The Apple of Your Eye

Shootings, abductions, medical emergencies, fire incidents, break-ins, protests, concerts, rallies and more-schools and campuses run the gamut in risks and need a good security integration partner to deliver a tailored approach.

Some incidents can be planned for, others, like mass shootings, generally can't. But with all these scenarios a possible reality, the systems integrator has to be prepared to address any or all-through consultative selling and thorough risk analysis.

The education vertical market is a wealth of untapped opportunity but to really take a bite out of it you need to assess the risks and those depend on its geographical location, number of students and other key factors specific to the protected premises.

This vertical market has opportunities up and down the channel, but budgets are tight as is funding. Some schools have projects funded years ago and have just begun to break ground; others are in a constant battle to get monies for security. One good source of funding is:

Even with the tight finances of the market, Lone Star Communications in Grand Prairie, Texas, continues to focus on the consultative approach, according to Ronald F. Kruse, RCDD and senior vice president of Engineering. Lone Star (a PSA Security Network member) specializes in the K-12 market and often gets referrals from their in-house service group. "In addition, many times we are already doing work in their facility or get a referral from another school district," Kruse said. He added that Lone Star also assists in writing specifications for MEP firms, providing a source of potential customers.

What grade school customers want

Many of the components Lone Star installs in K-12 are public address systems and fire alarms. Beyond that, it depends on the customer and the nature of their operation and Lone Star targets the specification with the customer's end goals in mind, said Kruse. "Burglar alarm coverage is basic and we have seen a move away from door contacts to PIRs only," Kruse added. "Access control and CCTV with front door intercoms are popular for upper and lower grades. The difference is that it's mostly entrance and exit CCTV in lower grades and much higher density camera coverage in upper grades. We are seeing a move to all IP cameras for new installations."

One of the important caveats, Kruse said, is to know who you are selling to-IT or maintenance.

"You may start the process and be surprised by who has the real decision-making authority," said Kruse. Service and maintenance are not a given but nonetheless should not be overlooked.

"I was in the office recently of a maintenance director of a large independent school district in the area," he continued. "Even though we do a lot of business with them, he reconfirmed his commitment to service his own equipment. With the right staff, some customers can handle this. We still jump in for more difficult service items."

Different needs within these markets can't be underscored. For example, many upper level schools and universities are keen on emergency communications and mass notification. Cameras and CCTV seem to be a number one sell for universities and higher levels of education. Campuses with analog cameras now have a choice and a migration path; they can move to IP video and access control fully or have the infrastructure or plan in place to make the move when they are ready and have secured funding. Kruse confirmed he doesn't see that schools are reactionary any longer and instead, try to stay ahead of problems. "The main difference is the availability of funding in the smaller districts and in that case, minimum coverage may be all they can do," he said.

Community college growth boom

Community colleges have witnessed resurgence in attendance. With the financial crisis of the last several years, many older persons have returned to college for new job or skills training. Community colleges may also be the education venue of choice for high school graduates. With four-year college costs soaring, parents send students to community campuses for two years or as a launching pad to universities while saving big bucks in the interim.

As new schools are built, cameras are definitely added to the fold, according to Beverly Vigue, vice president, Education Markets for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, Carmel, Ind. "For the lower grades, unfortunately, until they have an issue and unless they have budgeted for security prior they are waiting and deferring any security installations," Vigue commented.

She added that funding for colleges and universities is different. "The funding numbers did decrease because of fewer endowments," she said. "There is definitely an influx of people, especially at the local college level and these campuses are building and expanding."

Vigue said integrators should start with a personal introduction and a good understanding of the marketplace and how the facility is run. "It may not be one initial visit, but numerous visits," she said. "There are different budgets and responsible parties on campus so integrators need to talk to folks in security and facilities management to understand who is controlling what." Doing a 'due diligence' on the school is critical.

Do your homework well for high marks

"Before you call to set up a visit, find out who's responsible for what. Go to the Internet so you can be armed with knowledge and a better understanding of what the opportunities might be. There may be a lot of little jobs going on. Schools are looking for integrators who are reliable and provide professional services. It's not easy but there is opportunity out there. It is going to take some work and you'll have to go back several times. Find out if they have a one-card provider for vending and see who that provider is. There's no reason integrators can't work with one-card providers," Vigue added.

Messages wanted: quickly and accurately

Chad Lawrence, regional security & fire manager, Southeast, Johnson Controls, Columbia, S.C., said in the university setting, speed of communications takes precedence.

"It's a must, especially using reliable formats that allow mass communications to be exchanged in a timely manner," said Lawrence. "The goal is to communicate accurate and concise information to a wide audience. While complex in the technology, universities have the strong need for a simple interface. Executive leadership needs technologies to help them effectively communicate with their teams."

Johnson Controls, he said, networks with top universities and leverages these connections to get additional work. In addition, it belongs to many organizations and associations for directors of security within the education vertical.

"Politically, if the need is present and when no technology is available to provide a means for mass communications, schools often go to great lengths to secure the necessary funds," he continued. "Upgrades and improvements can be more difficult to fund, but the basic technology is standard in today's environment. Some campuses bundle security solutions with larger energy efficiency projects."

Finding the right solution

Lawrence said mass communications is in a distant first place as the top sell in the K-12 and higher education markets. The next most popular is access control, followed by CCTV.

The education market is ready for the integrator who can provide a risk analysis, consultative approach and the relationship the end user needs to effectively secure their building or campus.