Security in Schools
By Lisa Kopochinski (06/20/2012)

An outside consultant is often key in helping K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions choose the right security system for its campus’s needs.

Even with the vast array of sophisticated safety and security technology on the market for K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions, many security experts still agree there is no substitute for “boots on the ground.” A police officer or other security worker will always deter crime better than a camera.

“The biggest threat to school security is a lack of awareness, the absence of continued vigilance and apathy,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland, Ohio-based pre-K-12 school security and emergency preparedness consulting firm.

He continues, “School leaders can install all of the security equipment they can afford, but equipment must be a supplement to — not a substitute for — a comprehensive security and preparedness program. We often do a much better job today at throwing money at equipment than we do investing money and time in training school staff, students, security and police staff, and others on best practices in school security and emergency preparedness planning.”

Experts also mostly agree the scope and nature of security needs at a college or university greatly differ compared to a K-12 school. Most K-12 schools, for example, are generally self-contained in one building.

“It is easier to ‘lock down’ a single building than a campus, which may have more than 100 buildings of all types: classrooms, lecture halls, residence halls, hospitals, research facilities, nuclear reactors, etc.,” said Paul Verrecchia, president of International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, a West Hartford, Conn.-based organization that promotes public safety for educational institutions by providing resources, advocacy and professional development to more than 1,200 colleges and universities in 20 countries.

“The student population is vastly different,” Verrecchia said. “Colleges and universities host major Division I athletic programs, which can bring more than 100,000 visitors to a campus in the case of a major football program. These events require a high degree of security and planning, from traffic control to parking, and regulating drinking and security for the fans who attend the games.”

Colleges also host lectures and visits by dignitaries and celebrities, which require security arrangements. Recently, colleges and universities have been the site of organized protests by the Occupy movement.

“We are dealing with young adults who have a high degree of freedom and mobility on a college campus,” Verrecchia said. “We believe for the most part these students make the right decisions, but that is not always the case.”

Following the Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, college and university officials recognized they needed professional police departments, he said.

“Today, many colleges and universities have police departments with sworn officers who have the same powers and duties as their municipal and state counterparts,” he said.

With a myriad of security technology available, including physical access control, video surveillance and analytics, mass notification and intrusion detection, school officials face a challenge in figuring out which technology tool, or combination of tools, is right for their campus.

“Simply spending dollars on a ‘widget’ doesn’t solve anything and, in fact, can hurt the security plan long term,” said Michael Anderson, regional manager for iXP Corporation, a Cranbury, N.J.-based consulting firm that works with different business sectors in developing and providing security environments.

“You have to start with a vision and follow a process to identify what your needs and goals are and then identify what systems can move you toward achieving the safe campus,” Anderson said. “The best person to help the leadership and key stakeholders is an outside professional who has no stake in what systems you buy, but whose sole role is to guide you through a process of thoughtful selections.”

Passive vs. Active Security

Ideally, K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions would have a combination of active and passive security measures. Passive security measures include access control systems, video monitoring and other means that use technologies. Active security measures involve posting an officer at a site or traffic control measures.

“Each type of school poses unique challenges, and despite the differences in size, commonalities exist on how you protect the school,” Anderson said. “It all starts with a comprehensive concept of operations that details what your institution’s specific security goals are, which allows you to select access control systems, video management systems, intrusion detection system and other security and non-security systems.”

Many of today’s security systems have both passive and active capabilities. For example, physical access control systems function as an extension of the door lock: Someone presents a badge or key to open the door.

Active security comes into play when a monitor of the access control system notices an alarm when an individual improperly attempts to gain access.

“Video surveillance is a strong example of a system that can be passive or active,” Anderson said. “Passive systems view and record images, which typically are reviewed only when there has been an incident, whereas a video-management system that is coupled with video analytics and being monitored becomes an extension to the security force and acts as a workload management tool. It can be used to identify hazardous situations before they escalate or be used to verify the presence of an event before a security officer is dispatched.”

As for which type of security measure is best, Anderson said a strong security plan uses the best of both passive and active security systems, while providing the added benefit of generating cost savings.

“It is not necessary to place a security officer at each entrance point or potential threat location. This is expensive and unwieldy to manage,” he said. “Rather, a comprehensive security plan followed by a site survey to identify the risks and challenges provides the foundation for implementing technology. In my experience, a trained consultant is key to establishing the vision for security at the institution and then finding the right systems that solve your business problem.”

Verrecchia adds that passive security measures do have their limitations. After all, cameras cannot be placed everywhere on campus. Doors can be locked, but effective outreach and crime prevention programs are especially needed.

“Crime prevention is designed to educate students and others on the campus so they do not put themselves in a position where they may become a victim of a crime,” Verrecchia said. “A common example is that we tell students not to walk alone at night in dark or dimly lit areas.”

For K-12 school security measures, access control and other physical security measures must be selected based upon site-specific assessments at each individual school, Trump said.

“The technology must fit in striking a balance between heightened security and the day-to-day use of the educational facility,” he said. “The buy-in by school staff and students can be improved by having awareness and training programs to educate the school and community on security threats and the rationale behind security and preparedness measures being employed on campus. The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body.”

PrintPrint EmailEmail