When tragedy strikes, what do schools do? A scan of recent headlines reveals how security solutions tackle crime in education.
Deliberate acts of violence at schools are rare, but have horrific consequences. Grim headlines included the September murder of Yale University doctoral student Annie Le, whose body was discovered in the wall of a high-security research facility. The loss of life affects the victims' families, classmates and faculty.
Danger remains present at schools, although the crime rate has in fact dropped. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found violent crime on American college campuses fell 9 percent from 1994 to 2004. The 2009 survey of 650 respondents noted the 2004 campus crime rate of 62 violent crimes per 100,000 students was "far lower" than the national violent crime rate of 466 per 100,000 residents.
More crime occurred on private campuses in 2004 — 100 violent crimes took place at private schools compared to 51 crimes at public institutions. Murder was relatively rare, with 16 reported in 2004, representing 0.1 percent of all murders nationwide.
Crime concerns are not limited to higher education. ADT found more than 10 percent of American K-12 teachers felt their school was not prepared to protect students, according to a survey of 400 teachers released in August. "As shown by the recent murder of a beloved high school football coach at a small town in Iowa or an assault by a student on a Philadelphia teacher, school violence is truly a national problem that affects all school districts," said Patrick Fiel, Public Safety Advisor for ADT Security Services, in a prepared statement. "One of the keys to success is creating a dialogue between parents, teachers and administrators to create solutions for this growing problem."
The ADT survey found that 30 percent of teachers believed their school was vulnerable to an attack from outside predators. Another 24 percent worried about students bringing weapons to school. Gang involvement and violence at other schools were other concerns the staff had.
Security equipment cannot prevent violence, but it can provide law enforcement with useful forensic information. In the wake of tragedy, technology adds extra reporting to understand what happened and bring closure to the community.
Grants are paying for equipment, with a New York K-12 school installing a video system worth US$349,000 with a grant from the US Justice Department.
"When it came to the safety of my students, if I had a choice in my budget for another vice principal or cameras throughout my campus, I'd chose the technology," said Mary Liz Singleton, a Texas principal, in the ADT survey. "Teachers can't teach and students can't learn if they are not in a safe environment."
Mass notification, patrols and clear safety policies are the first line of defense for schools. The Bureau of Justice study found most college campuses had 3-digit emergency hotlines. Blue-light phones at 91 percent of schools provide direct lines to campus police.
An armed robbery at Harvard University resulted in more shuttle buses for students. The busing keeps the students from walking alone through the campus, making them less vulnerable to attack.
Other schools have implemented safety policies to pre-empt a tragedy. The College of Southern Idaho asked boarding students this year to fill a form listing an emergency contact, if they are reported missing.
While the policy does not consider the students missing until 24 hours after their last known appearance, indications of foul play will shorten the wait period for law enforcement to take action, the college said in a prepared statement. The policy was drafted in response to the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.
Video and Access
Video surveillance keeps an eye out at schools. While cameras have no proven effect on preventing crime, they do reduce property crime and provide an objective account of daily events. Combined with access control, video becomes a powerful tool for securing schools.
After a robbery and shooting took place at St. Joseph's University in 2006, the Philadelphia school increased surveillance. It installed Bosch fixed cameras to watch student housing doorways and Vicon PTZ cameras to monitor emergency phone kiosks. The PTZ cameras were embedded with motion detection, alerting campus police if emergency phones were picked up. Access control card readers at the dormitories ensure only authorized students and faculty entered.
Johns Hopkins University is located in another bustling metropolis, Baltimore. To secure its perimeter, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions deployed Cernium video analytics. "(The Cernium solution) makes it possible for Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions security operations to focus on the visual information they need the most to protect people and critical assets," said Stephen Graham, President and GM of Cernium's Systems Division, in a prepared statement.
A campus in the U.K. installed video to target crime. The Harton Technology College had several instances of vandalism, false fire alarms and theft take place. It added 21 Sony network cameras embedded with tracking analytics to monitor the premises for a safe and pleasant learning environment in 2009. Since the installation, the video system has helped resolve a bullying incident and reduced costs for vandalism repair.
Excelsior Academy, a UK secondary school for pupils age 11 to 18, deployed Axis network cameras to deal with vandalism and prevent incidents. The Academy is a joint venture of five schools and colleges in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
The image resolution from the cameras was sufficient to identify students for forensic purposes. "Because we had the evidence, on more than one occasion, one of our pupils was reported to the police and charged with criminal damage," said Peter Snowdon, Business Manager for Excelsior Academy, in a prepared statement. "The pupils have seen that we take such incidents seriously and due to the widespread presence of our cameras, they know that there is nowhere to hide. As a result, less incidents of vandalism or other inappropriate behavior have been reported."
A Louisiana school district survived the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and wanted to ward off potential danger. The Pass Christian School District rebuilt three of its four campuses, securing them with about 150 Axis network cameras for real-time monitoring of students. The video footage is managed by Genetec management software, which integrates with access control. This system allows school officials to watch over the students and know who is on campus, adding a layer of safety to the school.
"We believe in being proactive and providing a deterrent to crime," said Teresa Burton, Director of Technology for Pass Christian School District, in a prepared statement. "For example, following Katrina, we were assisted by volunteers from across the country, who came to help rebuild homes and our schools. It became clear that we often had difficulty identifying individuals on our sites. With the network cameras, we will be able to see clearly who is on school grounds and immediately spot any problems that could emerge."
While no security solution in education can eliminate tragedies, they add a layer of accountability, should the unthinkable happen. As schools shoulder the responsibility of educating eager minds, extra measures can also keep students safe.