Patrick Fiel is a specialist in school security with ADT Security Services and former executive director of security for the Washington, D.C., Public School System.
Over the past three weeks, news from North American campuses has been tragic and deadly. Four major shooting incidents have resulted in the deaths of at least six students and staff members. And unless there are major changes enacted immediately, that death toll will likely increase as the school year progresses. School security is an issue that exists at all schools - large, small, urban, rural - as evidenced by the recent shootings at Dawson University in Montreal, Platte Canyon High School in Colorado, Weston School in Wisconsin, and Monday at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Penn.
School administrators must recognize this violent trend and commit resources to help prevent future attacks on innocent students. Some school administrators already have or are moving forward proactively. However, many have little or no security in place. Far too many administrators claim that the cost of adequately securing their campuses is prohibitive. Security does come with a cost, but what do we have that is more important than the safety of the students and staff?
Technology exists today that can help solve many school security issues. The issue is how to help schools use the tools that are available. According to a recent ABC News report, more than three-quarters of U.S. schools do not have security cameras. Only about 6 percent employ metal detectors. Fewer than half have security personnel stationed on campus. Even locking doors is difficult. About 70 percent of schools lock some -- but not all -- of their doors, while nearly all leave the front door unlocked.
Cameras can be a valuable asset in securing a campus and spotting gun-wielding people before they enter buildings. But unless they are properly placed and someone is monitoring the video, cameras are only good for forensic purposes.
Also, passing all students, staff and visitors through a metal detector can help keep weapons out of schools.
Lockdown (shelter in place) procedures should be in place at every campus. If a gunman does get into school buildings, there has to be a way to immediately lock each classroom. Visitor management systems that require all campus visitors to register at the office with valid identification are critical.
These are just a few of the technology solutions that can help secure a campus. However, there are many other policies and procedures that can be put into place that do not require high-tech steps.
For example, all schools should consider:
- Random searches of student lockers (subject to any applicable legal restrictions).
- Having a security/law enforcement presence on campus at all times when students and/or staff are present.
- Cutting back landscaping that can serve as a hiding place for weapons.
- Making sure that perimeter fencing and lighting are adequate and working.
- Conducting regular drills for staff and students to prepare for an attack.
- Asking for a site security assessment from a qualified security expert, who will be able to help design a full plan for securing the campus.
Of course, no system or plan is infallible. Short of turning our schools into locked-down prisons, we will have to accept that things can and will go wrong. But we can undoubtedly do much better than we are doing today.
It is all a matter of leadership and taking charge. Many principals, superintendents and school boards are stepping up to the challenge, and parents are demanding a change. For the safety of our kids, security and education have to go side by side.
About the author: Patrick Fiel is the public safety advisor specializing in education for ADT Security Services, Inc. He brings more than 30 years of security experience to the position. For six years was executive director of school security of Washington, D.C. Public School System, where he managed 163 school campuses.