Expert Viewpoint

Four Key Considerations for Selecting School Security Technology

Security Tech Procurement Must Include People and Processes, Too

In the wake of mass casualty events in recent years, schools are increasingly turning to technology approaches to help make schools safer. Many have made announcements this summer about how they have invested in this or that technology to make going to school safer for students.

While it is laudable that schools are investing in safety, they should do so like they would with any other business function — that is, they should factor in people, process, and technology or PPT, and must first understand the specific problem that they are trying to address.

This might seem trite; most frameworks that have been around for 50 years are. But PPT has been around so long because it is right. It solves the right problem, with the right solution. If you leave out one component, you are doomed to fail with any technology that is being adopted.

This is why it is so disturbing to see so many schools jump to adopt technology, without factoring in people and process, or understanding the specifics of the technology and what they can and cannot do to address a problem.

Why are we seeing this? Well, I’m just the CEO of a technology vendor that sells to schools for this very reason, but I can speculate.

One of the main reasons is a need to show action, even if it is the incorrect action — schools and school committees want to be able to tell constituents that they’re tackling the school violence issue. While this is good for public perception, it’s not the right way to acquire technology, and it could result in wasted resources, and a more insecure environment.

Addressing the Problem

Students and faculty in modern times have to undergo a variety of intrusions, all in the interest of safety. There are lockdown drills to hopefully foil would-be assailants. There are school resource officers, to have a law enforcement presence on premise. And, there are any number of technologies meant to keep schools safe, including video surveillance, internet monitoring, shot detection solutions and walk-through metal detectors at entrances.

The fact of the matter is that these are disparate security personnel and technologies, and superintendents and their staffs are education experts — not security experts. That’s why we see so much technology being acquired that does not solve the problem it’s often purported to address.

Anyone who has been through school knows that fights happen all the time, most of which are not serious enough to report to the police. However, there are other, more serious transgressions that educators must worry about.

The U.S. Office of Justice Programs reports that almost 4% of boys and 2% of girls carry a weapon into school each day. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 20% of students are offered illegal drugs each year.

The problem is, schools are reacting the most to the least likely of security events — the mass casualty event. And they are doing this with technology that is often not suited to the problem. The selected solutions are often costly and reactive — alerting after the fact.

4 Key Considerations When Selecting School Security Technology

There is a high focus in schools for the weapons-detection gateway. This is a system where, unlike a metal detector, students walk past two pillars which automatically detect guns, knives and other weapons. Instead of making everyone stop to empty their pockets and bags — as is the case with metal detectors — the system only alerts on people carrying weapons and everyone else simply goes on their way.

In full disclosure, this is one of the products my company sells, and we’ve talked to a lot of schools lately. Here’s what I have observed from our school engagements:

1. Potential Solutions Should be Reviewed By True Security Experts

Most schools lack security expertise. With constrained budgets, few schools have true security experts on staff. This can result is poor assessments of technology being proposed by the vendors, and the potential to purchase poorly aligned solutions.

Most technology companies are focused on closing the sale, not helping with the problem. It’s important for schools to engage vendors that talk about the problems first, and then move to the sale (not the other way around). It might make sense to bring in an independent third party who can discuss the schools’ issues and then recommend technology and vendor solutions.

2. Consider the Staff Required for any Solutions Being Considered

Schools don’t have the people to staff the new technology. This is particularly true with gateway weapons scanners. It’s one thing to find a weapon, but what do you do in response to an alert, once you find one? And how do you make sure that everyone in the building has been scanned? Are there doors other than the front entrance where people can come and go? And how do you know the kids aren’t propping a door open or doing something else that will allow an unscanned person into the building?

Addressing these types of issues generally requires the work of people and processes, and schools need to fully work out these issues, so they know the true cost of the technology.

3. Before Considering Solutions, Understand the Problem

Schools often don’t really truly understand what problem they’re addressing. A lot of time when schools call about our scanner, they’re responding to the headlines rather than focusing on a problem. A scanner is fine for stopping people from carrying weapons into the building, but it won’t do anything to stop the mass casualty event. The issue, and mismatch, is clear. If someone carrying an automatic rifle comes through the front door, the presence of a scanner isn’t going to stop them. It’s a different problem than weapons in school and requires different thinking and technology.

4. AI Can Boost Security Solutions’ Effectiveness

Artificial intelligence often can help. Video-based AI can run over existing video surveillance systems and can be trained to detect a variety of things. This might be a fight, the use of illegal substances, or the presence of a firearm both inside and outside the school. As we’ve seen in the recent gun violence at various schools, buying even a little extra time can make all the difference. Being able to detect a firearm outside a school (in the parking lot, for instance) can give staff and the authorities valuable minutes to respond, and be both proactive and preemptive in response. AI can also be used to provide valuable information to outside police, firefighters and other responders.

We live in difficult times, where headlines about school violence have become too common. But violence in schools is a reality we have to live with. Security has historically not been a priority for superintendents, but now it is.

They need to realize that every technology must have a sound people and process component in order to be successful. And, they need to understand that their expertise is not security, but there is help if they look for it.

About the Author

Peter Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of Patriot One Technologies, a school security technology provider.