A Consultative Approach to K-12 Security

June 20, 2024
Take a closer look at the role of the integrator in K-12 school security in this article that appears in the June issue of Security Business magazine.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Security Business magazine. Don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter if you share it.

While the trusted advisor role is important for any security integration customer, it is vital to the success of a school security program. K-12 school security programs are often spearheaded by principals and administrators who care very much about security; however, myriad day-to-day school activities might get in the way of a true dedication to security best practices, technology deployments, and funding initiatives. These are not corporate security directors, after all.

“As part of our internal training, we talk about a consultative approach – and it is truly more than just a buzzword,” explains Convergint’s David Klug, who heads up the integration company’s State & Local Government & Education (SLED) practice. “It is one of the things that we sort of preach endlessly – rather than using hard sales tactics and just taking a [product] sale, we need to do some discovery related to the rest of the security environment,” Klug adds.

In speaking with Klug, it becomes clear that the vital trusted advisor role for integrators working with K-12 customers falls into three distinct areas: The search for funding, technology and deployment, and policies and procedures.

Funding: The First Step to Security

Last summer, Texas and Tennessee allocated millions of dollars to new school security initiatives in response to shooting incidents. Still, they are far from the only ones. Many states have enacted grant and funding programs for safety and security earmarked specifically for K-12 schools.

On the federal level, The Department of Homeland Security’s annual Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help nonprofit organizations increase their physical security posture against acts of terrorism or other extremist attacks.

“While we see more [grant and funding] efforts at the state level, one of the major national school funding mechanisms is the nonprofit security grant,” Klug explains. “This applies to schools that meet the criteria, and DHS just infused another $400 million into it, which is significant.”

As integrators search for funding for their K-12 clients, it is important to note that any school that applies for NSGP funding is also subject to the provisions of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As most integrators know, that means equipment made by companies including Dahua, Hikvision, Hytera, ZTE, and Huawei cannot be used. It also means rip-and-replace is subject to funding.    

“The federal government has put its foot down and said that state and local government educational facilities have to replace [that equipment], and now there are finally funds behind that effort,” Klug said, noting that DHS specifically stated that funding can be used to replace NDAA-banned cameras, video surveillance, and telecommunications equipment.

Help your school customers apply for the NSGP at https://www.fema.gov/grants/preparedness/nonprofit-security/fy-24-subapplicant-quick-start-guide.

Not every state specifically funds K-12 security – currently, 29 states do; however, those states that fund K-12 security grants do not necessarily re-up the funding every year. Check out the nearby sidebar of current K-12 grant and funding programs (courtesy of Convergint), but note that it is critical for integrators to stay abreast of changes in the state funding opportunities.

Finally, Alyssa’s Law is among the state laws that have gained national notoriety. Texas, Tennessee, New Jersey, Florida, and New York have passed a version of the law, that requires K-12 facilities to be equipped with silent panic alarms that directly notify law enforcement of an emergency (read more in Tim Pastore’s September 2023 Legal Brief: www.securityinfowatch.com/53069885).

Klug cautions that while the idea and the impetus behind the law is significant, in many cases, there is no funding attached to it. “We were excited when New York announced it had enacted Alyssa’s Law, but then we were deflated when we learned that there was no funding behind it – unlike in New Jersey, where school districts just have to prove they have operational panic buttons to get funding.”

Technology Considerations

Obviously, if schools are obtaining this funding, it must be spent on something – and most of it is spent addressing the threat keeping superintendents, administrators, teachers, parents, and even students awake at night – active assailants.

“When I'm speaking and I show a slide of all the potential threats to a school – everything from vandalism and bullying to mass shootings – superintendents and principals acknowledge the fact that statistically, of all the things listed, a mass shooting is least likely to occur,” Klug says. “Having said that, that is what's keeping them up at night.”

Klug adds that active shooter mitigation is what's driving a lot of the school security efforts – particularly for schools receiving state funding from the School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) offered by the Department of Justice.

In that vein, it means that many K-12 administrators are looking at technologies like weapons detection.

“We are seeing it at all levels of education – K-12 and higher ed – from the school grounds, to entrances, to stadiums,” Klug says, adding that integrators should understand that many school administrators have been exposed to vendor marketing and word of mouth when it comes to these systems. “When we're talking to customers about weapons detection [systems that use] AI, we are approaching with caution.”

As it is with the state and national funding, this is where integrators must step in with a consultative approach, to help someone who is not attuned to the nuances of security navigate the technology landscape.

Klug uses vaping detection as an example: “I think everybody can agree that vaping is a public health emergency crisis in the United States…but we have to approach it consultatively with a school and look at security holistically,” Klug explains. “In this example, let’s say the school wants to buy vaping detection technology, but they have a 17-year-old access control system. Now we have to explain to them that we understand the concern about vaping, but as a matter of priority, maybe we should take a look at the access control system first.”

We offer from the get-go what we call strategic master planning, which looks at everything and involves all the stakeholders – not just a facility director or an IT director, but everything that we can do to get not only those folks [in the room], but also the principal, and superintendent, and HR – all the decision makers – so the left hand knows what the right is doing.

- David Klug, Convergint

Policies and Procedures

Piggybacking on that consultative trusted advisor approach with schools, Convergint – as do many integrators – helps with procedures and training beyond just choosing the right technology.

“I don't want us to just sell a product – for example, if we deploy weapons detection technology and the first alarm goes off, what happens? Who does what? We have those conversations as well,” Klug says. “If you are going to deploy something like that, you need those measures in place, but often a school does not.”

Leveraging former school security directors and other former end-user executives, a large national integrator like Convergint can conduct that sit-down with school stakeholders to create a response plan.

“We offer from the get-go what we call strategic master planning, which looks at everything and involves all the stakeholders – not just a facility director or an IT director, but everything that we can do to get not only those folks [in the room], but also the principal, and superintendent, and HR – all the decision makers – so the left hand knows what the right is doing,” Klug adds.

Those integrators looking to break into school security or those without former school security directors on staff can leverage the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) guidelines as a starting point for trusted advisory; in fact, Klug says Convergint uses it despite having those experts at their disposal.  

“We do leverage it; in fact, we have an MOU with SIA (the Security Industry Association) and PASS, and we incorporate [the guidelines] as part of our K-12 security roadmap,” Klug says. “Yes, you can spend millions of dollars on school security, and many schools and districts do, but there are also plenty of low- and no-cost things that that they can do which are part of the PASS guidelines. We take them through that so that they are not overwhelmed by the guidelines or thinking that it's just a cost-prohibitive proposition from the get-go – because it's not.”

Klug cites one example of a low-cost K-12 security/safety measure – simply numbering doors in schools. “For literally the cost of some decals and the people to place them, the benefit is huge when you think about emergency response,” Klug says. “When first responders are arriving from different jurisdictions, now they can easily find ‘door 1.’ You know, there's no national standard for door numbering in schools, and that could save lives.”

Despite its surge in popularity among security industry insiders, Klug says there is still much work to be done in gaining public exposure and acceptance of the PASS guidelines. “Last June, I spoke at a presentation on grants and funding for K-12 to the American Association of School Superintendents,” Klug says. “I decided to ask one question near the end of my presentation and get responses in real time. The question was simple – how many of you are familiar with the PASS guidelines? I would say 70% never heard of them, let alone uses them. We need to continue to push awareness.”

Learn more about PASS at https://passk12.org.

About the Author

Paul Rothman | Editor-in-Chief/Security Business

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at [email protected]. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at www.securitybusinessmag.com.