The Ultimate Guide to School Security Opportunities
The K-12 and higher learning education market has become a heavy area of concentration for the electronic security industry. Get educated about key trends, compliance challenges, in-demand solutions and more.
When the subject of protecting critical infrastructure arises, most people in this post-9/11 era typically think of the obvious targets. Big buildings and hubs of activity immediately come to mind.
Not to be overlooked are the hundreds of thousands of K-12 schools and higher learning campuses across the U.S. Tragedies like the massacres at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook – these are not the kinds of history lessons that should be learned in school.
But learn from them we must. Therefore, it makes sense the education market has become a huge area of concentration for the electronic security industry. Several industry experts share their insights here with SSI on the current state of affairs in this space.
Let’s delve into key trends, compliance and funding challenges, in-demand security solutions, along with a look at what dealers and integrators need to know and do to succeed.
Effective Visitor Management Is Key
James Marcella, director of technical services for Axis Communications, sees a continued increase in demand for school security. He points out that while the education market has always been an important vertical for Axis, it has traditionally been in response to demand for surveillance cameras.
“Now it’s more than that,” he says. “It’s growing and we’ve launched several new product categories. We continue to see a large demand for safety and physical security products within the school environment. It’s about providing solutions for the specific challenges they face.”
K-12 has a unique set of challenges as does higher education, Marcella explains, but they also face some of the same issues. The biggest one he cites is creating an effective learning environment that also balances the need for safety of students, staff and faculty.
“We don’t want our schools to feel like prisons. The concern we’re seeing in K-12 is effective visitor management, which ties into access control and is especially critical in K-12,” he says.
A key consideration is communication systems for day-to-day operations as well as for dealing with emergency situations.
“Schools need to look at what tools and systems they have in place for communicating. Many use mobile phones, some use voice over IP [VoIP], or handheld radios,” Marcella says.
Another way to enhance communications, he says, is with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which is a signaling protocol for Internet conferencing, telephony, presence, events notification and instant messaging.
“Mass notification becomes a very big area of concern for schools,” Marcella says. “How do they get info out to all the stakeholders in a timely and professional manner in the event of an emergency, or even just to inform them of a snow day?”
Samuel Shanes, chairman of Talkaphone, which has been a part of the higher education security landscape since the early 1990s, notes that K-12 schools have an especially high duty of care placed on them due to the vulnerability of the students.
“Ultimately, school systems are legally accountable for a duty to take appropriate actions to protect the students, staff and faculty,” he says. “So every education organization wants to know who is on their campus, what access points are most vulnerable, how to be apprised of a situation in real time, the ability for an incident to be reported as quickly as possible, and have the ability to disseminate lifesaving information at a moment’s notice.”
Putting the Proper Plan in Place
By identifying an individual school’s specific security risks, concerns and vulnerabilities, a security plan can be put in place and result in the right solutions being implemented.
What are some of the most important considerations and actions to take for dealers and integrators to properly specify the most appropriate security measures?
“The most effective security system is the result of meaningful discussions between the key players,” Shanes states. “These include the client, integrator, security consultant, manufacturer, first responders, etc. Often, we see a few more players in the education vertical. Departments involved can range from security to IT, but also often include facilities, district staff and possibly require a board approval.”
Collaboration is key, Marcella advises, in developing the best, most appropriate and most doable school security plans.
“I’m talking about all stakeholders – school personnel, staff, custodians, even students need to be included. Beyond that and out in the community – parents, churches, nearby businesses, and absolutely include first responders, emergency services. That’s the collaborative approach.”
A comprehensive approach entails looking at all the challenges of the school, Marcella says. It is vital the classroom doors all have locks on them. The No. 1 safety aspect to come out of the Sandy Hook tragedy was to have locks on classroom doors.
“There are so many schools that don’t have them,” he says. “That’s an example of prioritizing your spend, and without a comprehensive assessment those kinds of things can get missed.” Specific to emergency communication, Shanes advises installing security contractors should consider the following:
- Is the means of communication highly visible and accessible?
- Can a user easily reach one of two communication options?
- Are there enough visible deterrents to potential threats?
- Are the locations logical and accessible?
Napco’s Byron Thurmond, vice president, school and campus security, suggests another important consideration for dealers and integrators to factor into a security assessment: The age group of the students they will be protecting.
“The younger the age group, the more delays and protection devices should be put in place,” he says. Volume is another consideration, given more students at a facility require more time to evacuate.
Abilities or disabilities are another, Thurmond cautions. “Many K-12 and universities provide services to disabled and/or impaired students who require more time or area to shelter in place. In these cases, more delay practices should be considered.”
David Antar, president, IPVideo Corp., points out that schools need to be involved with their local police departments. This is key to understanding what they need as first responders in the event of a security threat or an emergency. In addition, schools should focus on technology that can truly integrate due to open standards.
“Many proprietary systems will not play nicely with others, providing more of a hassle than an assistance in the event of a security event,” Antar says.
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