School safety isn’t about having the latest technology or installing expensive security systems on campus. It’s about a good combination of hardware, procedures and personnel. Those three key components work together to create a safe school environment.
“The gear should be enhancing your personnel’s mindset and their security posture and the procedures you’ve given them to follow to make sure the campus is secure and they know how to respond,” says Nick Pasquarosa, School Resource Officer for Dennis-Yarmouth Regional Schools.
For example, you can have the best security system on the market, but if a staff member leaves a door unlocked or allows someone to enter the building who shouldn’t, that security system is useless. Training has to be a big part of school safety and personnel must understand that safety is an organizational priority, which means training isn’t a one time thing that’s done, over with and never discussed again. There has to be follow up and as unpleasant as it may sound, consequences for failing to follow safety protocols.
“You have to train and you have to practice and you have to revisit and refresh constantly so that people understand it is a true organizational priority,” says Pasquarosa.
Training for an emergency scenario typically involves getting familiar with three protocols: shelter in place, lockdown and evacuation. Every school is different so these scenarios may vary, but most districts have protocols that look something like the above three. Shelter in place means to take shelter immediately wherever you are and to take measures to protect yourself and your students. Lockdown involves literally locking the doors inside the school building. Teachers often lock classroom doors and then take students to the farthest corner of the room for shelter. Evacuation is self-explanatory.
In addition to major events, schools must prepare for minor threats such as a fight or an angry parent. In reality, these situations are far more likely to happen than a major event, although you should always be prepared.
Once school faculty and staff understand safety protocols, it’s time to think about technology that can make those things a little easier. There are a lot of different types of technology that can be useful in promoting safety such as mass messaging tools, access control, video surveillance, a PSIM system, etc. There isn’t a “right place” to start when it comes to purchasing technology. That really depends on preference, budget and the result of your district’s risk assessment. However, many schools look at either video surveillance or access control. Both have their merits.
Video surveillance can be used in a variety of ways, including some that may not immediately come to mind.
“Everybody is very focused on school safety,” says Steve Surfaro, security industry liaison, Axis Communications. “But, in terms of day-to-day operations, a school can’t function if it doesn’t have things like tablets, projectors or PC’s so there is a loss prevention component.”
Video surveillance can also be used for forensic purposes meaning it can be used to review an event after the fact. This is probably where video surveillance is most useful.
“Cameras are great after action devices,” says Pasquarosa. “They’re the rare teller of the ruth when you’re investigating something.”
One thing they aren’t very good for in a school setting, believe it or not, is real-time surveillance. Why is that you might ask? It’s very difficult for someone to sit and watch a video feed, especially when resources and personnel are limited. Pasquarosa has only one other resource officer two days a week, which means if he is sitting in a room watching a video feed, no one is patrolling the school.
Video surveillance can also be used for analytics or recognition. For example, you could use the camera to keep track of the number of people entering a school space to prevent overcrowding. Or, you could use it to record license plates in a parking lot that you could then go back and review should the need arise.
The Dennis-Yarmouth Regional Schools took the opposite approach and decided to invest in access control first. “Our priority was to lock doors,” says Pasquarosa. When implementing its security system, the district actually cut cameras in order to make room in the budget for door gear. In the end, it was able to install cameras, but the locked doors came first.