First, the Bad News
Listening to the news can be a harrowing experience, especially as it relates to the safety of our children. While many numbers have been bantered about in the media, the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security counted 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, a near 60% increase on the previous high, 59, an unwanted record set in 2006.
Unfortunately, when it comes to keeping children safe, shootings are not the only problem schools have to think about and prepare for these days. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), there are over 850,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., a number that has increased 23% over the past five years. Additionally, the FBI reports that nearly 86% of child abductions are committed by parents or other family members in custody cases.
As if these concerns weren’t enough, schools must also take precautions for emergencies such as severe weather and natural disasters.
Now, for Some Good News
While our nation’s schools are expected to be, and usually are, safe environments for learning, security and safety issues must be addressed. Instead of waiting for endless political debates and possible reform, community leaders, parents, schools and private industry are taking matters into their own hands and making changes to help keep our kids safe. As a result, several trends have emerged to improve safety in our schools, including:
1. Video Surveillance
A recent report about video surveillance usage at all levels, from preschool to K-12 to higher education shows that 72% of adults are in favor of using video surveillance in schools. In addition, 78% believe it’s important for first responders to have real-time access to video surveillance and 72% believe parents should be able to view footage of their K-12 students.
Video surveillance can reduce the threat of foul play in schools by giving officials the ability to identify criminals, view evidence after an incident, and more importantly, see what’s happening during an emergency. According to those surveyed, video surveillance can also improve student behavior. It may also be used to protect the school from false claims related to interactions or disputes between students and teachers or other staff.
This type of surveillance does not come without challenges, however. Using this type of technology in classrooms, hallways, parking lots and school grounds generates massive amounts of data that must be stored and managed. Technological advances are already addressing these challenges with better storage solutions, faster video servers and remote support systems. In other words, the options for schools are increasing every day.
2. Access Control Vestibules
These vestibules are usually small spaces with two sets of interlocking doors – the first set of doors must close before the second set opens. They help school personnel process and evaluate visitors before they enter the building. An intercom and/or video camera are often used to allow control from a remote location. Depending on the system, identification and/or a keycode may be required for each door, before granting access to the school. In some cases, metal detectors are built in to prevent people carrying weapons from entering the building.
While these vestibules are sometimes referred to as “man traps,” security experts caution that there is a difference between an access control vestibule, which allows free egress (allowing people to evacuate in case of emergency) and an interlock or true man trap, which can cause other safety concerns.
These vestibules are commonly used in buildings that contain proprietary research or those with high security risks, such as airports, banks, healthcare facilities, research labs and government installations. Now, they’re finding their way into some school systems.
For example, security vestibules are already in place at Roxbury High School, Eisenhower Middle School and Lincoln-Roosevelt School in Roxbury, NJ, and are in the process of being installed at the township’s four elementary schools. Although the security vestibules will cost Roxbury more than a million dollars, according to the Schools Security Director, James Simonetti, a former Roxbury police chief, “The vestibules are working, and we are receiving praise from parents for adding extra security precautions to protect their children.”
Roxbury High School is also using the LobbyGuard visitor management system, which requires visitors to show identification and answer questions in order to get a photo ID badge that must be worn during their school visit. (See Automated Visitor Management Software) Eventually the district expects all their schools to employ this system.
Three reasons why school security fails: “It can’t happen here.” “We can’t afford it.” “We don’t have the time to do all that.” – Jack Martin, President of The Martin Group and retired Chief of School Police, Indianapolis Public Schools (schoolsecurityblog.com)
3. Automated Visitor Management Software
“Pen and paper” sign-in/out logs are being replaced by automated visitor management software that is far more effective. These systems quickly and easily scan a visitor’s government-issued identification (e.g., a driver’s license), instantly confirming that they are who they say they are, as well as checking their identity against national registered sex offender lists. The software can also provide alerts regarding child custody issues or banned individuals, based on a school’s records.
These systems offer many benefits, including: improved safety, less work for school staff, an electronic record that is accessible on or off-site by web-based systems in case of an emergency or evacuation, and better student reporting. The use of an automated visitor management system also sends a powerful message to parents, students, staff and the community about your school’s intent to keep students safe and handle visitors in a professional manner.
In short, an automated visitor management system not only frees up your staff to handle other tasks, it reduces errors and creates better records with less work. The software accurately screens visitors, creates an electronic record and prints out an ID badge, which includes a photo, date and time. Depending on the system a school chooses, visitors can access a self-serve kiosk or a staff member can log them in quickly and easily. In fact, these systems are surprisingly easy to install and use, and more affordable than many other security options.
4. Mobile Apps
While automated visitor management software offers many benefits, there is an issue with scalability – getting large amounts of visitors in quickly at a low cost. One solution is the use of mobile apps, which provide a complete, secure and convenient method of signing and out of your school from any Android or Apple smartphone.
Visitors complete the school’s custom sign-in process, including instant background checks, visitor photos, driver’s license scanning and badge printing remotely. These mobile apps combine all the features of a kiosk with the convenience of a smartphone, which means visitors can bypass lines during busy times. It also tracks visitors who never leave their car.
Making Safety More Affordable
In addition to the trends we’ve listed here, there are advances been made using artificial intelligence and virtual reality to improve school safety. Who knows what the future holds? Of course, increased security comes with a price tag. Whether a school chooses one or a combination of the security measures listed above, there are costs to consider.
Unfortunately, many school districts are facing tight budgets and must make tough decisions on how to allocate limited resources. To help solve some of these budget issues, federal funds are available to schools who want to improve safety.
The new STOP School Violence Act of 2018 and its programs makes $100 million available each year until 2028 for schools to make a variety of safety-related investments, including mental health training, threat assessment and technology, and school violence prevention. More specifically, funds can used to install deterrent measures that provide a significant improvement in security.
To learn more about these grants, as well as funding from private companies, visit here.
Peace of Mind
Children should be more concerned about back-to-school supplies, making new friends, and of course, learning, than worrying about safety. By the same token, teachers and staff should be focused on educating our children, without the specter of threats looming large.
While installing up-to-date security systems can’t ward off every potential threat or protect against all emergencies, they can dramatically improve school safety. Think of these tools as an investment not only in security, which can enhance education, but also in peace of mind for students, staff and parents.
LobbyGuard offers a full line of visitor management and front office automation products, including self-service kiosks, as well as software-only solutions and mobile apps to improve school safety and streamline processes. To read what other schools are saying about LobbyGuard or receive a free product demonstration, visit Lobbyguard.com or call 866-905-6229.