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 Pros and Cons of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools

Some argue metal detectors are a strong deterrence while others believe they send the wrong message.

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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.”

About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

13 responses to “The Pros and Cons of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools”

  1. […] have a lot of things to take into account before making the decision to purchase these devices. (read more)   School districts seek to beef up security (New York) – Voters in the […]

  2. If someone said, “what’s the first thing that comes to mind if I say, The Happiest Place on earth”, people will usually respond with, ‘Disney world!’, and if I’m not mistaken, they use Metal Detectors.
    So, if the Happiest Place On Earth can use Metal Detectors, and check all bags that enter their parks, why can’t schools do the same.
    I understand where budget and manpower can come into the discussion, but like your article reads, come up with the money somehow, someway, hold fundraisers or use other creative ways to raise the funds necessary.

  3. What are the options? 1. Do we chance going out in a storm for fear of getting struck by lightning? So risk assessment says odds of a shooting at our school are way too low to beef up security? 2. Do we let teachers arm themselves in defense of themselves and their students and let the public and students know that a percentage of the school is armed and live in the days of the wild, wild west? 3. Metal detectors at entryways? A clever student with intent to harm could easily take out the armed individuals at the entrance and carry on with his/her motives. 4. For those worried about an attack in the unforeseen future just home-school their children? What other options are there? Which is the most logical and least taxing?

  4. Be proactive and install them in every school. Trained security folks too. We have increased security at airports and had zero hi-jacked aircraft since 9/11.
    I think it is a small price to pay to prevent the carnage….

  5. Bitsy says:

    Who cares what people think? Put in metal detectors in all schools. That is, if the parents want their kids to live! You can’t control the guns on the street, but you can control a building or a school. Hello, it’s very simple.

  6. Daaaaang! Thats not fair! We Need better security!

  7. lebron james says:

    i agree bro that rlly sucks like ur skillz

  8. lebron james says:

    daaaaaang thaats not fair we need better security i agree freind

  9. Kyle says:

    Good lord I don’t even know where to start but simply NO! Metal detectors are only ‘hot’ because it’s the popular thing to do. If you were told to jump off a cliff to stop a school shooting I am sure many of you would (great way to reduce global population by the UN) because security experts say that certain kinds of groups are more likely to bring guns to school.

    So anyways the cost of metal detectors (for a cheap crappy one is 4,000$) JUST FOR ONE! out of 10 exits and many more windows. (Which also doubles as a fire escape if the door fails). What will happen when just ONE metal detector breaks down?

    This is not just physical problems but mental ones too creating the image of a jail. Do we REALLY want kids to be comfortable in a jail like environment where everything is strictly controlled? Then they get out in the big wide world and find life is far from it and can’t handle not being in a confined environment?

    Also what about bottle necks? That’s where shootings will occur next like the airport in Europe where a checkpoint was blown up so their answer? Make another checkpoint further away which posts the same issue! Geez why didn’t I think of that! 😛

  10. Kyle says:

    The best security is the invisible kind where you have under covered (armed) cops with concealed carry and you never know where they will exactly be by changing their shift patterns so students intending on shooting it out can’t follow them and figure the weak kinks. Until 9/11 Disneyland never had and still doesn’t need metal detectors they have invisible police. You know those cardboard houses in Toon Town? Chances are they have an undercover officer behind one of them with a secret door only openable from that side.

    Now schools shouldn’t go to the lengths of Disneyland either but the focus should be on people and positive relationships not machines doing the work. Someone at the top should evaluate whether a threat is likely based on other circumstances or just a prank and no further action needed.

    Bad guys NEVER announce their true intentions ahead of time so why listen to fake ones? When a bad guy will bring something to school they are not going to telephone and say “Hi I’m coming in at 9:00 and going to blow up 2nd period in the chemistry lab at Whatever High in RedNeck USA. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaw! Shoves TNT thru the telephone wire which the TNT comes out the receiving end like in Donald Duck cartoons and explodes in your ear. HA HA HA HA Have fun bozos!” Click beep beep beep.

    No they do not do that. Those are just attention seeking brats thinking they are being funny and want a day off of school and know people will lose their minds cause nobody evaluates threats anymore. They just react.

    If we didn’t react always right away the number of false threats would drop sharply once the suspects figure out they are not getting what they want anymore and wind up going to jail with no reaction from the press other then an informative news blurb by the Associate Press.

  11. Al zakir says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Caleb Jurgena says:

    If the argument against metal detectors, and bag searches is truly the issue of funding than that is ridiculous. No expense should be too much when it comes to the safety of students that are forced to go to school in an unsafe environment. Unparalleled amounts of violence are occurring in the terms of mass shootings in America, and the lack of response by the American government as a whole is horrifying. I am in high school, I have worried about going to school due to the never before seen rates of school shootings, and I believe that metal detectors would be a great first step when it comes to the safety of students, however, this does not solve the problem completely.

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