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K-12 schools worldwide vamp up security

K-12 schools worldwide vamp up security
Schools are meant to provide a safe haven for young minds to grow and learn. Hence, they often consist of bright and open spaces with large windows so as to create an environment that encourages learning. In light of the unfortunate Sandy Hook incident in December 2012, however, the very openness meant to encourage a friendly atmosphere also poses security risks. This feature looks at the K-12 security market globally, and the risks that schools face.

Schools are meant to provide a safe haven for young minds to grow and learn. Hence, they often consist of bright and open spaces with large windows so as to create an environment that encourages learning. In light of the unfortunate Sandy Hook incident in December 2012, however, the very openness meant to encourage a friendly atmosphere also poses security risks. This feature looks at the K-12 security market globally, and the risks that schools face.

At first glance, universities are what come first to mind when it comes to campus security, due to their scale. For example, they generally are open multi-site environments interwoven between public and private property, housing expensive equipment and materials. However, the recent spate of K-12 school attacks has highlighted the vulnerability of defenseless K-12 students in what was supposed to be a safe environment for learning.

fatally shot 20 children between ages six to seven, and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The unfortunate incident was the second deadliest school shooting in US history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Far away in China on the same day, at least 23 elementary students were injured by a man with a knife at Chenpeng Village Primary School in Henan province. China has also seen its share of K-12 school attacks in recent years — an attacker killed eight students and injured several others in an elementary school in Fujian in 2010. Over the next three days after the attacker was executed by Chinese authorities, similar attacks were carried out by other attackers. A man attacked elementary school students in southern Guangdong, wounding 16 students and a teacher. The next day, a man in Jiangsu province stabbed 28 students, two teachers and one security guard, and the day after, a man in Shandong province carried a hammer and a can of gasoline into a village school where he committed suicide by setting himself on fire.

Attacks targeting K-12 schools are not limited to nation or locale. Countries including Germany, Norway, New Zealand, the U.K., South Africa, Brazil, Israel, and Italy have all experienced K-12 school attacks.

Global Market
According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 570 million children are enrolled in schools globally and with so many innocent lives to protect, the K-12 education security market is a substantial one. Board-certified Physical Security Professional, Paul Timm, President of RETA Security feels that the market is virtually limitless — there are risks to schools that should be addressed wherever there is crime and violence.

“The combined education market (K-12 and higher education) is the largest surveillance market. The K-12 market may eclipse higher education's past growth and will certainly out scale it as facility quantities are greater within K-12 school jurisdictions,” said Steve Surfaro, Security Industry Liaison for North America at Axis Communications. Within this market, video surveillance and mass notification are the most commonly funded and deployed systems.

At the same time, Michael Dorn, Executive Director of Safe Havens International noticed a disconnection between the people, policies, procedures, and technology solutions designed to control them. “For example, we often find significant gaps in access control in schools that have excellent technology solutions because school employees and students have not been properly taught what is required of them to make the access control approaches work properly,” said Dorn. Training and practice are, therefore, crucial factors in optimizing the benefits of the security system.

From a global perspective, K-12 schools in the U.S. are more prone to gun violence due to easier access to guns. However, attacks are not limited to gun violence — the deadliest school attacks in the U.S. involved fire, which killed 95 in a Catholic school in Chicago, and explosives, which killed more than 40 in a school in Michigan.

In the aftermath of the tragic events at Sandy Hook elementary school, K-12 schools across the U.S. are reassessing their security plans and their need for security equipment updates. Schools in Groton, Connecticut, are considering upgrades of an estimated US$300,000 towards the installation of panic buttons, access control systems, security patrols, and cameras that can be remotely viewed by the police.

For schools in Brookfield, Connecticut, municipal leaders have fast-tracked the approval of money to implement security improvements costing $347,500. They include access control, visitor management, special glass at main entrances, fences around the playgrounds, additional security cameras, new blinds, and upgraded radios.

In Hudson Falls, the central school district installed equipment upgrades that include a camera, intercom, and buzzer system at the main entrance of each of its five school buildings, at a cost of $1,100 each.

While a major problem with K-12 schools is funding, there is over $11.5 billion available in federal, state and private foundation, and corporate grants in the U.S. alone, noted April Dalton-Noblitt, Director of Vertical Marketing at Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. Safe Havens International, for example, assisted with school security and emergency preparedness assessments for more than 2,000 schools alone in the past four years. To facilitate the funding application for schools, Ingersoll Rand also has a 24/7 cloud-based database of federal and state grant funding information.

System integrators in Massachusetts, can apply to become a certified vendor under the state, such as MA State Contract FAC64 or the traditional bidding method, such as MGL CH. 30B or CH.149. The FAC64 is a security-specific vehicle for the design and implementation of security related systems, and procurement of equipment throughout the state. Under the state contract FAC64, public schools can procure security equipment directly from vendors at favorable prices. “Using FAC64, schools can work directly with approved vendors to design and finally have the vendor furnish and install the desired solution,” said Greg Hussey, VP of Engineering at SIGNET Electronic Systems.

Many countries in Asia have strict controls and penalties regarding firearms, yet homicides in schools remain a reality. Hence, school shootings may be less common, but aggressors usually use knives, acid, and chemical agents to attack other people, according to Dorn. “There have been at least 25 deaths and 113 other injuries from edged-weapon attacks in China since 2010,” said Gerald Summers, CEO of Integrity Security Protection.

Consequently, a total of $1.27 million is being allocated to Guangshan County in Henan province, China, to address safety in schools in the aftermath of the December 2012 knife attack. The budget will be used toward 486 safeguards and safety equipment for all schools in the county, according to a local newspaper.

In parts of Asia, Dorn also noted an emphasis on access control on school grounds. “I have visited many schools in various regions of Vietnam and all of the schools were totally fenced with a security officer at the gate, even in remote areas like the Mekong Delta.” Another difference is less reliance on security technologies, such as access control systems and security cameras in many of the developing countries. “It has often been less expensive to hire security personnel than to purchase security technology, but this will change as the economic factors change. For example, the rapid growth in the economy in Vietnam appears to increase deployment of security technologies, as rising personnel costs make it more cost-effective to implement access control systems.”

Biometrics is also being applied to education settings. In Karachi, Pakistan, the Minister of Education has announced in January 2013, that biometric systems will be introduced in government schools and colleges aimed at checking absenteeism amongst students and teachers. The system will be introduced at a boys' school, a girls' school, and a college at the tehsil (county) level.

Roughly 30 percent of secondary schools and 5 percent of primary schools in the U.K. utilize biometric technology for library loans and school dinner purchases, according to the UK Department of Education. However, in a survey of 1,059 schools conducted by East Anglia and Plymouth universities, it is estimated that hackers may have targeted 20 schools for data theft. Moreover, the findings indicated that 45 percent of schools had poor password security and 40 percent had minimum technical security measures in place to deal with logistic security breaches. For example, the study also found the security levels in schools tend to be inconsistent and rural primary schools were found to be even more susceptible as many do not have data policies or online safety policies in place.

The security of any biometric information has always been heavily debated and the UK Department of Education has recently amended its policy to require parental permission before student biometric information is collected. In May 2012, the U.K. became the first country in the world to address issues of parental consent when their children's biometric information is taken, stored, or processed by a school or institution.

The duties on schools in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will come into effect starting Sept. 1, 2013. The law will possibly have implications for biometrics vendors because parents, in addition to the students themselves, will now have the power to object to providing biometric information to schools. If enough people object to biometric applications, the school might find the return of investment to be unsatisfactory. Informed consent can also become questionable if the biometric vendor is the sole supplier of information via the school to the parent. Hence, vendors and schools should provide clear and neutral information to the parents, and include non-discriminatory alternatives if they choose to not participate.

Recent events have shown that K-12 security should no longer take a back seat in school budgets. Schools should tap into the available technologies to assist them in optimizing the security of their campuses and the safety of their students.

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