Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

The Secure School Perimeter

perimeter security

PHOTO © UNGURYANU

When the national center for education Statistics surveyed schools about security, they found 75 percent of respondents increased their security since the Sandy Hook incident. The incident took place in 2012, when an active shooter invaded an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Conn.., killing 20 students and six adults.

The incident and other similar renowned incidents have upped the ante on school security, causing many to consider newer, better and faster security solutions to protect lives and prevent such tragic events.

Security and Rapid Communications

Rapid communications have been at the core of school security in light of active shooters and grave circumstances overshadowing the Sandy Hook event and other active shooter events.

Over the years, schools typically inherit safety and security technology. Most often, it is an overwhelming burden to maintain, fund and train staff on security technology solutions and rapid communications platforms while keeping up with emergent technology, according to Danielle Myers, the general manager of Status Solutions in Westerville, Ohio, a company that produces rapid communications and alert systems for schools.

“You can walk into just about any school and find that the majority share a similar problem — siloed system implemented on a project-to-project basis,” says Myers. “Schools may upgrade cameras or their access control systems, but most don’t have the ability to comprehensively and proactively assess risk and address an issue when it arises. This results in communication breakdowns which can be an even bigger problem.”

Myers says she’s seen security cameras implemented everywhere and now we are starting to see intercom systems installed at the front door, allowing the front desk to see and speak to an individual before allowing them to gain access to the school. Added technology and security features, however, requires investment.

Spending on security-related hardware, products and technology is one of the fastest growing expenditures in K-12, according to Todd Piett, chief product officer for Rave Mobile Safety, in Framingham, Mass.

Holistic Approach

While hardware and software security investments are key in a school security strategy, it’s important to take a holistic approach and consider all factors that could influence an unsafe environment.

Ian Powell, AIA, LEED-AP, BD+C is a partner at PBK Architects in Dallas. He sees security solutions growing in the near term due to a heightened awareness combined with more integration with other stakeholders and digital systems.

He says that through current events and easy access to knowledge online, people are rapidly becoming aware of the need for safer and more secure schools. In addition, there’s a drive to integrate with other schools and with other networks they can connect to.

A holistic approach must be balanced with fiscal constraint. According to David Antar, president of A+ Technology & Security Solutions, Inc., in Bay Shore, N.Y.

“As schools look to upgrade their security technology, costs and limited budgets often create the greatest challenges in prioritizing and allocating funds for proper technology investments,” says Antar. “Schools must be wise in their purchasing decisions, and look for technology solutions that are future proof, scalable and enterprise-class in order to facilitate the entire district, regardless of size. As schools are beginning to adopt technology convergence to IP or network-based platforms, they are now able to integrate their video surveillance systems with access control, visitor management, panic button systems and much more.

Accountability and Authentication

Computing technologies, the Internet and the cloud are great resources for children in both learning and social interaction, and as more young people start using them at an earlier age, the need to educate them about protecting their information online and offline becomes increasingly more important, according to Mark Hickman, COO of WinMagic, based in Mississauga, Ont.

“Teaching about Internet safety and data security is fundamental in providing the tools and knowledge required for youth to understand their role in protecting their valuable personal information,” he says. “Schools across the globe have become much better at offering courses like these in their curriculums. But with that said, just how prepared are these same schools in protecting the information they generate, collect and transfer? School databases contain a treasure trove of information on current and past students and their caregivers, including addresses, dates of birth, medical information and often payment information — all highly confidential materials.”

Access to sensitive information and the background of those who may access it, are reasonable concerns. Background checks, ideally, should be intrinsic to the onboarding of all staff, including volunteers.

“Software systems include volunteer management systems where background checks are embedded in the workflow, providing a pre-approval prior to the volunteer being allowed to volunteer,” says Katie Zwetzig, executive director of Verified Volunteers in Fort Collins, Colo. The company provides security screenings and background checks for volunteers and contractors for non-profits and other organizations which includes K-12 schools.

Zwetzig expects to see continued adoption of security systems as well as vetting of volunteers, contractors and any individuals entering a school. She says that technology advances around integrating GPS tools, digital badging and background checks will continue to evolve. The cost of physical security devices, which have often been cost prohibitive to school adoption, will be reduced allowing more schools to monitor their security using both physical and software tools.

perimeter security

PHOTO © SAKKMESTERKE

Internet safety. When we hear the words, school security, a lot of images pop into our heads — door locks, cameras, fences, resource officers. All of these are important components of a holistic approach to keeping our schools, students and staff safe. But as technology has become a tool used in instruction, administration and facility management, is also created another potential vulnerability. Cybersecurity plans need to be developed to protect data, personal information of students and staff, and to decrease the possibility of hacking facility systems. Teachers also need to possess the skills to teach their students Internet safety.

A Commitment to Safety and Security

A proactive approach to security is a best practice as school boards and their administrators and teachers plan for the future environment. A more secure environment coupled with the right technology is sensible recipe for a safe school perimeter. Commitment to safety and security is key, as is a proactive approach to knowing what is in place, available and how it all integrates with their own systems as well as the community.

“The most significant, and initial, step when building secure schools is to conduct a safety and security assessment for facilities and operations,” says Ian Powell. “An important part of the assessment requires a clear understanding of the difference between vulnerabilities and threats, as well as the types of threats that exist — both environmental and those caused by others.”

Danielle Myer says that a commitment to constant security and safety improvement is crucial, and never consider safety to be “checked off the list.”

“Create a task force dedicated to this since there are more and more unique situations our schools will be faced with. As in any industry, it can be tough to keep up with the constant upgrades and innovations, but technology is only going to get better and threats are only going to evolve in years to come,” she says. “To ensure schools are proactive in combating safety and security issues, it’s essential to choose a technology partner dedicated to innovation. Technology never stops evolving and neither should the systems within a facility. Schools should select a partner that offers a platform that will constantly evolve with today’s technology and the facility’s needs. This will allow for maximization of initial technology investments for years to come.”

“The quest for secure schools is not an isolated undertaking,” says Myers. “Schools should involve their communities, including local law enforcement, businesses, nonprofits and organizations and most importantly, their community of parents, to holistically address the needs and issues in and outside of the classroom and ultimately strengthen their school overall.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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