Sustainable Solutions for School Safety and Security

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Gary's Blog

training & technology

Sustainable Solutions for School Safety and Security

 

How schools can continue to ‘do more with less’ to maintain effective school safety.

​I am often asked by superintendents, “With limited budgets, how do we provide sustainable solutions to keep our students and staff safe?” After every school tragedy, communities are demanding that schools ‘do more’ to keep everyone safe. And in the rush to do more, schools are often choosing hardware or technology over the training of their staff to provide additional layers of security.

AN EVOLUTION FROM TRAGEDY:
LESSONS FROM THE PAST

Because of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, schools across the United States began securing the perimeter of their buildings by locking all doors after the start of the school day and using a camera/buzzer system to control access.

A yellow tornado watch sign in front of storm clouds

This is an excellent example of ‘hardening’ the school to prevent unauthorized entry. Unfortunately, administrators sometimes forget this system is just one of the many layers and does not always prevent unauthorized entry.  This system also does not prevent violence from those who have a reason to be in the school.

There are two main problems with the camera / buzzer system:

One is the human element.

The buzzer / camera system is usually answered by the secretary at the front desk. Often the person doing the most multitasking in the building, the secretary may admit entry without checking identification or a legitimate reason to be in the building.

There is a second human element to hinder the effectiveness of the camera / buzzer system, and that is the lesson we were all taught growing up: “Mind your manners!” Courteous visitors, who have successfully completed the camera / buzzer screening upon entry, could inadvertently facilitate the entry of an unauthorized person by holding the door open.  While this innocent gesture can be viewed as being polite, those inside the building are actually being put at risk.

The other issue with this system is the technology itself…

The view from the camera is just of the person standing directly at the front door. The secretary or person in charge of ‘buzzing’ in the visitor cannot see if someone else is standing behind the visitor or around the corner ready to piggyback into the building with the authorized visitor. It would be helpful to have an outside camera to view the entire front entrance that includes the visitor and surrounding area.

After the stabbings at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, many were asking questions about using metal detectors to add a layer of security.  Again, we can see the human element and technology as both strengths and weaknesses of the system.

Investing in Sustainable Solutions:

The Human Advantage

So how do we provide sustainable solutions?

My recommendation is to use good technology and/or hardware when applicable, but most funding is better spent on the training of the school staff.  Why train staff and not buy more equipment?  Equipment can do only one thing and cannot adapt to changes in circumstances, culture, or the environment.  A metal detector will only work by transmitting an electromagnetic field from a search coil in the device.  Any metal objects (guns, knives, cell phones, car keys, etc.) within the electromagnetic field will become energized and retransmit an electromagnetic field of their own.  Metal detectors cannot detect improvised weapons that are not metal or determine if an approved metal object might conceal something not allowed in school.  Staff can be trained for how to spot weapons, the behaviors a person might exhibit when carrying a weapon, and what to do if they suspect a weapon is present.  This training gives the human element a distinct advantage over the technology.

The Power of Trained Staff

Schools are spending thousands of dollars to strengthen classroom doors so teachers can barricade themselves in the event of an Active Shooter to prevent entry into the classroom. FEMA Phases of Emergency ManagementThis a recommended layer of protection to keep our students and staff safe. However, this is an expensive solution in the Response Phase of Emergency Management.   It would be more cost effective and sustainable if we trained our staff in the use of Threat Assessment Teams during the Prevention / Mitigation Phase of Emergency Management. Threat Assessment Teams will allow staff to intervene before a tragic event if the offender is a student or a staff member of the school. Sadly, we are getting much better in responding to school emergencies than we are at preventing school emergencies.

 As a retired School Administrator, I know training time is at a premium. We ask our teachers to continue to ‘do more with less’ on a daily basis and go above and beyond in order for their students to succeed on standardized tests.  Any training time not spent on helping our teachers with their student achievement is sometimes frowned upon.  But with time and money being a precious commodity for schools, it is wiser to spend the time on training and less money on hardware if we want our safety solutions to be sustainable and effective. 

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What are your training plans for the 2023-2024 school year?

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