Navigating the School Security Market

Aug. 12, 2015
Your path to greater profits on campus includes budgets, technology, and most importantly, trust

In our work with institutions of higher education and K-12 schools, we are continually asked to identify emerging trends or best practices in the industry. I would amend that to “contemporary standards”— because let’s face it, if budget was never an issue, everything would be a best practice. Whatever term you use, it is vitally important to know both the state of the industry today, as well as tomorrow and in the years to come.

This information is not only important for practitioners and consultants, but certainly the manufacturers, dealers and integrators who provide exceptional services and products to so many institutions. The challenge is understanding what the needs of a large residential, urban university with substantial resources might be vs. a small, rural day school with limited financial and human resources.

With such a vast topic, narrowing it down to a few specific areas of in-demand technology, as well as how dealers/integrators can better respond to the needs of potential clients should prove valuable.

Investing in Efficiency

Clearly, each institution — large or small — aspires to provide the highest level of security services while deploying solutions that are reasonable for the global and local threats facing similar institutions and their particular environment. The paradigm shift that I am seeing is institutions moving away from simply investing in security technology, and instead learning how they can more efficiently and effectively use the technology they have. How can legacy equipment be integrated to provide cost savings and further force multiplication? How do they use cameras effectively, since they cannot always be monitored? How do they maximize the use of Wi-Fi networks?

Of course, we still see institutions that have yet to make any, or have made minimal investment in security technology — but those instances are dramatically decreasing due to many states either proposing or enacting legislation that requires public institutions to comply with access control and visitor management standards. It is likely that security spending in all educational institutions will continue on an upward trajectory in the immediate future.

Become a Trusted Advisor

Dealers, VARs and integrators should look to provide more than the “nuts and bolts” of security systems to potential clients. In many cases, schools are not only struggling with difficult financial decisions, but they also do not have the subject matter expertise to thoroughly assess their needs and/or understand the technologies and opportunities available. Essentially, the idea of relationship building must be more than a sales tactic — it should be a sincere and honest practice, as these schools have a reliance on their partners.

Value-added engineering and opportunities to create synergies and operational efficiencies is critical. For example, I recently worked with a smaller, liberal arts school that has worked with a supplier partner for more than a decade. Unfortunately, in that time, the supplier had not invested time into building a partnership with the school and understanding its needs as they have grown and changed. Instead, they continued to sell them products and “add devices” — and after many years, the school has realized its investments have had yielded little Return on Investment. Needless to say, they are shopping for a new partner.

It is important to seize opportunities to be creative and propose cost-effective solutions based on ROI to your potential clients because at the end of the day, many educational institutions don’t know what they don’t know!

I have been fortunate to work with a number of institutions developing standards and RFPs in my position, but over the past year, I have been working with one to select a new partner for a large system purchase and installation that uses many new technologies. Each of the RFP respondents dug deep to not only meet the RFP requirements, but to develop unique value-added solutions for the institution. This was a highly influential factor in the school’s decision-making process, and it is fast becoming the expectation in the industry.


As the “boots on the ground” working with these institutions, we are seeing a significant desire to move to a centralized model of security technology. This is not necessarily new, but it is much more in demand than in the past.

Many colleges and universities, for example, have disparate systems deployed throughout campus and are not centrally controlled or managed. This is obviously a problem for a number of reasons, but primarily because these systems are not used effectively and typically yield little or few tangible results.

We see a desire for dealers and integrators who possess the experience and talent to proactively propose solutions using creativity, experience and market knowledge. While suppliers must meet each specification when responding to an RFP, it is not only acceptable but encouraged to add additional strategies and solutions that are not part of the RFP. Some of these might be larger or more extensive than the RFP calls for, but some might also provide more efficient, even less costly options for institution. When I work with institutional partners to evaluate bid responses, those who have gone “the extra mile” are almost always quickly identified and highlighted as a frontrunner.

As part of the centralization process, institutions are also seeking ways to manage all of this data and systems. While technology has enabled security departments to have greater situational awareness and post-incident analysis, it has also forced users such as dispatchers to need a greater amount of training in these systems, which at times can cause knowledge overload.

With electronic access control, security cameras, alarms, emergency phones, mass notification systems, automated vehicle location, and of course the good old telephone, it can be an arduous task to manage effectively. This is where we see the use of PSIM as a continuing trend. That said, many institutions we have worked with are completely unaware that PSIMs exist, let alone how they can help the institution manage these systems and receive greater operational effectiveness.

A PSIM can provide campus-wide benefits above and beyond typical security system applications. Many of the institutions we work with are not informed of the data collection, analysis and reporting capabilities that a PSIM can bring to the institution.

Other Technology Trends

Another example is the use of analytics as a force multiplier. With budgets shrinking or static at best, our partners continue to seek solutions that augment and extend their current police/security forces; however, many of these institutions do not know the full power or capabilities of analytics. As technology continues to change, dealers and integrators should bring forth these solutions. Often during assessments, we find that available technologies that would benefit our clients were never proposed or offered to them. In many cases, it is just a matter of educating the customer and often, their executive or senior management.

Finally, we have been seeing a significant desire or interest from institutions to deploy Wi-Fi locks for various applications, ranging from residential suites and dorm rooms to custodial and IT closets. As this market continues to gain momentum, I would encourage dealers/integrators to develop strategies for both colleges and universities, as well as K-12. There is significant interest from those we serve in pursuing these technologies, but positioning the technology to be “friendly” is as important as allaying concerns over the stability and reliability of newer technologies. Even if you, as the dealer/integrator has been working with a product for several years, the institution might see the product as new — and as we know, schools tend to move slowly towards new technology.

Daniel R. Pascale, CPP, is the Senior Director of Security and Emergency Management Services at Margolis Healy, a professional services firm specializing in campus safety, security and regulatory compliance for higher education and K-12 schools. He has more than 20 years of experience in the field and has worked with dozens of institutions to develop emergency plans and security-related policies and procedures.