School security in focus

Dealers and integrators share their thoughts, discuss getting back to basics

“While few security systems are infallible, there are measures that can be taken to significantly increase protection.  This is certainly more feasible in industrial and even commercial markets where budgets are larger and a more visible ‘fortress like’ security is acceptable.  The challenge in schools is certainly cost and while we want children to be and feel safe, the security environment should not turn the school into a hardened fortress.  Layered security is a very good approach, but even in the case of Sandy Hook, the perimeter protection was breached due to the shooter penetrating the least hardened barrier.  While physical security can do a lot to slow down or even deter such heinous acts, it does take more than just protecting a facility.  While it may take a long time, we have to address and eliminate the source of such violence in our society.”

Greg Hussey, vice president of Engineering, SIGNET Electronic Systems Inc., Norwell, Mass.:

“The most important thing to improve security and safety for public schools is policies and procedures,” said Greg Hussey. “Systems can be designed and installed to be close to infallible but the end result would be too costly and restrictive; think of a prison. I believe that protocols should be developed at some level i.e. each district, town or state, which provides guidance related to staff/personnel entering each school, visitors/parents gaining access, asking for identification/checking hot lists, verifying relationships, teaching how to handle various situations and how to escalate issues, etc.  These procedures should be practiced/rehearsed and fine tuned.”

“It appears that many schools across America still have an open door policy, they are ‘public’ buildings after all, and most doors are left open or unlocked, no one monitors the main entrance and they are not secure etc.  This can't happen as long as our schools are ultimately responsible for our children.”  

“A million dollar system will not do anyone any good if someone places a brick to prop open the cafe door.  A main entrance that is open to the public with a sign that states ‘visitors must check in at the main office’ is not going to cut it.  A video intercom system at the main entrance where a person just has to state: ‘I'm here to pick up my son’ and they are let in is not a security system. Again, policies that are enforced and practiced and people are held accountable.”

"Regarding physical things that could be done, the first is making sure that all doors are secured and that every school has only one entrance and that entrance doesn't provide free access to the entire school.  Perhaps a vestibule should be created where they don't exist where school personnel can interact with visitors/would be parents in a secure manner before they are given access to the school.  This doesn't necessarily mean a system is needed, but just making sure door hardware is being used correctly.”    

Hussey said mass notification systems will become more important and prevalent--a way that staff can activate and notify emergency announcements for lock-downs, etc.  Duress buttons will be helpful which can generate pre-recorded messages informing everyone of the type of emergency, directions to exit the building etc. 

Lynn A. F. Comer, president, Shenandoah Valley Security LLC, Waynesboro, Va.

“The truth is that this incident has already impacted my business.  A job that was completed is now being redesigned to create a more layered effect within the interior of the structure so as to create a secondary level of protection for the classroom areas.  This action is a direct result of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.  Just a few weeks ago, the customer considered this an unnecessary expense,” Comer said. 

“Layering is one of several important strategies.  It's all about ‘time’—creating enough obstacles to allow the emergency response professionals the precious commodity of time.  No system can guarantee there will never be an intrusion, but what it does give you is the assurance that help is on the way and creates one more barrier for the intruder.” 

“Whenever an event like this happens, that breaks the heart of an entire country, it is reasonable to assume that people everywhere will be re-examining their own life situations and considering what security/safety measures might better serve them and their communities.  Parents will be examining the safety and security measures in place at their children's schools and community gathering places.  Churches, which have in recent years become targets, will be looking at how to protect not only the church assets, but the members of their congregations.”