Using Audio to Improve School Security

Monitoring sound is a security option that is frequently overlooked. It not only can improve safety but also support the campus academic mission.

How the Technology Works

The access control solution operates as follows: A visitor comes to the main entrance of the school and presses a button on an intercom. The button sends an alert to the main office computers. This gives the person monitoring the system the ability to speak to the visitor and release the door remotely from their desk, granting the visitor access into the school.

Given the rising number of incidents of violence at schools, MCPS Security Supervisor Douglas Steel said, “There weren’t too many questions about whether or not the access control solution was coming. It was a matter of how quickly could we get it in.”

The solution works as intended and now MCPS and Netcom are primarily finessing details to maximize the solution’s efficiency and user-friendly design. They have focused on tasks like adjusting the size of the pop-up window that appears on the secretary’s screen and enhancing the audio playback between the microphone on the staff’s desks and the intercom. When asked about the audio component of the solution, Steel explained its value.

“I think the audio plays a very important role,” he says. “It allows you to have an open dialogue with the visitor, verify the purpose for their visit and reduces the school’s liability.”

Train Staff on Appropriate Applications

As with many security solutions, there were a few technical issues to resolve because the system was network-based. Through time and greater understanding of the technology, Netcom was able to boost network connectivity by moving the access control board from the school systems headquarters (several miles away) to the individual schools. Now data only had to travel several hundred feet from the main school entrance to the control room.

Another challenge with the access control solution was teaching staff how to use and feel comfortable with the technology.

“Although security is an absolute necessity, it’s not necessarily convenient,” says Steel. “The challenge of integrating new access control technology is that you’re giving additional work to a limited staff and asking them to manage visitor entry.”

Some school employees felt it was their responsibility to determine the visitor’s motives and based on the visitor’s intentions, know whether the visitor should and should not be allowed to enter the school. Steel had to reassure staff that the access control system should not be viewed as a tool to conclude whether or not the visitor is a “good person” or a “bad person.” Instead, the solution should be seen as another layer of access of control that is part of the overall security plan to deter crime. 

In addition to integrating an access control solution at main entrances, MCPS also installed a visitor management tracking system called Easy Lobby in all of the school’s main office computers. Once a guest enters the main office, he or she will scan their driver’s license, which is automatically cross-referenced with Maryland’s sex offender registry. Everyone who leaves the office and wants to enter the main part of the school must sign into the system. 

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