Here’s a number for you: $1.5 billion. That’s how many dollars are invested in school security per year, according to a report from IHS Markit. For the 2019–2020 school year, nearly $800 billion was spent on K-12 education in the U.S., making school security just 0.2%, or about one out of every $500 we spend on schools. With limited resources available, a big challenge for school administrators isn’t necessarily finding the latest and greatest product on the market, but rather figuring out how to leverage available funding most effectively. Guy Grace, Vice-Chair of the PASS Advisory Council, shares how he works with schools to make sure they’re getting the most out of their security investment.
Establishing a Baseline for School Safety and Security
Schools must be strategic in their approach to securing their campuses, and the shiniest new technology isn’t always the best option. As the former security director of Littleton Public Schools, Grace now works with school districts across the country to ensure they have the most accurate and relevant information when it comes to school safety and security investments.
“There’s little out there for K-12 to get a baseline for what they’re buying,” Grace said. “I do the research, work with the different vendors out there, talk to school districts, and then make recommendations from the best practices we can find.”
Top 4 K-12 Commonest Safety and Security Pitfalls
Here are four of the most common mistakes Grace sees in his work with K-12 schools:
1. Neglecting the Groundwork
Grace often sees schools investing in the latest and greatest security technology without getting their most basic security needs met first. “Across the country right now, the two most sought-after security components are duress systems and vape sensors,” Grace said. “But if you haven’t addressed access control, duress systems and vape sensors aren’t going to solve anything because you haven’t resolved basic security issues.”
The most effective safety and security measures can often be the most affordable. It’s important to ensure your baseline security measures are in place before implementing higher-cost options.
The PASS Guidelines organize school safety and security measures into four tiers, with Tier 1 being the most basic measures and Tier 4 the most advanced. That way, schools can start implementing safety measures based on the budget they have now—not “someday.”
2. Disparate Technological Systems
Whenever tragedy strikes, panic ensues. This can often result in short-sighted planning or products that respond only to the latest tragedy, as opposed to supporting a long-term, holistic approach. In a unified system, Grace said, visitor management software, video software, communications, and fire systems should all talk in a way that school administration can understand, use, and afford. Without a unified plan in place, reactive purchases can result in disparate technological systems that, when implemented, don’t work well together.
3. Making Security Investment Decisions Without a Plan
Conversations around school safety and security in the U.S. tend to hyperfocus on active shooter scenarios. But any K-12 teacher will tell you they face very different threats and safety issues on a daily basis, whether it’s cyberbullying, fighting, or vaping.
Schools have to know what their daily threats are in order to make the right investment decisions. This is why it’s essential to start with a safety and security plan, Grace said. Safety and security plans don’t have to be complicated or costly; in fact, you can get one set up in just four steps.
As a prerequisite to the security plan, schools must first complete a risk assessment, which will identify threats, vulnerabilities, and risks unique to your campus. The plan will then build around and be responsive to the results of that assessment.
Learn more about risk assessments and safety and security plans in our no-cost PASS Guidelines.
4. Ignorance of Current System
In his work with schools across the country, Grace said many schools don’t realize the security features built into their existing platforms. “Almost all security systems have analytic capabilities, like counting how many people are in the building, heat mapping, and tracking where people gather,” he said. Schools can use these existing systems for intrusion detection after hours, or if somebody approaches the building at odd hours during the day.
It’s important that schools use their existing technology to its fullest extent before making further investments.
“Even vape sensors can be unified with your video management system,” Grace said. “We need to educate our school safety professionals on how to get the most out of their existing equipment.”
Little Changes, Not Big Technology
With all the shiny new technology out there—and very little data to work from—it’s easy for schools to get sucked in. But when it comes to school shootings, it’s often the little things that can have an impact on the larger threats. “As a school security director, one of the biggest things is empowering your staff and students with training to respond to different threats in a school,” Grace said. “Simple things like good locks on your doors, and knowing when and how to shelter behind those locked doors, can save a life.”
Above all, schools must adopt a holistic, “all-hazards” approach to school safety and security. When it comes to making those big investments, Grace said, schools should defer to their risk assessment first. “What did my risk assessment show me was most likely to happen? What am I trying to stop on any given day?”
PASS Has Your Back
Sometimes the most effective solutions have the smallest price tag. In today’s climate, school officials should be wary of the aggressive marketing of any products that are unproven, inappropriate, or possibly illegal for school use.
The PASS Guidelines and Checklist serve as a no-cost resource to help schools strategize around their safety and security investments. Our four-tier system is designed so that schools of all sizes (and budgets) can meet minimum thresholds of safety and security for their schools.
“School safety is a profession now,” Grace said. “We’ve moved from having hall monitors to full-time security directors in schools. We’re giving tools to the people after us. We got your back.”
Contributors: PASS thanks Guy Grace for the research and expertise used in this article.
HID Global is a high-tech software company that powers the trusted identities of the world’s people, places, and things, allowing people to transact safely, work productively and travel freely.
The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) bringing together expertise from the education, public safety, and industry communities to develop and support a coordinated approach to making effective and appropriate decisions with respect to safety and security investments. You can download the complete PASS Guidelines or check out our PASS Safety and Security Checklist for quick tips on how to get started. These resources—as well as whitepapers on various topics including barricade devices, lockdown drills, and more—are available at no cost.
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