School Security Gets Smarter
Making sure you have the right security in place
- By Steve Surfaro
- Jul 01, 2013
From program management to
application and deployment,
security practitioners from
schools, corporations and government
agencies are asking:
Do we have enough security?
Perhaps an even more important question
is: do we have the right security?
While many facilities share similar security
risks such as entrance and exit points, there is
no one-size-fits-all solution. After all, the
security needs of a one-room schoolhouse
greatly differ from those of a multi-building
campus. Technologies such as access control,
video surveillance and mass notification can
help ensure the safety and security of a school
when properly designed and deployed. But a
fully integrated and functional security system
doesn’t just happen overnight. So where
do you get started?
From Assessment to Planning
The first step is to recognize the school’s specific
security needs. School officials typically
begin this discovery process with a threat and
vulnerability assessment (TVA). This can be
as simple as having a number of experts walk
through the facility and put together a checklist
to help identify operating procedures and
policies for incident response, crisis management
and recovery. The TVA is based on risk
associated with the full spectrum of threats,
including natural events, accidents or intentional
acts to cause harm. The results of such
assessments are then used to develop sound,
scalable security master plans.
Security master plans touch on nearly all
aspects and departments of a school facility,
so it is important to include all stakeholders
in its initial development from the system
designer, manufacturer, systems integrator,
parents, teachers, IT department, and superintendent
to first responders.
The Department of Homeland Security
recognizes six disciplines for first responders:
EMS, law enforcement, fire, explosives,
HAZMAT, and search and rescue. Procedures
for direct communication and collaboration
with first responders in any of these categories
should be built in to a school’s security
plan. In the unfortunate event of an incident,
a streamlined approach can help save valuable
time and maximize resources.
Be sure to define objectives and discuss
potential consequences of the risks, threats
and vulnerabilities that are identified. Developing
a security plan for a school requires a
careful balance of budgets, expectations, privacy
and the safety of the students and staff to
create a realistic and comprehensive plan.
Top of the Class Technologies
Once the security plan is created, it can be
linked to human resources and security technology
systems. Thanks to technological
advancements in recent years, security systems
have become increasingly sophisticated
and have been designed to meet specific security
challenges that are common in educational
Communications. Emergency communications
and IP paging is now typically bundled
with unified communications (UC)
management systems that many schools
already have. A number of solution developers
offer off-the-shelf and customized emergency
communications and mass notifications systems. From phone-to-phone live audio paging to audio
announcements to groups of phones within a school, this form of UC
is gaining traction.
Intra-communication is equally important. Are there communications
protocols between office and classrooms for emergencies?
Cloud computing, mobility and video surveillance provide new
opportunities for better communication during emergencies. A popular
solution permits the “opt-in” of a mobile device to a school’s
emergency communications network, allowing simplified sharing of
potential threats and incidents in progress. This solution has now
“graduated” to include automated call up of nearby surveillance cameras
to the incident and personal emergency applications triggered
by students, faculty and staff.
Automated license plate capture and recognition (ALPR). As
stated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, law enforcement
agencies throughout the nation are increasingly adopting automated
license plate recognition technologies to enhance investigative
capabilities and compare vehicle license plates with lists of stolen,
wanted and other vehicles of interest. ALPR systems automatically
capture an image of the vehicle’s license plate, transform that image
into alphanumeric characters, compare the plate number to a database
of vehicles of interest and send an alert when such a vehicle of interest
has been observed. Today’s “smart” surveillance cameras with embedded
platforms can host an ALPR application and even communicate to
the school and public safety “back office” systems—all within a matter
HDTV imaging. With today’s HDTV standards, high-quality
forensic video data is available in the current lower-cost IP video cameras
and enhance dependent processes like video analytics, ALPR and
still-image enhancement. Video quality and HDTV aid review and
investigations, and together with H.264 compression, offer a balance of
color fidelity, frame rate and visual acuity.
Video and physical access mobility. Remote video surveillance is
now an integral part of private and public server-storage and/or cloudbased
video surveillance systems. The ability to receive even buffered
or near real-time video content during an event is a great situation
awareness improvement for first responders. The use of the mobile
access credential is still at the pilot stage for many schools, but is a
promising cost reduction opportunity.
Lighting, safe waiting areas. LED lighting is now a popular part of
Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and offers
an improvement to both video surveillance and deterrence. Equipped
with LED lighting, advanced video motion detection and wireless
emergency communications, newer, modular outdoor waiting areas on
a school campus are effective improvements.
Time for an Upgrade?
Often the kneejerk reaction, especially following tragic incidents, is to
completely overhaul the current security system. However, this startfrom-
scratch approach is often not feasible—and even unnecessary. It
is also never best to make security decisions in haste. Part of the TVA
is a review of existing systems and provides recommendations on
whether to upgrade, replace or keep existing components.
With many schools facing limited budgets, complete system overhauls
can be expensive. However, when it comes to transitioning to
IP video surveillance, for instance, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Existing quality coaxial infrastructure can be leveraged using
video encoders or coax converters, making the migration path to IP
video easier and more cost-effective. Schools that cannot go to a full
IP video system at once can still reap the benefits of IP video, including
searchable video and intelligent analytics, while adding IP cameras
with superior image quality to their system on a camera-bycamera
basis as budgets permit.
After compatible systems are selected and implemented, maintenance
and upkeep of the system is still important. Improvements need
to be continually considered in trending technologies, particularly in
industrial security, cyber security and consumer electronics/commercial
technologies. Technology and other security countermeasures are
only useful if properly managed and maintained. Certified security
professionals can recommend ways to scale the system to continue to
meet growing and changing needs.
Putting It to the Test
From fire drills to bus evacuations, many schools already conduct routine
tests to ensure that certain safety plans and procedures are effective.
This should be no different for the school’s security system.
Schools with security staffs can conduct internal trainings for staff
to become familiar with how the system can respond and be utilized
depending on the type of event. Locating a lost child will elicit a much
different response than preparations for an approaching tornado. Identifying
the key technologies that are most useful in various situations
in advance will help ensure that the best decisions are made if they
Collaboration with local and federal law enforcement agencies is
also an important proactive step. Schools should work with these agencies
to set up full day drills and involve the students. Oftentimes knowing
that a plan is already in place can be a comfort to many students
and parents, especially if a security issue arises. Working with law
enforcement under normal conditions will open lines of communication
and understanding, helping to establish and define the respective
roles of school officials and law enforcement.
If law enforcement responds to an event, they will arrive on scene
with a pre-existing relationship with school officials and an intimate
knowledge of the technologies and tools at their disposable.
Many school systems across the country have specifically focused
on active shooter scenarios. Resources abound, but it is important to
consider education from board certified practitioners, and first
responders’ perspectives. As part of their Enhanced Violence Assessment
and Management Curricula, ASIS International offers the workshop,
“Active Shooter: Prevention, Intervention, and Response.” Useful
training is close to the schools and often available on request from
local law enforcement agencies. These will typically consist of training
drills involving multiple police and emergency agencies and held on
site at the school.
The Department of Homeland Security developed courses and
guidelines for active shooter preparedness, providing schools with
numerous resources and the flexibility to prepare the students and staff
in a way that best meets their individual needs.
Active shooter scenarios are not the only threats to be considered.
Remember that the website, firstresponder.gov, is organized by the six
major response scenarios: EMS, law enforcement, fire, explosives,
HAZMAT and search and rescue. All areas must be considered in the
school security plan.
No school system or law enforcement agency hopes to ever
answer such a call, but having the proper procedures, communication
and technology in place in advance can help protect the students,
staff and first responders. Security systems
are one piece of a multi-layered approach that
can help provide peace of mind, situational
awareness and forensic evidence in the event of
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Security Today.