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Outlook 2010: Budgets are tight, but providing adequate school security is vital

Budgets may be squeezed at schools and universities, but administrators can't afford to jeopardize the safety of students and staff by skimping on campus security efforts. Horrific tragedies such as Columbine and Virginia Tech are rarities, but they are a powerful reminder of what can happen when education institutions disregard potential dangers.

Education institutions should be vigilant about keeping emergency-preparedness plans up to date so that personnel can respond effectively when a crisis occurs.

Schools and universities can take advantage of improving technology to communicate with staff, students and the greater community about emergencies on their campuses. In the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech killings, many institutions ratcheted up their efforts to disseminate critical information more effectively to their constituents.

Campus alert systems enable schools to get the word out via many avenues: voice mails to cell phones and land lines; text messages to cell phones; e-mail messages; Web postings; public-address announcements; electronic outdoor signs; broadcast bulletins provided to radio and television stations.

Technology also can help schools protect people and property through video surveillance. Cameras connected to an education institution's computer network enable security personnel to monitor many areas of a building or campus at once. Access-control systems can monitor who enters a facility and which areas of a building they visit.

Security systems also can require visitors to a school site to provide identification that can be used to conduct a criminal background check so that undesirable people are prevented from entering a school and interacting with students.

Most education institutions do not rely solely on equipment or facility design to make their campuses safe. Anti-drug, anti-bullying and other prevention programs help teachers and other school staff members create a welcoming environment, establish relationships with students, identify those who may be having problems that could lead to more serious trouble at school, and give them guidance about where to seek help.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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