Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

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School Security Technology Has Learned a Lot

school security camera monted on wall

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Secuirty professionals largely agree that today’s security technology performs better than ever. “We have never seen security technology with this level of quality,” says Michael Dorn, executive director with Safe Haven International in Atlanta. “I’ve been in the business for 35 years. Back then we had decent camera systems integrated with buzzer access for instance. But the solutions from that era didn’t deliver the value for the dollar that we see today.”

From visitor management and general access control to camera networks and pre-recorded emergency messages, today’s technology makes it possible to build a smoothly operating, unobtrusive and effective security environment. Of course, appropriate training of security personnel as well as non-security personnel in the operation of the security system is necessary to ensure the system’s effectiveness.

In effect, training enables a facility’s personnel to use the technology properly, which ensures that the technology will work as effectively as possible.

Visitor Management

The rare but tragic incidents of gun violence in schools that have occurred in recent years have raised visitor management to top of mind of security professionals and school administrators when putting together or refining a school security system.

School security surveillance monitors

PHOTO © ANDREY_POPOV

Who’s there? Cameras can be positioned outside around the perimeter of the school and inside in the corridors to monitor who is wandering around. But it is important that people are properly trained to monitor the system. What should they be watching for? Do they know how to download video of events and save it for later review by security and the police?

Visitor management policies aim to let certain visitors in and keep others out. “You don’t want to let sexual predators in, angry ex-spouses or others with no legitimate business,” says Randy Braverman, director of campus safety at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill.

“You need to have some way to check visitors,” he goes on to say. “You also need to register visitors entering the building.”

This is important, notes Braverman, because in an emergency requiring evacuation, you need to make sure that all the visitors in the building exit along with students, faculty and administrators.

Visitor management technology uses driver’s licenses or other forms of identification to get the process right. Typical systems enable security personnel to enter the names of people that should not be admitted. With that information, the system can flag unauthorized individuals. Using the information on driver’s licenses, visitor management technology can also check names against criminal, predator and terrorist databases.

Access Management

Security professionals note that visitor management and access control are two separate yet key security needs. Legitimate visitors come to a school’s front door, but schools have many other doors. There are back doors, side doors, garage doors, delivery doors and so on.

“Schools need door technology that sets off an alarm when a door opens at a time of day when it should be locked,” Braverman says. “The alarm goes to the control room as well as cellphones carried by security officers — or school personnel doubling as security personnel. They need to know who is coming in and walking out.”

In addition, this technology can alert security when a door is propped open, something students do all too often.

Cameras can support access management. They can be positioned inside doors and generally keep an eye on the corridors. These cameras can then be programmed to pan to a door that opens at the wrong time of day.

security school fence

PHOTO © TAMANKUNG

Cameras Inside and Out

Again, the threat of tragedy has led many schools to begin adding cameras as funding permits. They can be positioned outside around the perimeter of the school and inside in the corridors.

“Most schools don’t have enough people to monitor all the cameras all the time,” says Braverman. “But you can watch certain cameras, especially those that show who is entering and leaving.

You must also train people to monitor the system. What should they be monitoring for? Fights. Doors that open at the wrong time. People running and other unusual events.

Monitors must also know how to download video of events and save it for later review by security and the police, if appropriate.

It’s also important to call in the police and provide technology that will enable them to tap into the cameras during an emergency.

“Thoughtful Supervision”

Safe Haven’s Michael Dorn notes that cameras can also improve student supervision. “By monitoring cameras, you may spot a bad guy now and then,” he says. “But we also think cameras can improve student supervision.

“Thoughtful student supervision can reduce the risk of injury and even death. You will need good quality camera systems and camera placement that will enable the security manager and staff to focus on appropriate views.”

What are appropriate views?

“We work to think beyond the traditional ideas of using cameras,” Dorn says.

For instance, he recommends using cameras to spot check security staff on patrol. By capturing positive supervision practices on video, they can be incorporated into training for security officers as well as faculty and staff.

Another example: “You might capture a teacher not supervising per policy,” Dorn says. “Perhaps he or she is not wearing an orange safety vest called for in your policies. You would then draft a memo to the principal, who speak to the individual.

“If something goes wrong, you will have a record of the steps you have taken to improve the level of supervision.”

It’s an innovative way to approach cameras. Most security operations use camera systems for investigations — to review incidents after the fact.

Dorn’s idea of “thoughtful supervision” aims to prevent incidents from happening in the first place — and often succeeds.

Get Smart

The continuing digital revolution is also developing new security technologies. On example is In-telligent, a new mobile app designed to issue emergency messages such as life safety warnings.

Created by In-telligent LLC, the app works on Apple and Android mobile devices. It is a free app available for download from the Apple App Store and the Windows Play site.

outdoor school security camera

PHOTO © PIXINOO

“In-telligent is easy to use,” says Jared Stewart, spokesperson with the Milwaukee-based Moon Landing Agency, which is rolling out the device.

“A school administrator would manage the app, which creates a geo-fence or a communication area with geographic boundaries around a school or a campus,” he continues. “Students, faculty, administrators and parents, too, can download the app, launch it and create user accounts for themselves.”

Users with active accounts will automatically be added to any In-telligent community when they are physically within its predetermined geographic borders, says Stewart. Users can also set the software to follow a particular community and receive alerts from that community even when they happen to be outside that community’s geographic communication border.

If there is a fire, tornado, shooter or other emergency, the administrator managing the app can send alerts to anyone.

“The alerts will show up as notifications on users’ phones,” says Stewart. “In-telligent alerts will override the silent settings on users’ phones. Up until now only amber alerts and severe weather alerts could do this, but In-telligent has been cleared to do it too.

“The community manager can target messages, too. If something is happening in one residence hall, the message can be sent only to those in the hall.”

In-telligent can also deliver non-life safety announcements as messages. It can send messages promoting an event on campus or sharing news stories, for instance. It can also send photos and videos.

Finally, from visitor management and access control through cameras and emergency communications, K-12 school security technologies are better than ever, while new technologies are emerging and taking on new tasks.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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