Ask the Expert: Bryan Viau

Viau explains why schools need an education on security

Tragic gang-related events in Chicago and other American cities over the past few months have only focused more public attention on the need to make our nation's schools safe. No child should ever have to fear going to classes because of bullies, weapon-carrying gang members, drug dealers or other criminals from the surrounding community.

School administrators must be willing to take the steps to provide each student with a safe learning environment. But where do they begin?

Issue:How should a school administrator go about securing his or her campus?

Solution: The process should begin with a risk assessment of each campus. Districts should retain a system integrator with experience in the education market to carefully detail the strengths and weaknesses of a school's plans, policies and procedures.

Most integrators will ensure that fencing is intact and gates are securely locked. They will inspect lighting to make sure it is adequate, particularly around gates, building perimeters and facilities such as playground equipment. Landscaping also will be reviewed as trees and bushes can provide a hiding place for people, weapons and drugs.

Issue: What else can school officials do to ensure security on campus?

Solution: Campus entries should be limited. Elementary schools should have only one entry for students, parents and other visitors. High school entrances should be locked while classes are in session.

Intercom systems provide another access control tool. Many come equipped with a color camera to allow school staff to hear and see who is requesting access. Video intercoms also can be very helpful for working with vendors who need remote access to campus facilities.

All teachers, staff and visitors should be required to wear an ID badge on school grounds. In seconds, a visitor management system can check a visitor's identification, such as a driver's license, against crime databases and sex offender registries. The system also can take a visitor's photo and quickly print a temporary ID badge.

If weapons are a concern, metal detectors can be installed to screen students, staff and faculty as they enter the school. In extreme cases, X-ray machines, similar to those used at airports, can be installed to inspect backpacks, purses and coats.

All classroom doors, supply closets, labs and athletic facilities should be locked when not in use. To further prevent theft of valuable computers, audio-visual equipment and musical instruments, consider the installation of an access control system.

Issue: What roles can surveillance technology play in an average school setting?

Solution: Cameras can be extremely valuable in deterring crime, for spotting potential problems before they occur and as a forensic tool to review events once they happen. They should be installed in hallways, stairwells, near lockers, in the library, cafeteria and auditoriums, and outside areas such as parking lots and athletic fields.

A networked video system will allow for remote viewing by district staff and law enforcement—a major benefit in planning a response to an emergency situation. Emergency notification systems can send messages to phones or computers to provide vital information to staff, students, law enforcement and parents in case of a campus crisis.

A good integrator also will help a school develop an emergency plan with procedures for a campus lockdown and/or evacuation. By practicing and following a well-written plan, school administrators can save lives while minimizing injuries and property loss during an emergency.

Reader Question: My private childcare center has been burglarized three times in the last six months. We have an alarm system, but thieves continue to break in for expensive equipment such as televisions and computers and are gone before the police arrive. We don't have much left in our budget for security, but we would like a camera system to help identify the thieves. Is there an affordable system that might meet our needs?

Solution: While installing a video surveillance system could deter, detect or identify the persons involved in your burglaries, it is not our first recommendation. Work with the local police to better understand if these burglaries are isolated to you or if there have been similar break-ins at other area businesses. Ask about increased patrols or business watch programs.

Let's understand how your building overall is protected, including how you might better secure your valuable equipment and mark each item to allow it to be better identified by police later. Prevention is the key, so before purchasing any video surveillance equipment, perform a detailed risk assessment of your property and business and then develop an overall plan to protect your valuable assets—including your reputation.


Bryan Viau has been with VTI for 10 years and is based in the corporate office in Minnesota.


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