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Practical Security in the K-12 Environment

We have an important role to play in reducing the impact and severity of school violence events, if not disrupting them before they escalate into tragedy 

By Brian Coulombe
Brian Coulombe is Principal, Director of Operations, DVS

The rate of violence in our nation’s schools is a profoundly American problem. Throughout 2019, the rate of shooting incidents occurred at an average of one per week. The majority of those events happened at the K-12 level.

As security industry professionals, our ability to approach the problem is significant. We have an important role to play in reducing the impact and severity of school violence events, if not disrupting them before they escalate into tragedy.

The range of tools afforded to us by security industry manufacturers is broad and varies from typical industry staples such as alarm monitoring and video surveillance, to advanced systems such as analytics and mass notification. Given this wide range, there are some fundamental design practices in the K-12 environment that I find to be pragmatic and effective.

Know Your Audience

Security technology moves quickly, and new systems are introduced on a regular basis. Many of these systems fl aunt advanced features, are highly dependent on complex sensor data and third-party integrations, or require high levels of end user engagement.

Many of these systems give reason to pause. In most schools, a security or School Resource Officer (SRO) is a luxury, which puts the responsibility to interact with the electronic security systems on an already busy school administrator. As a result, the school’s electronic security system needs to be straightforward and present basic, actionable information.

Set Expectations

It is important to set reasonable expectations for how a system and its operators will perform. At a recent K-12 site visit, I was shown a complex mass notification app that would be used in the event of an active shooter. This was the tool being relied upon to alert police and let teachers know to enter active shooter protocols. In practice however, administrators at the school took longer than 30 seconds to open and use the app, assuming they remembered their password.

A better solution is a tried and true panic button at the reception desk, which simultaneously alerts police and teachers through an audio or visual warning. A button requires little thought and can be activated with panicked fingers. Cameras are often referenced by end users as being the most desirable and effective security device, but a simple and immediate way to call for help is more important.

Use Budgets Effectively

Schools typically have limited budgets for security. When it comes to electronics, simple is generally better. Knowing who is coming and going through video surveillance is important, particularly during the school day. Knowing that the school perimeter is secure is useful and will help manage unauthorized physical access. Having a way to authenticate and manage visitors through a secure entry portal is critical to maintaining a trusted population.

Even more important, however, is good physical security and staff training. Ensuring school doors have good locks and closers is the simplest way to ensure a secure perimeter. Laminated glass windows at the ground level help ensure that a broken window can’t become an easy entry point. And the common principles of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) apply here as much as anywhere: proper lighting, sight lines and visible ownership of the school grounds help everyday staff discover anomalies before they become security events. Combined, these elements introduce deterrence and delay, granting school staff time to call for help and get to a safe place. And finally, training staff to perceive and react to an incident is paramount to a successful response.

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