Reported incidents of violence, theft, vandalism and drugs on public school campuses nationwide are an all-too-familiar story. According to the federal government's "Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2003" report, 71 percent of K-12 public schools reported at least one violent incident in the 1999-2000 school year, and 20 percent experienced serious violent crimes, such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault.
Data on homicides and suicides at schools show there were 32 school-associated violent deaths in the United States between July 1, 1999 and June 30, 2000, including 24 homicides and eight suicides. The same government report shows that between seven and nine percent of students in grades nine through 12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the preceding 12 months. This statistic has remained fairly constant in recent years.
Against this backdrop, school administrators across the country are placing increasing emphasis on school security. Providing a safe and secure environment for students and faculty while protecting valuable school property and facilities has become a primary concern. With this in mind, public school officials are using numerous steps to better safeguard schools. These range from developing a crisis management plan to increasing staff safety training to purchasing security equipment and systems. Following is a look at some of the security technologies currently being employed by schools to better control access and to improve surveillance of school grounds.
Access Control Systems
In many schools, lost and/or duplicated keys have led to theft or other problems with unauthorized visitors. To avoid such scenarios?and also to provide school administrators better monitoring capabilities?various types of access cards have come into use. Access cards allow schools to control who can enter a building when, and unlike most keys, can be deactivated when lost or stolen.
They can also be issued to staff and vendors who require access at varying hours, are generally integrated with computer software that allows very specific coding. The cards can be coded to allow entry only on certain days and times, such as for contractors or vendors who only work at the school on specific days. The type of card system ranges from magstripe to proximity, with some schools preferring the added protection of a required PIN.
Intrusion alarm systems, long in use in the private sector, are being adopted by more schools due to their ability to detect intruders after hours or in controlled areas, such as computer labs, that are to be accessed only by specified school personnel. Alarm systems may be triggered by various means: motion detectors, breaking glass or electrical devices designed to detect the opening of windows or doors. Some alarm systems can also be used to detect smoke or flames.
Schools are also making use of panic buttons, which allow staff to instantly signal school officials to an emergency situation. Wireless duress alarms can be carried or worn by teachers, school staff and/or specified students. These devices allow users to call for help immediately should a threatening situation occur. Locator technology then pinpoints the location of the person requesting help.
An outside service company may monitor the various alarm systems and immediately alert police if an alarm is activated. Some districts handle their own monitoring, often from a central station manned by school security personnel.
The use of cameras is becoming more commonplace in the school security equation due to their ability to deter crime and also to provide evidence after the fact should an incident occur. The cameras also serve as a deterrent to intruders, who are believed to be less likely to enter a school where they know there are cameras on the premises. In this vein, some school officials recommend prominently displaying cameras in use.