Industry Perspective

A conversation with Mike Lamach

NATIONWIDE, as schools prepare to invest millions in products to ensure the safety and security of their students, teachers and equipment, many officials are seeking expert advice and guidance in selecting the appropriate security products and systems for their needs. The newest security products may attract the eye of the involved, tech-savvy parent, but does the solution deliver the necessary return on investment for an academic environment? Mike Lamach, president of Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies, provides counsel to schools and universities on devising and implementing security solutions. He spoke with us about some of the trends facing the education sector.

Q. What is the most common security concern for schools today?

A. Schools, colleges and universities of all types and sizes are becoming more aware of the security risks posed by unauthorized access to facilities. School officials are taking steps to prevent this unauthorized access and the potentially dangerous incidents that could occur. Whether the facility is located in a large city or a rural community, controlling access with greater certainty is the first line of defense in keeping the educational environment secure.

But keep in mind that implementing security measures cannot trump schools' day-to-day needs. Educational institutions must be safe and secure. Students and teachers also need access and flexibility to move throughout classrooms, auditoriums, computer centers or dormitories, without unnecessary burdens or delays.

"Educational institutions must be safe and secure. Students and teachers also need access and flexibility to move throughout classrooms, auditoriums, computer centers or dormitories, without unnecessary burdens or delays."
-- Mike Lamach

Additionally, many solutions need to meet local building codes, fire codes and Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. In a nutshell, the most common concern for school officials is how to achieve and maintain secure access to an academic facility while still allowing the environment to meet its primary academic and social missions within the community.

Q. What emerging technologies do you believe will play a major role in schools in the future?

A. In the future, we believe that smart cards, wireless technology and Web-hosted programs will play an increasingly key role in securing schools. Schools -- particularly in the K-12 market -- will seek solutions that give them the ability to manage increased data linked to safety and security.

For example, schools will have the capability to link their visitor systems to check names against the national sex offenders' database or their own database of background checks. The state of Florida has already enacted legislation, known as the Jessica Lunsford Act, that makes it necessary for schools to conduct and maintain background screenings for all non-instructional employees and contractual personnel, such as milk or soda vendors, sports officials and construction contractors.

Methods to verify a position match must be established, such as photo ID badges, sign-in logs, check-in points or biometric technology.

Q. Are schools concerned with how security solutions affect the privacy of teachers and students?

A. In our experience, most K-12 schools have not voiced privacy concerns in regards to their security solutions. K-12 school districts believe that solutions are necessary nowadays to secure students and give teachers increased time on tasks.

Colleges and universities are a bit more concerned with privacy in their residence halls. Schools want to protect their students that reside on campus and identify solutions that respect their students' privacy in their personal living spaces.

Q. In this time of competing security technologies and varying budget allocations, how can school officials make smart security choices for their facilities?

A. To ensure selection of the most appropriate security solutions, schools should conduct safety and security needs assessments. The assessment needs to closely examine the way teachers, students and parents interact with their academic facilities, and identify where vulnerabilities lie.

For example, a grade school must be open for student arrival and then be locked down during the school day to prevent unauthorized visitors. A university wants to provide flexible access to its medical students to lab areas during weekends and off-hours, but also needs to protect the expensive computer equipment.

As a security solution provider, Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies uses a safety and security pyramid approach to match available security options with each facility's specific needs. With this approach, we look at four basic levels of security for an educational institution.

The base of the pyramid represents the fundamental mechanical locking system that restricts free access or egress through an opening.

The second level is electronic access control and key management. This would encompass standalone, programmable, battery-powered locks networked through software to provide an audit trail capability and time-based scheduling for restricting access.

The third level incorporates biometric products that can verify hand geometry, fingerprints or facial characteristics to ensure that only authorized personnel gain access.

The fourth level, or top of the pyramid, is system integration. This level covers all the previous levels, plus additional areas managed by software solutions, such as time-and-attendance systems, personnel scheduling systems and data capture techniques.

With large integrated solutions, the top of the pyramid often gets the most attention because the solutions are a bit more attention-grabbing and flashier than standard door hardware. But schools must realize that if their safety and security foundation is not strong and functioning, then their entire system will be flawed.

For example, if the door closer for the gymnasium doesn't secure when the football team leaves the building after practice, then an intruder could access the building, forgoing the CCTV or biometric system set up in the main lobby of the school building. All the state-of-the-art technology in the world can't secure a building if the mechanical, physical barriers to entry don't function properly.

Q. What schools have you worked with?

A. Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies has worked with 10,000 schools, colleges and universities across the United States. One of our most ambitious education efforts is a recent partnership with the Safe Schools International Training Institute, an effort spearheaded by the school district of Palm Beach County, Fla. The institute aims to provide school safety training to the more than 14,000 public school districts in the United States.

Ingersoll-Rand is providing equipment and training on locks, hand readers, cameras and other security solutions. The partnership provides us the opportunity to get insight directly from principals, teachers, transportation directors and school police about the changing safety and security needs of schools across the country.

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 50.


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