COVID’s Impact on the School Vertical

June 8, 2020
Integrators generally reporting positive gains in the market
This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention @SecBusinessMag on Twitter and Security Business magazine on LinkedIn.

No industry has been left untouched by COVID-19, which has caused widespread closures across the globe – especially in the education sector, with classrooms and school buildings closed for the foreseeable future and colleges campuses left empty.

For years, school security had been at the forefront of the security discussion, as educators implement new technologies and measures to prevent mass shootings, identify vandalism, stop vaping in the bathrooms and to keep students, staff and visitors just generally safe within these facilities.

Now that COVID-19 has caused widespread closures of classrooms, school buildings and college campuses, security integrators are experiencing a range of results as it relates to completing security projects currently in progress, gaining access to facilities and procuring new business.

Difficulty Reaching Decision Makers

One of the biggest challenges today is getting face time with a school’s IT department, who are instrumental in the deployment of any new IP-based security solution in an educational setting.

“We typically interface with a combination of the facilities and IT department to bring new security systems online, but they now have other priorities that need to take precedence,” says Dave Sweeney, CEO of Delaware-based integrator Advantech Inc. “Our local points of contact have been justifiably distracted with providing educational services and IT support within their school districts, so it has been harder to interface with them.”

Due to COVID-19, many school IT departments are now tasked with other responsibilities, such as helping to train school districts on how to use video conferencing solutions for distance learning. They are also providing technical support so that schools can deploy and support other virtual learning tools, including the mass distribution and IT support for laptops and iPads.

“We can only do our work to a point, but then we need to collaborate with school resources,” concurs Eva Mach, CEO and employee owner of Minnesota-based integrator Pro-Tec Design. “When you need someone in the school to complete a project, and they are not available, it can then slow down the project.”

Empty Facilities Create Opportunities

Educators are providing varying degrees of access to their facilities. For Alabama-based Vision Security Technologies, the flow of work has not slowed down; in fact, with a client base that includes many colleges and universities, the integrator is finding greater access to buildings now that campuses are virtually empty.

This has proven especially beneficial for working on projects where the workflow would frequently be interrupted or require installation technicians to work around large groups of people or vehicles. “We are finding that we are able to reduce our installation time for a project by about a week, especially when installing video surveillance systems in large parking decks,” says Vision SVP Del Deason. “It is now more efficient because we don’t have to work around vehicles which can slow down the installation process.”

Gaining access to the buildings in the K-12 market initially was not quite as easy as in the higher education setting, Sweeney says. When schools first closed, no one was permitted to enter as facilities were thoroughly cleaned and school administrators wanted to keep the environments as sterile as possible in preparation for reopening in mid-April. That all changed when it became evident that school would be closed for the remainder of the school year. “After the Governor of Delaware made that announcement, we saw virtually every school district we work with allow us access,” Sweeney says.

Still, challenges remain. This includes coordinating building access with staff who are no longer on campus to grant access. Maintaining social distancing guidelines to reduce risks is also a major concern.

While Mach saw a few school districts immediately allow full access to buildings for new and ongoing projects, a couple schools had to put on the brakes after realizing that some buildings were also serving double duty. “Their facilities were also providing daycare to children of first responders in the district, so the building needed to remain closed,” Mach says.

Still, Pro-Tec Design saw its best sales numbers this April as compared with sales numbers from the same month over the past few years.

School Spending

In Delaware, school districts are proceeding cautiously on general expenses. So far, this has not impacted Advantech’s the current slate of security projects. “We are seeing level-headed business leaders in the K-12 space recognize that they are going to have a school full of students at some point in time, and they realize it would not be wise to forego investing in security projects originally identified as being important just a few months ago,” Sweeney says.

Deason adds that many of his school customers are using this time to learn about new technologies to deploy in the future in university settings to help manage and monitor large groups of students entering and exiting a building. “A typical classroom building may have six access points for students, but depending on screening plans, we are now talking about using access control to schedule which entry-ways are open and to funnel people into the buildings,” Deason explains.

The Future

How to safely reopen schools – and how security technology can help – has been top of mind for many of Mach’s customers. “COVID-19 is changing how we interact with people, open a door, or use an elevator,” she says. “The word now is don’t touch anything you don’t have to.”

Her customers are inquiring about more touchless entry solutions, along with security technologies that can assist with capacity management and social distancing. Likewise, Pro-Tec Design’s engineering department is looking to ensure any new solution to address COVID-related challenges will also work beyond the immediate crisis. “Our goal is to provide long-term value to our clients, future-proof their investments and encourage interoperability,” Mach says.

“What many school districts need right now is a trusted partner,” Sweeney adds. “They need assistance with planning for the future and help understanding what the security and safety landscape may look like three, six months or even a year from now.”

Deason concurs: “The most important thing to remember is to be a good consultant,” he says. “During times like these, integrators need to help customers evaluate new security methods and technologies, including thermal cameras, which they may need to deploy in the future.”

Dominic Burns is President and CEO of A.C. Technical Systems, an independent security systems integrator based in Whitby, Ontario. He is also a member of Security-Net, a network of independent security systems integrators. Request more info about Security-Net at