Selecting a Security Technology Provider

Schools are generally safe places. But in the wake of Columbine and other school emergencies, educational administrators nationwide are searching for new, more effective ways to protect their students and staff. School Planning & Management reached out to experts in the field to discuss some of the most important areas to consider when choosing a security technology provider and purchasing security services and equipment.

Experience in an Education Environment

Security experience in an educational environment is vital when choosing a provider. It is important the provider understands not only his own equipment but the specific application of their equipment to schools. When it comes to access control, look for providers who understand the different needs of day-to-day screening versus total screening at special events, such as athletic contests.

“Compliance drives successful security and safety programs in education institutions, so experience in not only how to deploy these systems during the permissable improvement periods (usually summer and intersemester), but the satisfaction of key education solutions. School contractors must have experience in deployment over the school’s network and be able to comply with logical and physical infrastructure standards,” says Steve Surfaro, Strategic Channel manager, at Axis Communications.

Steve Birdsall, vice president of Sales, for Gamewell-FCI agrees. “Reputation and educational experience of the company is of the utmost importance. If the company isn’t reputable, and it doesn’t have a history of completing successful educational projects, it cannot be trusted to deliver on your project.” Birdsall recommends requesting references. Any reputable company should not have trouble providing them.

“Experience and a deep knowledge of educational needs are essential for selecting a technology provider. Schools have many unique groups of people they serve and may have local, state and federal mandates that need to be considered. It will be beneficial to select a solutions provider that understands all of these needs and can work with them to overcome these challenges,” says Russell St. John, senior vice president of Global Marketing for Datacard Group.

Certifications and Warranties

Look for companies that use nationally recognized standards in their technology and/or delivery of professional services (e.g. SAFETY Act Certification through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ISO-certified companies). Check flammability ratings and review independent approvals (UL, etc.). Find out who to call if you need onsite visits, training and warranty replacement; and how to get service after the sale if there is a problem.

“Find out if the contractor is a factory-authorized company,” says Birdsall. “This means the company operates with factory-authorized distribution and its employees are factory trained.” Ensure the product warranty comes from the product manufacturer. If the warranty comes from the contractor, and the contractor goes out of business, the warranty is voided. “Additional warranties from the contractor regarding service can be negotiated.”

Surfaro agrees, “The contractor usually passes on the manufacturer’s warranty if the start date coincides with the installation date; when it does not, the contractor usually will encourage the administrator to enter into a service contract that can include warranty and extended warrantee service, product replacement and preventive maintenance. After the warranty period, demand service is usually expensive, so it is wise to execute a service agreement.”

Insurance/Bonds

Surfaro says, “The requirements needed to obtain a surety bond are actually similar to the school administrator’s own contractor selection criteria. The Surety Information Office (Washington, D.C.) offers excellent guidelines for interested contractors. Before a contractor can obtain a bond, they undergo a prequalification process called underwriting to enable the surety company to understand their ability to satisfy and complete a project. Running a well-managed, profitable enterprise where the contractor performs obligations in a timely manner are decision points. General and construction liability insurance should be a prerequisite for selection.”

Product Information/Total Cost of Ownership

Initial cost is only the beginning. There are several factors to keep in mind when making a final decision.

Birdsall explains, “Research where the product can be purchased and how many companies can distribute it. You want the product to be available from many providers so the price of repair and replacement stays competitive. The more methods and means of distribution for hardware and repair that exist usually translates into lower prices. Establish the price of maintenance and service agreements up front, so there are no surprises in the future.”

“Leveraging the school’s existing network infrastructure will always lower the total cost of system ownership, except in cases where the use of said infrastructure presents a liability or where it is not considered an asset and has not been maintained or improved,” adds Surfaro. “Technologies like power over ethernet (PoE) not only reduce cost by eliminating additional power supplies to be maintained and replaced, but are a way to supervise the health and operation of the infrastructure. In many cases, especially with smaller properties and remote facilities, managed services like hosted video, managed physical access control and visitor management provide pay-as-you go solutions, lower initial costs and create a more affordable long-term solution.”

St. John says, “Examine carefully how products can save you time, money and improve efficiencies. This is where the real cost savings come into play. First, determine your needs and what is most important to your program. Second, look at considering how the product will work on your established network. Make sure the product meets IT expectations and offers standards-compliant Ethernet and USB connectivity, as well as easily integrates card issuance applications. Finally, and most importantly, find the best value for today and tomorrow that reduces risk and total cost of ownership. Make sure the investment you make today is flexible and can continue to adapt to meet your needs in the future.”

About the Author

Danielle Przyborowski is a Dayton, Ohio-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.

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