The risk of school shootings and other security threats can be minimized with the right tools. Here’s how schools can keep students safe.
As incidents of gun violence fill the news cycle, school security has become an urgent concern for administrators and law enforcement. Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the U.S. has witnessed more than 230 school shootings. This means that, on average, there have been over 10 school shootings per year for the past 20 years. And the threats to students and faculty seem to be on the rise: there were 97 gun incidents in K-12 schools in 2018 alone.
While student safety has become a hot-button topic for U.S. policy-makers, school shootings are not just an American problem. In fact, schools around the world regularly face gun violence, student fights, and other security threats. In March 2019, a high school shooting in Sao Paulo, Brazil caused the deaths of five students and injured at least nine.
It’s clear that violent attacks are a genuine problem for school districts in the U.S. and abroad. With 20% of American students expressing their concern and 35% of parents saying they worry for their children’s safety, it’s time for administrators to take action. To reduce these rising threats, school districts can build a security infrastructure that provides on-the-ground personnel and decision-makers with up-to-the-minute data.
Protecting staff and students means deploying a variety of connected tools — from video cameras to gunshot detection systems. Districts that effectively integrate and optimize these technologies are giving themselves the best chance to respond quickly and effectively. By understanding the tools at their disposal — and the critical capabilities that can be added to streamline operations — school security teams will be able to rapidly respond to threats and even anticipate attacks before they occur.
The State of Today’s School Security Systems
The Department of Justice estimates that 98.6% of schools use some kind of security technology to keep staff and students safe. These systems often include surveillance, access control, intrusion detection, video monitoring, and panic buttons. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that nearly 90% of high schools have controlled access to buildings during school hours, and 94% use security cameras to monitor their campuses.
While districts are already investing in school security technology, there are still many areas for improvement. For instance, one report found that 80% of schools are using manual pen and paper logs to sign in visitors. By upgrading to a connected visitor management system, administrators could stay informed on who is the building and why, and instantly communicate this information to all relevant parties.
Though school security technology is continuously advancing, school districts are often tasked with interpreting information collected by disconnected devices. For instance, if the access control system detects an intruder attempting to enter the building, video surveillance should automatically locate and display an image of the individual. However, if security tools are not properly integrated, decision-makers will have to go back and forth between different systems or screens to gather all essential insights.
How the IoT and Situational Awareness Software Can Help
The most high-performing security systems are those that can integrate disparate devices and data streams in order to develop situational awareness. The concept of situational awareness describes the ability to understand one’s surroundings. Situational awareness technology enables exactly this understanding. To achieve enhanced situational awareness, schools need to know what’s going on at any given moment and be able to respond to threats in real-time.
Along with artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), purpose-built application platforms can help school districts build true situational awareness. For instance, Shooter Detection Systems (SDS) use advanced microphones and infrared sensors to identify gunshots. These systems are advanced enough to distinguish between the sound of a gunshot and that of a car backfiring or a locker slamming. But without a platform that alerts law enforcement, administrators, security personnel, students, and teachers, these technologies won’t achieve their full potential.
Further, AI-enabled video cameras can analyze and interpret security feeds to identify suspicious activity. These cameras have already been implemented in Fulton County Schools in Georgia, where they allow security professionals to track individuals through campus quickly and efficiently. By analyzing body language and behavior, AI-powered cameras can pick up on security threats that on-the-ground staff might otherwise miss. The information they collect empowers administrators to respond as soon as an incident occurs, or in some cases before a threat materializes in the first place.
Another important tool is facial recognition software, which compares the faces of students, staff, and visitors with those in a comprehensive database. This technology can scan individuals as they enter the building, and alert security to any unidentified or unwanted visitors. A connected facial recognition system allows administrators to monitor traffic in real-time and notify police or emergency responders in the case of a threat. This technology has already made its way into schools in locations like Lockport City District, New York, and Magnolia, Arkansas.
Improving School Security Systems With Next-Gen Technologies
The information collected by school security products is only as useful as the insights it produces. This technology can only fulfill its intended purpose if it allows decision-makers to respond more effectively.
To achieve true situational awareness, all school security systems must be integrated into a common operational picture. A COP describes a uniform display of data, communications, and analysis that is accessible to all team members. In terms of school security, a COP allows districts to execute finely-tuned, highly-orchestrated emergency response strategies.
The key to a high-performing school security system is device and data integration. A situational awareness platform can dramatically improve school security by connecting all products — regardless of age or manufacturer — and team members via a single dashboard. As data is made accessible to school officials and other decision-makers, they are empowered to protect students from gun violence and other threats.
School shootings, intruders, vandalism, and other security risks threaten to create an environment of fear in our schools. But with the right technology, administrators can take control of school safety and provide a safe environment for students and faculty alike.