The Pros and Cons of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools
School and university officials must consider both the benefits and the drawbacks of every security investment, like this common entryway solution.
The cost of the initial purchase of a metal detector is only a fraction of the total resources needed to operate it.
If a school has, say, two walkthrough metal detectors side by side at a front entrance, they might need five people to be standing with the equipment. That includes someone in front of the machines telling people what to remove to mitigate false alarms, two bag checkers to search bags and pass them to the other side and then typically someone behind each of the machines with a wand to conduct secondary screening if an alarm goes off when a person walks through the machines.
An armed security officer should also be at the station.
That’s just one staffing option schools can adopt, and different metal detector providers offer different solutions that change staffing needs. Cacioli says schools may use a variety of methods when operating the machines.
“Current challenges include the lack of consistent or cohesive practices among many school locations and security checkpoints,” Cacioli says. “This includes the lack of industry regulations relating to federal or national standards for education customers.”
Cacioli says school officials must take into account basic considerations during the purchasing process including ease of use, getting vendor references and ensuring the machines meet health and safety regulations with regard to human exposure.
Vazquez adds school officials considering cutting corners with staffing or with machines may run into problems like operators letting people they recognize through without a thorough screening and general operator fatigue.
But Vazquez says understaffed security checkpoints are always better than no security checkpoints, particularly if one of the people stationed at the area is a police officer, which Vazquez recommends.
Schools Decide on a Case-by-Case Basis
So should schools use metal detectors? It depends.
There is no cookie-cutter security system that will perfectly secure every campus in America. Officials must assess their vulnerabilities and use their limited resources in a way that best fits their institution’s needs.
“[We] know that while there are general similarities between school needs, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and so we work in strong collaboration with customer requirements and their environments for the best metal detector solution,” Cacioli explains.
There are also a number of considerations we didn’t touch on here, which Hutton says can make metal detector operation a headache for school officials.
“There are considerations like do you have space for people to wait in line to get through?” he says. “There’s got to be at least 3 feet in between people as they go through the metal detectors, and you need to get kids in quickly, so that’s another issue. It may take an hour to get everybody in. You have to explore all of those components because it’s never as simple as it seems.”
You can also check out our experts’ 10 best practices for deploying metal detectors in schools here.
Overall, security solutions must fit the changing campus security landscape.
“Security threats continue to evolve and grow, and so does the need for ongoing state-of-the-art security solutions,” Cacioli says.
Vazquez wishes there was no need for metal detectors in schools but acknowledges that times have changed.
“It’s a sad situation that we have on our hands,” he says. “But with all the threats out there right now, we have a responsibility. We need to defend ourselves and defend those who can’t defend themselves: our kids.”