Report: school security efforts still missing the mark

Security solutions provider CDW-Government (CDW-G) announced the findings of its annual School Safety Index on Monday and despite making some improvements with regards to physical and IT security, the survey found that most schools are failing to keep pace with the number of breaches they’ve suffered.
The survey, which included more than 400 K-12 school IT and security directors, also found that many school districts are not utilizing current solutions to their full potential.
Among the report’s highlights include:
  • Both IT and physical security breaches are increasing. Over the past 12 months, 55 percent of survey respondents indicated that their districts had suffered an IT security breach, while 67 percent reported suffering a physical security breach.
  • The majority of IT breaches occur within the schools themselves (63 percent from students and staff), while physical security breaches are perpetrated more by unidentified persons (42 percent).
  • As in years past, school officials cited lack of budget and staff resources as key factors behind their districts falling short when it comes to security.
Bob Kirby, CDW-G vice president for K-12 education, said that as in years past, budgets remain the biggest hurdle for school districts to overcome when the need to make security improvements arise.
“Probably the biggest impediment or inhibitor for schools to be able to improve their security remains budget,” he said “(School security directors) tell you they would like to do more, but they just don’t have the funds.”
According to Patrick Fiel, ADT public safety advisor for education, the time has come for many school districts to stop using the budget as an excuse for not making significant changes to their security operations.
“These security directors or whoever is pushing for funding needs to do more than what they’re doing. They can’t hide behind the budget, because if that’s the case, a lot of schools won’t get anything done,” he said. “So, I think (schools have) got to put security to the forefront, balance security with education and then take it to the superintendent and to the school board  and say ‘hey, these breaches of security are very expensive and by putting in the solutions we’re recommending, we could reduce our costs considerably and save the school money down the road.’”
Fiel added that the willingness of a school to address its security concerns usually boils down to leadership.
“I think the leadership (at many schools) still has the mentality that they’re not going to have the problems that the other school districts are having, the school shootings that have happened around the country, they’re still in that world that it’s not going to happen (to them). It’s all about educating from the leadership,” he said. “The best school districts around the country have got some great leadership that are driving (security). If you’ve got a buy in from the superintendent and you’ve got a buy in from the school board, I can assure you that security and everything else is going to fall into place.”   
Kirby echoed Fiel’s sentiments.
“These schools need to do a better job of building the case for the need (for security upgrades),” he said. “As long as you don’t have recent security events, people’s memories are not permanent when it comes to security breaches.”
The recent passage of the economic stimulus package will have a minimal impact as far school security spending is concerned, according to Fiel, but he indicated that only those schools that are prepared will get the funding.
“The schools that address the issues and put their name out there and say ‘these are our concerns and this is how we can fix some of these problems,’ will be in greater position to receive this funding,” Fiel said.
In addition to not keeping up with the number of breaches, the 2009 CDW-G School Safety Index also found that many schools aren’t properly utilizing the solutions that they already have at their disposal.
While the percentage of schools using surveillance cameras rose from 70 percent in 2008 to 79 percent in 2009, half of these districts only used the cameras to monitor outside areas. Nearly 92 percent of school districts are also using some type of data encryption to protect information on their computer networks, but 40 percent of respondents said they spend just four hours or less per month reviewing their school’s Internet activity.
To address these deficiencies, Fiel advises school districts to conduct security assessments to determine what their risks are and to also have someone come in and check to make sure that all of their security and safety systems are working properly. 
“I think first of all (school security staff) need to collaborate with their peers in different schools. One of the nice things about the education space is that it’s a very collaborative profession. We’ve had customers that have spoken out in our study to talk about the things that they do,” Kirby said. “There are also tools available. Our school safety index is a great tool where they can evaluate their own situation, compare it against the rest of the population, and use that to build a case of ‘here’s where we stand and here’s where we need to make some improvements,’ and have some data to back it on.”
For more information about the survey, visit  To see where your school’s security ranks, see the CDW-G self-assessment tool at