Security Pros Debate Impact of Virginia Tech 1 Year Later

With its one-year anniversary this month, the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech by a deranged student endures as the event most responsible for the dramatic shift of the higher education community’s safety and security mentality.

Calls for enhancing security on campuses across the nation resonated further when a gunman took the lives of five students Feb. 14 at Northern Illinois University.

With campus security now at the forefront of the electronic security industry’s awareness, many manufacturers and security contractors are working diligently to   become a part of the answer in solving how best to secure our schools and universities.

Security Sales & Integration spoke with several leading electronic security authorities to discuss such topics as what solutions are most effective to the primary challenges working in K-12 and higher education.

Beyond funding, security professionals contend with a large number of stakeholders on campus projects, plus balance the need to ensure security while maintaining openness and accessibility. 

What impact, if any has the Virginia Tech tragedy had on your educational institution business? Patrick Fiel (public safety advisor, Education; ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla.): The Virginia Tech incident focused the nation’s attention again on the need to prepare our K-12, college and university campuses for the worst. In the weeks following the tragedy, we received calls from administrators at many of the 15,000 K-12 schools and 1,300 college and university ADT customers regarding their current security plans. The many risk assessments that we have conducted since the incident have led to additional business among existing and new customers.

Bill Ford (vice president, Education; Sonitrol Corp., Berwyn, Pa.): It has increased the awareness of student, faculty and administrator safety while on school grounds. An increase in requests for cameras and emergency notification technology has occurred from schools and colleges that, in the past, didn’t see a need. These tragedies have forced schools to develop or reevaluate their emergency preparedness plans. 

Michael Garcia (sr. vice president, Sales, Marketing & Business Development, MDI Inc., San Antonio): Our LearnSafe Risk Audit services have increased more than 2,000 percent. Unfortunately, in our line of business it takes a tragedy such as this to open the K-12 educational market’s eyes to how vulnerable they really are. Virginia Tech was one example of this in the higher education market. Since then, there have been several more.  The first thing you hear on news coverage of a tragic event such as this is, “We never thought it would happen here.”

This is not a new market by any means. Many statistics out there show insiders cause the majority of school-related incidents. These insiders know the school’s vulnerabilities and exploit them to their advantage. The threats will change, but when you associate those threats to a school’s vulnerabilities, you have the formula for risk. 

Did the incident or the market response to it cause you to adjust your business approach to this sector?

Daniel Budinoff (president, Security Specialists, Greenwich, Conn.): We’ve actually spent more time working with consulting firms that are hired by school districts. That has been great for us as the consultants really have the ability to guide the schools on product selection and the integrator that installs.

Jeff Koziol (regional director, IR Security Technologies, Westfield, Mass.): We have changed our strategic programs to include campus and university customers in our “lockdown” programs, whereas prior, it was more focused on K-12 schools.

George West (vice president/division head, Security Systems, Siemens Building Technologies Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill.): It reinforced our approach to develop close, trusted and long-term partnerships founded on our technical acumen and application experience so that we can deliver solutions that meet the unique needs of each of our customers.

If anything was revealed by the Virginia Tech incident, it’s that institutions must look past cosmetic, Band-Aid solutions and deeply examine all aspects of the campus environment and its operations so that it can determine the most effective means to ensure the highest levels of safety for everyone.

What are the top challenges of working in this market sector?

Ford: The primary challenge is funding. We’ve never met a school administrator who thought having security was a bad idea. The challenge is finding the money to support the need. Our approach has always been that you can adequately secure a school — in the process promoting a safe learning environment — without making faculty, students and parents feel like they’re entering a prison. This approach has great resonance with schools.

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