An Advanced Class

Schools determined to take security to the next level will see greater ROI in the future

OFTENTIMES, adults find themselves daydreaming of the days of their youth. Most children long for the day when they're no longer a child. They long for the freedom, fun and excitement believed to come with adulthood. Those who have made the great transition to adulthood, sometimes find themselves longing for a reprisal back to the day when cares were free and worries included those major life decisions such as who to ask to prom.

If our education system has any hope of surviving the next 20 years, school security has to become a priority.

Children today have no idea how pressure packed modern adulthood has become, and how dangerous the world is. Children don't know how competitive corporate culture has become or how difficult it is to save money.

In many ways, children have their own important things to worry about, such as avoiding the resident bully at school. The difference between the bully of yesterday and the bully of today is that the bully of today is far more likely to carry a high-speed automatic weapon instead of using two fists for a free lunch.

Imagine the uproar 35 years ago that would have rocked most communities if someone had suggested spending big bucks on metal detectors and video surveillance systems in elementary schools. Of course, no one could have imagined someone flying commercial airliners into the World Trade Center.

Prioritizing Security
If our education system has any hope of surviving the next 20 years, school security has to become a priority. Violent episodes in schools have led educators and legislators to do just that. Suggestions on how to do this have proceeded on many different tracks. One of the more controversial methods is video surveillance.

Those who advocate the use of cameras say video surveillance provides peace of mind for students, staff and parents. Security experts and administrators say most students, especially those prone to acceptable behavior, as well as teachers, seem to appreciate the increased sense of security. One truth seems to be universal. People do more good and less bad when they think someone is watching.

There are myriad problems school administrators face today that pose formidable challenges when trying to create a safe environment conducive to educating young minds. Terrorism comes in all shapes and sizes. Students known as bullies may not think of themselves as terrorists. It doesn't change the fact that they are. Vandalizing property of other students, teachers or the school itself has become routine in many schools across the country. Deadly weapons have been found on teenagers in high school and elementary students alike. And it's not just larger, high-risk schools either. In the rural southern Indiana town of Bedford, the high school recently deployed video surveillance at the senior high campus.

"Fortunately, we haven't had any major incidents like what we've all seen on national news programs over the last few years. But we have seen an increase of vandalism, student violence and threats over the past several years," said Phil Richason technology coordinator of the school's new DVR system. "The vast majority of our students are great kids. You always have a few that seem driven to challenge the boundaries of acceptable behavior. There is no question -- the presence of surveillance cameras has had a positive impact. Our biggest problem now is realizing how much larger our system really needs to be in order to see and protect all the things we'd like."

Those concerns are repeated by school administrators in communities throughout the country. Creating and maintaining a stable environment for learning is becoming a major concern among top educators. Atmospheres of fear, lawlessness and chaos simply don't produce productive young citizens ready to take on challenges the world presents. Can active surveillance monitoring practices be used in schools to spot potentially troubled behavior before it results in tragedy? Does anyone argue that the more stable the environment, the better the learning opportunity? Isn't it time to invest in technology that leverages the ability to accomplish these goals?

Protecting Students
It's really not just about creating and maintaining healthy, stable learning environments anymore. The threat of global terrorism does not simply stop at the nation's center of economic commerce. Those willing to strap bombs onto their own children in order to kill a dozen people are not beyond reaching out to attack a most precious resource -- the nation's youth. And what better place and time to do just that than while they are all gathered in one place?

What kind of leverage would a terrorist organization have over the general public if they commanded the ability to destroy multiple school campuses on a single, given day? And, if eight-year-old children can walk into schools with automatic weapons today, how much easier would it be for a terrorist organization to gain access with more lethal weapons?

School security issues often revolve around simple school yard fights, parking lot vandalism and general conduct issues. All of these are important. All are excellent reasons to deploy modern security technologies. No reasons are as perilous as the schools of America under siege from terrorists bent on using the buildings as hostage centers, as was the case in Russia in 2004. Dozens of school districts nationwide have single buildings that at any one moment can house twice the number of students as people that were killed in the 9/11 attack.

Imagine this horrific scenario. Monday morning you wake up, go to work and at lunch you learn there are 12 major school campus buildings, each with no less than 3,000 students in them and scattered across the United States, which have been taken over by terrorists. Three were blown up with no survivors. The other nine are being held for the same fate as the first three. That's 9,000 dead, another 27,000 held hostage. Most are children. Maybe your children.

That might seem outlandish. Many would argue there are far greater targets out there to be had -- chemical plants, nuclear power plants, waste and water treatment facilities. Why would terrorists forego high-profile targets like these and attack school facilities? The fact is that they have and will. Remember Sept. 1, 2004, when a woman suicide bomber in a Russian school blew herself up in the middle of the crowded gym where more than 1,000 people are believed to have been held?

Schools Need Security Too
Everyone hopes and prays nothing like that never happens in the United States. But the fact is it could. And if it did, one reason might very well be because the target is much easier to take control of compared to more traditional targets.

One also can make the argument that such a target creates far more leverage in the favor of a terrorist than virtually any other target.

No one wants to think about schools in terms of needing airport-like security. On the other hand, parents want their children to come home safely every day. Times are simply not what they used to be. Oh, to be a kid again -- that's something to think about.

This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Security Products, pg. 22.

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