10 Considerations for School Security Technology

By Mike Lahiff

There have been more than 554 victims of school shootings and 320,000 children affected by gun-related violence at school since Columbine in 1999. While gun policy debates rage on, security and safety stakeholders are turning to technology to keep students, educators, and staff safe from active shooters.

Schools are difficult to protect since they generally have large exterior spaces, many entry points, and limited resources for reactive security technology and for hiring additional security personnel. Additionally, there is no “cure-all” solution that does it all. A successful physical security technology strategy must rely on multiple layers of security solutions working in unison—like cameras, object detection software, and access control systems—to give first responders precious time to respond to and stop active shooters.

To help you determine whether a vendor can deliver an effective solution that keeps your schools safe from gun-related violence, here are ten key considerations you should review.

Technological Considerations

1. Verify that the technologies can actually do what they’re supposed to do
Federal government accreditations are the clearest indicators of whether a technology is effective in accomplishing what it claims. The gold standard is recognition by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the SAFETY Act, which was signed into law after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help encourage the development and adoption of technologies that could assist in the defense against terrorism. The SAFETY Act program evaluates the effectiveness of technologies through rigorous analysis of data, processes, and methodologies and provides levels of recognition, each with increasing liability protection for claims resulting from an act of terrorism.

2. Prioritize proactive over reactive technologies
When an active shooter is capable of killing dozens before a 9-1-1 call can be made, every second counts. Reactive technologies can’t help change the course of events as they unfold—think regular door locks or unmonitored security camera recordings that are used only during a post-crime investigation. Instead, opt for proactive technologies that can be used to dynamically identify and/or hinder threats in real time.

3. Ensure the technologies integrate with and enhance other technologies
The greatest return on investment happens when different technologies and investments integrate with and enhance each other, resulting in synergy. Technologies that can be integrated include security cameras, artificial intelligence software, physical access control systems (PACS), video management systems (VMS), public safety information management systems (PSIM), mass notification systems (MNS), and public safety answering points (PSAP, or 9-1-1 dispatch call center).

4. Avoid technologies that are counterproductive or make schools more vulnerable
Security technologies must be sustainable and not overwhelm a school’s primary purpose, which is to safely educate students. “Fortressing” schools with bullet-resistant materials is not only expensive but also makes them look and feel more like prisons, which doesn’t promote an inviting learning environment. And some technologies like advanced metal detectors—while perfect for stadiums and airports where people expect to enter through a limited number of security checkpoints—are expensive to equip and man at numerous entry points. Furthermore, restricting entry points may simply concentrate students and staff into “fatal funnels” or choke points for a would-be shooter to maximize the number of casualties.

5. Avoid technologies that run into political, legal, or ethical issues
Some technologies like facial recognition and behavioral characterization are affected by human bias and have even been banned for public use in some states and jurisdictions. Other technologies like social media monitoring introduce privacy concerns that limit public and political support, preventing reliable adoption at speed and scale.

Vendor Considerations

6. Look closely at the team
At the heart of a company are its people. Their expertise, dedication, and knowledge of their clients' needs and operating environments enable them to identify and address pressing gaps. Look for a team that has relevant experience dealing with stressful situations and a deep understanding of the education, law enforcement, and first responder environments. Additionally, as policymakers increasingly recognize the national security threat that foreign-owned, foreign-developed, or foreign-based companies pose—particularly in data-heavy industries like artificial intelligence—look to U.S. companies that have complete ownership of their data, development, and operations.

7. Beware of “cure-all” claims
Vendors that try to do everything under the sun have trouble doing any one thing very well, and school security is a no-fail mission with deadly consequences. In an age of rapid upgrades and developments where technologies might become obsolete in a few years, schools will get the most value from best-in-class solutions that can be seamlessly integrated with other best-in-class technologies.

8. Consider whether a managed or an unmanaged service is best suited for your needs
Different vendors may offer the same technology but approach its implementation differently. For a managed service, human interaction is central to the client experience (though automation might still be used extensively “behind the scenes”). With an unmanaged service, clients have relatively little human interaction with the vendor. Each has its benefits and drawbacks and may be more appropriate for certain solutions in certain situations.

9. Perform due diligence on the vendor’s financial health
A looming recession is challenging technology companies—and startups in particular. Ensuring venture and institutional backing by reputable investors and creditors will help ensure a vendor’s products and services will be available in the long term.

10. Consider how the service is implemented
Too many cooks in your security kitchen can be counterproductive. When working with security integrators, who are largely responsible for the implementation and integration of your security infrastructure, it is important to remember that often they lack intimate product knowledge of more emerging technologies, and as a result, you may want to consider working directly with the manufacturers in certain scenarios. It’s a best practice to consult with both the manufacturers and the integrators to ensure everyone is on the same page.

These 10 considerations should help you navigate the large number of school security solutions that are becoming available. Thankfully, they are all being developed with the same noble goal in mind: keeping our students, educators, and staff safe.

Mike Lahiff is the CEO and co-founder of ZeroEyes

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