Developing A Security Profile

Dec. 1, 1999
A generation ago, safety in the classroom was not such a high priority for school administrators-it did not have to be. While there may have been an occasional

A generation ago, safety in the classroom was not such a high priority for school administrators-it did not have to be. While there may have been an occasional theft or fight in school, guns and violent crime were not considered a significant threat in educational environments.

School administrators know all too well that those days have passed. As everyone struggles to come to grips with a raft of recent high-school shootings and other violence, school safety has emerged as a foremost concern. These tragic incidents have shocked and saddened school communities across the country.

At the same time, the incidents have mobilized school officials to join forces with community leaders, law-enforcement officials, faculty, staff, parents and students in an effort to prevent school violence and make educational institutions safer. Administrators from elementary, middle and high schools across the United States are assessing the state of safety at their campuses, and developing programs to reduce crime and violence.

It is important to note that, on average, America's public schools remain safe. In its first Annual Report on School Safety, released in October 1998, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 90 percent of schools are free of serious, violent crime. The report indicated that theft, not violent acts, accounts for most crime in schools. It also reported a decline in the overall school crime rate and a reduction in the number of guns being carried into schools.

Despite those encouraging statistics, the report did uncover some disturbing signs. A substantial amount of crime occurs in schools against both students and teachers. In the 1996-97 school year, 10 percent of the nation's schools (8 percent of schools in rural areas) reported one or more violent crimes. Attacks with weapons accounted for nearly 11,000 incidents in public schools during the 1996-97 school year.

Assessing needs Compiling a list of questions can help when re-evaluating your school's security program. These include:

Where and how do we begin our efforts to improve security in our school?

The most prudent way to begin is by undergoing a comprehensive security audit. It will assess a school's security risks and needs, and should be considered a prerequisite before adding or upgrading equipment or substantially changing the overall security program. An assessment of this type will help determine exactly what a school wants to protect (people, physical and intellectual property); and how, where and under what circumstances to control access to the school. It also will help to identify gaps or weak points in the security program.

The report also will recommend physical and electronic security equipment most appropriate for the school. Keep in mind, however, that equipment is just one element of a security solution. Schools, like all other facilities and organizations, should have a comprehensive plan that encompasses all facets of security, including:

-Controlling access to buildings, parking lots and other areas.

-Appropriate security surveillance.

-Electronic equipment, such as access control, intrusion detection, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and video-identification systems.

-Written policies, procedures and programs for handling security issues and incidents, responding to emergencies, and operating security equipment and systems.

-Training staff, faculty and students on security and emergency procedures. People operating equipment need training to use it properly.

-Establishing a security education program for staff, faculty, students, parents and the community.

We want to get the most protection for the least money. How much do we have to spend to adequately protect our school?

Until the results from a security audit are in, it is impossible to say what a school will need or how much it might cost. There are no typical solutions; they vary widely, based on criteria, such as the physical location of the school, the construction and layout of the buildings, the local crime rate and public access to the property. It also is important to understand that an effective security program requires a strong commitment from the entire school community, from administration and staff to students and parents.

What areas of the school property are typically protected by electronic security equipment or by a full electronic security system?

Experts often think of security in terms of concentric rings. In a school, the protection rings, or layers, that should be considered include:

-Outer perimeter protection (this includes the most distant reaches of the school property). Protection here may consist of fencing, natural barriers, CCTV, lighting systems, signs and alarm systems.

-Building perimeter (this generally includes parking lots and the areas immediately surrounding the school). The protection here may include lighting systems, alarm systems, locking devices, CCTV, bars or grillwork, signs or additional fencing.

-Building interior (this includes the entire interior of the building-corridors, classrooms, offices, faculty areas, cafeteria, gymnasium, library, etc.).

The security design for this layer may include window and door bars, locking devices, barriers, access/intrusion alarm systems, CCTV, lighting systems, and safe and controlled areas.

-Very high-security areas (areas that may need especially tight security, such as computer rooms, science laboratories, front offices, etc.). Security here might entail access/intrusion/alarm systems and CCTV cameras or systems.

How are CCTV cameras and systems used in educational settings?

CCTV has become a primary tool in modern security systems. Technological advances have made video monitoring systems much more effective and affordable. The most basic CCTV system consists of a camera, connecting cable and a monitor. The more sophisticated systems allow viewing and control of cameras at an on-site workstation. In general, surveillance security systems can provide:

-General facility surveillance.

-A deterrent to undesirable behavior.

-Recorded evidence of events that can be used to identify individuals involved in an incident.

In school settings, surveillance cameras can record events in parking lots, corridors, libraries, gymnasiums, cafeterias and in potential trouble spots in the school. CCTV cameras also frequently are placed on schoolbuses.

What are the different types of surveillance cameras?

There are two basic types. Fixed cameras show a single field of view. Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras can look around, or zoom in for a closer look. While schools typically use fixed cameras in housings, there also has been an increase in the use of high-security-type housings. In some cases, schools are installing dome enclosures with built-in camera/optics packages. These provide all the capability and control of a PTZ product in smaller, less conspicuous packages.

What are some of the latest technologies in CCTV and surveillance security?

Advancing technology is bringing larger monitors and higher screen resolution to CCTV. The use of color cameras also is on the rise. With its high resolution and low light sensitivity, color-camera technology provides superior identification capability. Advanced digital-communications technology provides schools with remote video capability, which allows "live" images from CCTV cameras to be compressed and transmitted to a central station monitoring center.

Is it necessary to monitor the CCTV cameras?

In K-12 schools, surveillance systems typically are not monitored; it takes an investment of resources. If there is no live on-site monitoring, the cameras act as an after-incident review tool. Ultimately, CCTV will be only as good as the monitoring and recovery operations applied to the system. The security assessment and system design process should address issues related to monitoring. It also should address the type and method of image recording, and the desirability of remote monitoring.

What about communications systems? What role can they play in making a school safer?

Communications systems-telephone, intercom, paging, public address and emergency call systems-can enhance school security. For example, some digital telephone systems allow emergency calls to be generated-manually or automatically-from any classroom with a phone. The emergency call is sent to a digital display phone in the main office. When the call is received there, the display screen on the office phone labels it an emergency and identifies its origin. The office in turn can warn adjacent classrooms of the emergency, or activate a mutual help contact if one has been put in place.

A new approach, mandated in some states, is to use the 911 service, whereby the emergency condition and location are automatically transmitted to the phone company, which dispatches the responding personnel.

Beyond the technology and functional capabilities of a CCTV or security system, what other factors should be considered in evaluating security needs?

Carefully consider how to operate, support and maintain the system day-to-day. Because resources usually are limited, schools sometimes have a tendency to look for quick-fix solutions. Security does not begin and end with security equipment. It is essential to have the personnel, plans and procedures in place to operate and maintain the system and fulfill the requirements of the security program.

Our school does not have money to buy a security system. Is it possible to lease the equipment?

Yes, some companies do provide leasing options. One idea is to work with a company that has its own financial services organization, rather than one that offers third-party leases. You should be able to get 100 percent financing of the project and a payment structure that meets your school's needs. You should be able to arrange a lease that covers-in one monthly payment-equipment, installation, service, monitoring and training.

What else can be done to enhance security in our school?

Forge a partnership with local police and other law-enforcement agencies. If possible, consider having a police officer walk through the school as part of his or her daily patrol. You also may want to consider setting up a police substation at the school.

Among the types of security equipment used in schools:

-Access-control systems. In school applications, access-control systems are used to identify students, faculty and authorized visitors before allowing them to enter the building or, in some cases, the school grounds. The system lets only authorized people in, often with a minimum of inconvenience.

Access-control points, such as doors or gates, are equipped with a card reader or biometric device to authenticate an access request. System users typically are issued a card with a magnetic stripe or an embedded electronic circuit that enables them to enter the building. Cards are swiped through the magnetic-stripe reader, or placed next to a reader. Most access cards issued in schools also contain some identifying information that may include a name, identification number, portrait or signature. Many even are worn as ID badges.

-Intrusion detection and alarm systems. These systems provide perimeter and interior protection for school facilities by detecting unauthorized entries. These systems typically are used to monitor buildings after hours. An intrusion might trigger a siren or bell, send an alarm message to the security control panel, prompt a surveillance camera to automatically pan to a door, or transmit an alarm message to a remote central station.

-Video- or photo-identification systems. Many schools have video- or photo-identification systems that provide a means to identify students, faculty and staff. Each student, teacher and staff member is issued an identification card that contains his or her picture. In the case of a video-identification system, the person's picture is captured on a video camera and stored in conjunction with his or her data record.

A video-identification system can operate as a stand-alone badging system or as a component of an access-control system. One of the benefits of a video- or photo-identification system is that it provides a database from which information, such as video images or emergency contact names, can be extracted.

-Security-management systems. The most advanced electronic security systems provide complete coordination of all security activities. With these systems, all aspects of security-access control, intrusion detection, CCTV and video badging-can be linked to a common database and controlled from a single PC workstation.

-Metal detectors. The Department of Education's Annual Report on School Safety showed that 4 percent of schools performed random metal detector checks on students. One percent of the schools used metal detectors daily. Metal detectors are probably one of the most visible types of physical security. Keep in mind that they also demand a large amount of personnel time to monitor the detector and prevent walk-arounds, and any person triggering an alarm.

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