During the last decade, school shootings and those harmed by them increased significantly. Between that and other increasing security threats, schools have been seeking ways to increase and improve school security and provide a safe environment for their students and staff.
Fortunately, the technology behind security and life safety systems and devices has been rising to the challenge and is drastically changing what school security looks like.
What Security in Schools Used to Look Like
Security in schools used to focus on protecting the school when no one was there. The concern was more about vandalism and improper and illegal use of school property when the school was empty and the grounds dark.
This meant basic surveillance, primarily focused on the grounds and entry points, and simple gates and locks were sufficient.
But due to the tragedies and incidents of the past decade, school security has become much more about keeping students, staff, and guests safe while the school is operating and protecting them from potential threats from both inside and outside the school.
Schools now rely on advanced video surveillance systems, access control, visitor management, and several other devices and methods to provide increased protection and better responses in the event of an incident.
School Security Now: 3 Key Elements
According to Richard Phillips, Koorsen Security Specialist, schools are seeking ways to increase visibility and special awareness both on the grounds and within school buildings during the school day.
This has meant that improved and increased video surveillance and restricting access through the use of access control systems have been the two most significant ways schools are seeking to protect their students and staff.
Along with these systems, many schools are also implementing visitor management systems to better control the flow of people coming in and out of the school and where they may be permitted to go.
While each of these systems is separate, when combined, they create a strong, living, breathing security system that allows pertinent information to get to the right people quickly.
Following are the brief details of how each one works and the role each plays in the whole:
- Video Surveillance: the quality of video feed for surveillance cameras has significantly improved over the last ten years. With HD feed, it is much easier to accurately identify and pick out a specific individual even amid a crowd.
Furthermore, what these systems can now be programmed to do is quite advanced, and the technology is still burgeoning. If a person of interest was caught on camera entering the school, authorized personnel could then search that image and quickly identify the individual's current location.
If students' images have been registered with the surveillance system, it can also help quickly locate specific students upon request.
Additionally, many schools are utilizing facial recognition and thermal technologies to make the surveillance options even better. For the schools using it, facial recognition can allow them to register the images of unauthorized or dangerous individuals so that the system notifies the correct person if the individual is spotted on campus.
Facial recognition is still an area with much room and need for improved technology, but the demand is there, and the tech's quality is improving yearly.
- Access Control: access control is what helps determine what doors are opened and locked and to whom. Credentials are given to staff and students to allow them to get through the doors they are authorized to use, while those without credentials (unauthorized visitors, for example) will be unable to gain access to those areas.
Many schools now have their campuses set up so that all student classrooms and student-inhabited areas are behind continuously locked doors so that someone cannot simply walk on to campus and have access to the students.
Beyond restricting movement and access throughout the school, however, it is also the access control systems that allow for a fast, centrally controlled lockdown in the event of a real security emergency, such as an active shooter situation. This helps to slow an assailant down and allow more time for emergency responders to arrive.
- Visitor Management Systems: visitor management systems require human interaction and personal touch but can be linked to access control systems and databases. It allows an individual to assess individuals entering the school to determine if they are a threat, if and where they belong, and more easily control where the visitor can go.
An example of how a visitor management system may come in to play is if a flagged or unauthorized adult arrives claiming they need to pick up a particular student – the database will allow the user to see who is authorized to pick up that child and that the person there is not supposed to interact with the child. The user can then alert the appropriate individuals, whether school security or the authorities, to safely handle the situation.
It should be noted that each of these systems are just tools that provide information and the ability to control a situation better – they are only as good at protecting the students and staff as those receiving and using the information and options the systems provide.
If the systems are being properly monitored and used, then when combined, they can provide incredibly tight security and a great deal of control over potentially volatile situations.
Additional Devices & Systems
Besides the above three systems that many schools are now implementing to improve security, some schools are also adding some of the following security devices and systems:
- Enhanced Door Locks: Strike Lock and Magnetic Lock Doors: along with access control systems, are special lock-hardware for the doors that are connected to the system. This allows the doors to be electronically controlled from the access control system. The most common types are the strike lock and the magnetic lock doors.
Magnetic locks are composed of magnetic plates placed on top of the doors that secure to a metal receiving box installed in the door frame. When the doors are placed in lockdown by the central access control system, the doors shut, and the lock activates, providing 1200 pounds of force to secure the door. It keeps those inside the room in and anyone outside of the room out and does not allow for any egress through that door.
Strike locks are cut into the frame of the door. When activated, those within the protected space can still choose to exit through the door, but no one on the outside of the door will be able to enter unless they have the proper credentials.
These electronically controlled doors and locks allow for an entire school to be quickly placed on lockdown from a central location, without having to worry about a teacher or student being able to access and shut and lock a door safely.
- License Plate Readers: license plate readers can be incorporated into a surveillance system and help identify who is on the grounds. This, like all of these systems, has a wide variety of applications. All student and staff vehicles could be registered into the program, and the system programmed to notify the correct personnel when a non-registered vehicle enters the campus. Or, if there is a flagged individual, their vehicle alone could be registered in the system so that the system will notify the correct person in the event they drive onto school property.
- Intrusion Detection: intrusion detection includes devices that can be placed in windows, emergency exits, and where egress is possible to alert you when unauthorized entrance into the school occurs. When connected up with access control and/or surveillance systems, the system can inform the user of exactly where the intrusion occurred.
- Cooperation with Law Enforcement: many schools are also now working on developing relationships with local law enforcement that grant them access to live surveillance footage in an emergency. This goes a long way in helping law enforcement locate and respond to threats.
These systems help provide information and notifications that enable personnel and authorities to respond quickly and effectively to potentially dangerous situations and allow them to stay one step ahead of a perpetrator. But as stated above, these systems will only be as effective as the people using them.
Where School Security Technology is Headed
Based on Security Specialist Richard Phillips's observations and expertise, the demand for even better technology will continue to drive and enhance how schools secure their premises and protect their staff and students.
According to Richard, increased use of smart tech and devices will likely be key in these future changes. Because just about everyone, including students, has a smart device, it becomes increasingly easy and effective to use smartphones as credentials in access control systems. Richard also suspects they will become useful in other applications not related to access control, like facilitating transactions in the lunch line and from vending machines.
Additionally, Richard predicts that the next big step will be smarter analytics provided by surveillance cameras. Cameras are already getting more intelligent with abilities like facial recognition. Richard believes the technology will only continue to improve and make them even better at identifying specific types of situations and notifying users of these incidents to help increase response time and even the ability to prevent incidents.
Examples are how simple motion detection has developed into far more sophisticated capabilities. Cameras are being developed to recognize and send notifications for specific scenarios (such as a person stopping and leaving a bag) that help the people behind the cameras identify critical incidents much faster. Rather than scanning through hours of footage, these newer surveillance systems will allow for searching for specific types of incidents, movement, and activity. Cameras are now giving a great deal of specific data and are much more searchable.
The potential applications that schools could use such cameras for are numerous, and they could go a long way in preventing and stopping security incidents when they occur.
If you have additional questions regarding school security systems, please give Koorsen a call today. Our experts would be happy to discuss options and ways to enhance a current security system or design one just right for your property.