The Bigger Picture of School Security and Safety: Industry Continues to Focus on Facilitating Better Outcome

After disbelief, outrage and grief following the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, the nation began to pick up the pieces. One of the discussions focused on arming teachers and became a politically charged issue, along with gun control and armed officers in schools. However, according to a survey conducted by Gallup in March 2018, only 7 percent of U.S. teachers considered arming staff as a way of preventing future school shootings, and 73 percent were actually opposed to the idea.

With school shootings top of mind in U.S. society now, a wide range of measures are emerging to protect children. Security manufacturers and installation companies are stepping in to help keep kids safe with conferences, active shooter education and other consultative forums designed to bring greater awareness. School districts have increased funding, and many are pursuing grants to afford better situational awareness and install integrated technologies.

The physical security industry, consultative in nature, has continued to take its message to schools and campuses, reiterating the basics: deter, detect, delay and respond. Those in the security industry know it takes a holistic approach to harden premises. It starts from the farthest reaches of the property and begins with gates, manned entrances, lighting and other technological resources such as metal detectors, camera surveillance, intrusion detection, intercoms, emergency communications, access control with lock-down, man-trap doors and attack-resistant openings.

Jim Stankevich, CHPA and business development manager, Security—ACVS, Building Technologies & Solutions, Johnson Controls, Westford, Mass., said integration between systems and technology is key.

“Schools may require access control, wireless locks, cameras, a need to lock down all or part of the building quickly, or a gunshot detection system and at the same time be able to immediately and accurately communicate information within the school to staff and students and to local law enforcement," he said. "Having a way to communicate over the public address system, IP speakers, put messages over desktop PCs, cellphones, the radio system, the IP phone system, outdoor speaker system in the ball fields and track area for one alert to all is possible. You just need a well-planned system and the right technology in place.”

According to Don Erickson, chief executive officer of the Security Industry Association (SIA), Silver Spring, Md., manufacturers and integrators are increasing involvement in school safety, as shown in part by the SIA’s expansion of its Secure Schools Roundtable at GovSummit 2018.

“This year’s roundtable featured leaders from top manufacturers like Allegion along with government leaders from the U.S. Departments of Education, Homeland Security and Department of Justice (DOJ) and academia addressing standards and best practices for school security, the federal response to the school security crisis and more,” Erickson said.

In the SIA’s May 2018 Security Market Index, 29 percent of respondents said improved access control was the most effective security technology or service investment for schools, followed closely by video surveillance (25 percent) and enhanced emergency communication (17 percent). Respondents recommended trying to address students’ challenges before they become dangerous, forming public-private partnerships that include mentoring at-risk youth through faith-based institutions and working with solution providers to develop bespoke solutions for schools and their specific issues and threats.

“Several of SIA’s member companies are stepping up to help address security issues through school outreach, including Convergint Technologies, whose STEP UP initiative works to secure, train, educate and protect underserved K–12 schools across the U.S.; ASSA ABLOY, which conducts free school site assessments and issued a white paper on how to address school security challenges and identify effective lockdown strategies; and Axis Communications, which shares insights on school security in its blog," Erickson said.

Additionally, the SIA and National Systems Contractors Association teamed up to establish the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, which provides school security guidelines for K–12 schools based on expertise from industry as well as the law enforcement and education communities

Funding and grants surge

As school administrators continue to wrestle with improving security measures, new funding is emerging. In June, Burlington County, which is the second largest county in New Jersey, announced plans to allocate $20 million of its capital budget to fund school security upgrades in 21 public high schools, according to NJ.com.

In addition, according to a June press release from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, some 20 schools have been awarded grants through the Wisconsin Department of Justice School Safety Grant Program, which includes shatter-resistant film for school entry areas, updated camera systems, improved notification systems and the addition of ADA- and fire-code-compliant locks and fencing.

“There’s definitely an upswing in funding for total upgrades and improving security,” Stankevich said. “A number of districts that never had security are now putting in base systems, access control, visitor management and cameras. Some are opting for uniformed officers (police or contract security) as a bulk of their spending over technology, and many are mixing technology with uniformed officers. There have been so many incidents in the past few years that it appears many schools are being reactive right now and have not had time to address a well-thought, long-term security plan.”

Erickson said there has been an increase in integrated communications in emergency systems. The signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, also known as the STOP School Violence Act, provides $25 million in grants for school safety technology and equipment, in addition to emergency communications systems and other coordination with law enforcement to enhance response capabilities.

“SIA has long been an advocate of school safety initiatives and applauded the restored funding of school safety grants administered by the DOJ through this law. This grant funding indicates that there’s not just a great need for security improvements in today’s schools – there’s demand for solutions to keep students, faculty and staff safer and more secure,” Erickson said.

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at dlocommunications@gmail.com...

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