsite security personnel to see and control multiple areas at once.

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Berkly Trumbo (Siemens Industry Inc.): I believe that an all-hazards approach makes the most sense using a combination of people, processes and systems. By deploying scalable technologies, which can leverage the existing IT infrastructure, creating response plans and protocols from best practices and training people in order to elevate our effectiveness in dealing with crises, we should achieve a safer environment while maintaining a comfortable atmosphere for learning.

Jim Gingo (TransTech Systems): A combination of both is essential for maximum effect. In the identification field, we refer to “multilevel authentication,” meaning one security feature is great, but adding one or more additional features has a more than one-to-one improved level of protection and validation.

Eric Yunag (Dakota Security Systems): The best safety solution will be from a combination of both. Continuous training on the operation of a system in conjunction with regular drills simulating emergency situations will produce the best results.

Shandon Harbour (SDA Security): Beyond putting our children in a prison-like setting, I think the question becomes at what cost? Putting an armed guard on the school campuses is not something I would support as a parent. I don’t feel that in the wake of a school shooting the answer is to arm the teachers or staff with and put more guns on the school campuses.

What are the top three challenges working with K-12 schools, and how do you deal with them?

Yunag: First is funding, the current availability and uncertainty moving forward. The predisposition to select the cheapest solution. And there are many older facilities that present installation difficulties.

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Harbour: The single most important factor on school campuses is the prudence and security efforts of the staff. When an event occurs there is heightened awareness, but as the perceived threat diminishes so does the caution. Plus teachers tire from having to be the security in addition to the curriculum instruction. Security on campuses typically falls under the vice principal. This individual is also tasked with children with delinquent behaviors and a whole host of issues. They do not have the ability to sit in a room and monitor video cameras. They can check for something that already happened, but having the ability to sit and watch is difficult because their days are filled with students, parents, assemblies, etc.

Ladd: Budgeting is always the toughest one. Where do they get the money? And then bidding. Often these projects are bid work, and the low bidder, which is not always the best bidder, gets the work.

Alexander: There’s nothing we can do about the budgets. Another issue is competition. I am talking about other companies that are exploiting the recent shooting by trying to sell anything they can, regardless if it is the correct solution. We just need to educate these customers.

Budinoff: Getting in the door to decision makers is a challenge. More specifically, building a relationship with district decision makers. And then working effectively in a competitive bid environment.

Trumbo: The age of the children makes every consideration a delicate one. Many of the schools are public and are restricted in what they can purchase and how they go about deploying it. Finally, each school or district is unique. They share common problems, but differ widely in size, age, footprint and needs.

Gingo: In addition to some of what has already been mentioned, privacy advocates who continually and publicly raise objections to most if not all potential solutions.

Are there any services, systems/solutions and/or practices that are being discussed but you believe are unrealistic for implementation at K-12 schools and/or districts to enhance safety?

Budinoff: There has been some discussion regarding implementing “man traps” at entry portals. While a man trap would work well in a correctional facility or locations that house items of great value, it’s impractical to utilize them in an educational environment due to the high throughput required and the restrictiveness to free egress. Additionally, schools typically have a large number of entry points, which would make the cost prohibitive.

Yunag: We have heard some suggesting full perimeter security with a guard shack controlling entrance to school facilities. This does not seem practical given the varying nature of the school facilities around the country and the traffic flow for drop-off and pickup times.

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Gingo: The issues here are so tangled with both facts and emotions I’m not sure there are or will ever be definitive answers. I was on a committee meeting at SIA the other day and, while they want to take up the issue of school safety, they think that gun control issues are not appropriate subject matter for the association, even though all government agencies that are now trying to deal with school security and the media would agree it is the No. 1 aspect getting all the attention right now! Head in the sand? Perhaps, but it points out the difficulty in achieving true improvements and results to me.

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This article originally ran in Security Sales & Integration magazine. Scott Goldfine is the editor in chief of that publication.

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