School security in focus

Systems integrators have a unique perspective on security, especially as it comes to schools. They are often brought in to retrofit systems in decades old facilities, or protect sprawling premises with vast expanses of glass and windows. They also have to consider life safety egress and the ability for students to flow freely within a facility. They too carry a heavy heart and while they can do as much as possible electronically to protect these facilities, they admit that there’s no 100 percent foolproof security system. Overall, they also concur that our country needs to send a message that we will do all we can to protect our children and everyone in the U.S., no matter where they live, work or play.

The Electronic Security Association, based in Irving, Texas, released this statement on Monday, December 17:

“The loss of these children’s lives, and the lives of the adults who tried to protect them, is a tragedy beyond comprehension.  This horrendous event will push society and our industry to find ways to prevent future occurrences and we stand ready to assist in any way we can. At this time, while the facts are still coming in and the nation is in mourning, I think it is premature to try to come up with hypothetical outcomes. There is no simple answer, but to do nothing is not an option.”--John D. Knox, ESA president and president of Knox Integrated Systems, Lenoir City, Tenn.

Many of the integrators who focus on the school vertical markets—from K-12 to universities, are reinforcing their back-to-basics approach with current and prospective customers who are calling their offices fresh off one of the worst school shootings in our history. Perimeter security and layering detection and protection designed to slow down attacks, is an approach many continue to take. We spoke with several systems integrators across the country to get their perspective on the tragedy, how their business has been impacted, and what their thoughts are on school security overall.

Here’s what other alarm dealers and systems integrators had to say about the event:

Robert J. Beck, president, R.J. Beck Protective Systems Inc., Norwalk, Ohio:

“Incidents like this offend everyone’s stability and it’s beyond words,” said Bob Beck. “Friday afternoon we were getting many calls from our existing school customers, asking about additional access control or completing the last phase of their security system program upgrade. At first, I didn’t know why, because I hadn’t been watching or listening to the news. Then, I realized the magnitude of what had happened.”

“These customers were asking about access control, cameras and panic buttons. At R.J. Beck Protective Systems, we have always been a proponent of levels of security in schools, to slow down any incident. Unfortunately, you’ll never prevent it, but you slow down events so occupants have time to get out, or first responders have time to act. We also advocate ‘sally ports’ which are basically man traps where you can restrict entry to certain points of the protected premises prior to admittance.”

“We are also torn between life safety and the need for egress in the event of a fire, so this has to be considered. In the example of Sandy Hook, there should not have been glass at the entrance to the facility. Bullet proof (ballistic) glass is cost-prohibitive, so we advise against any glass at entrances.”

“This was a horrific act. You just can’t plan for this type of thing but you can try to slow it down as much as possible through proactive measures.” (Bob Beck is a former law enforcement officer and has 30 years in the security business.)

Marshall Marinace, president, Marshall Alarm Systems Inc., Yorktown Heights, N.Y. and vice president of the Electronic Security Association:

“One of the problems I see is that architects and engineers who design buildings often have no experience with how security may play into their designs. You have buildings with lots of glass and all windows, or the older buildings with single levels that run thousands of feet,” he said. New buildings, he added, need to get the systems integrators involved in the beginning of the planning stages so these security concerns can be met upfront.

Marinace said the company’s current school customers have been contacting their company about wireless portable panic buttons for all the teachers, as well as access control and additional cameras. He also said school districts have been calling about their lockdown procedures—in some instances extending those lockdowns throughout the day. “Also, instead of four entry points to the school, for example, they are using only one set of doors for entrance and egress. They also want to make it easier for responsible parties to go into a lockdown scenario through one pushbutton or control, rather than having to communicate it system-wide over the intercom or to a central point where the lock down is then initiated,” he said.

“All glass and windows are not a good thing,” he added. “Of course I advocate electronic security, but we have to get back to basics to make our schools more secure.”

Joe Liguori, president, Access Control Technologies Inc., Clifton, N.J. and president of Security-Net:

“I am hopeful that this event will motivate our existing customers to examine the breadth of security coverage that they presently have in an effort to identify potential areas requiring enhanced improvement,” Liguori said. “I further suspect that public entities such as schools will formulate committees to examine areas of vulnerability and look to identify measures that would forestall the potential reoccurrence such as the one that just occurred.” 

“While our company has had some experience in the secondary school market we have experienced much greater penetration in the university and college markets. Because of the dynamics of universities which comprise greater real estate and higher concentrations of students and faculty, the security requirements are arguably more defined and the budgetary consideration are more extensive. That being said it is always a challenge to incorporate adequate security consideration while still accommodating the free flow of students, faculty and outside participants such as visitors, contractors and such.”

“Perimeter security is also a consideration, however you have to evaluate the viability of each level of potential protection as it pertains to the specific aspects of the individual building and how they operate. Access control is an excellent measure and the advent of more sophisticated wireless locking mechanisms makes this application more affordable allowing for more extensive penetration.”

“Our company always professes to our clients that the efficiency of any system is proportional to the involvement and general understanding of its users. That is why a collaborate exchange of discussion illustrating needs and requirements coupled with at site survey of the premises both during peak hours and in non peak hours develops a better understanding of what is required and what is acceptable to the facility. Training to ensure proper installation of the technology is also essential to insuring that you get the most from any system ham may be installed. There is no substitute or training to ensure proper utilization.”

Dan Moceri, chairman and chief executive officer, Convergint Technologies LLC, Schaumburg, Ill.

“First off, our hearts and prayers go out to the young victims as well as their teachers, administrators and all the families impacted by this horrible tragedy.  As for our business, the last thing we want to do is benefit by something this terrible.  Being in the security industry and doing a fair amount of work in the education market, we certainly want to contribute to potential solutions to stop senseless violence like this.” 

Moceri said the industry definitely learns from tragedies such as these and moves to improve security measures.  “We have seen request to evaluate security particularly as it relates to managing access to a building.  One request actually came from a concerned parent.” 

“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.” 

“If you think of the most secure facilities in our country, you will find that there is a tiered, or layered approach to security.  Electronic security is a huge part of that design, but it extends beyond that to create the layered security effect.  Bullet-proof/shatter-proof glass, specialty lockout systems, armed security officers, emergency readiness (drills), and of course, community awareness are all parts of the layering effect.” 

“Law enforcement agencies across the country are experiencing budget cuts at significant levels, which often results in fewer law enforcement officers.  It is becoming more important than ever for people to be more proactive with regard to safety and security.” 

Hank Monaco, vice President of Commercial Marketing, Tyco Integrated Security, Boca Raton, Fla.

“The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook has brought questions about what schools can do to keep their students and staff safe to the center of a national conversation, and we expect schools across the country to reassess their security measures and emergency management plans. In recent years, we’ve seen a significant increase in school security awareness and preparedness,” Monanco said.

“Strong perimeter security is critical to keeping potential threats out of school buildings. A layered security approach that includes surveillance cameras, a visitor management system, remote monitoring, effective lighting, and landscaping can help school administrators adequately monitor their campus environment.”

Monaco said TycoIS provides complimentary security reviews to help administrators evaluate areas of risk and the smartest places to invest to provide the most protection for teachers, administrators, students and valuable assets. “Also, as schools review their emergency management plans, we’d advise administrators to work closely with first responders and ensure that plans include different scenarios including fire, active shooter scenarios, and natural disasters. Effective security procedures are critical to mitigating risk, and regular review of emergency management plans and drills are critical to ensure that teachers, administrators and first responders are prepared in the event of a crisis.” 

“Effective security is intended to mitigate risk, though it is not foolproof. Additional security measures for schools to consider include a mass notification system and internal partitions within the building, which would allow specific areas of the school to be isolated. It is the combination of layered security, on – site drills, and community involvement that will provide the most effective approach. First responders should be actively involved in emergency management plans, and ideally will have remote access to surveillance footage so that in the event of an emergency, they can effectively assess the situation and plan a response before every entering the building.”

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