Advocates see tech playing larger role in safeguarding schools

How one Colorado district tapped E-rate funds and EOP technology to bolster security and safety measures.

Technology is playing an increasing role in helping schools officials monitor safety and security issues. (Guy Grace)

The convergence of technology and physical security systems — and E-rate funds — is giving schools new ways to improve the safety systems used to protect students and teachers on school properties.

The evolving approach comes at a time when school administrators across the nation are fighting an uphill battle to fund basic improvements in their facilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics Survey of School Districts, out of the approximate 100,000 K-12 public schools in the U.S., the average age of the main instructional building is 44 years and 53 percent need to spend money on repairs. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the U.S. public school system a D+ on its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card.

At the same time, school districts face a growing responsibility to guard against acts of violence and terrorism that have put schools into the national spotlight.

The challenges have brought together a variety of special interest groups, along with schools and security companies, to look for ways to help schools improve the physical security of their facilities.

“We don’t view this issue as simply an education issue. We think education has enough issues to deal with, and to focus on classroom preparedness. We think this is a homeland security issue,” said Robert Boyd, executive Director for the Secure Schools Alliance (SSA), a nonprofit advocating for funding infrastructure improvements for safer schools.

Littleton Public Schools, in southern Denver, is one district demonstrating how technology — and E-rate funds from the Federal Communications Commission — can help school districts narrow their safety and security gaps.

Guy Grace, director of public safety for the Colorado district, has found ways to use networking gear that can also support physical security systems, and tap the E-rate program to help fund the equipment.

Grace told EdScoop he was able to draw on the funds, for instance, to help establish Power over Ethernet systems within his district.

POE systems allow both data connections and power to cross through a single cable, and can be used for security equipment such as IP surveillance cameras and VoIP phones. POE systems can also support other technology not traditionally meant for safety such as wireless access points.

“You’re now using that same infrastructure for your security systems as the learning departments are using for teaching and learning in the classroom,” said Grace.

“In the past, when we didn’t have the POE infrastructure or the type of layout, we were kind of stuck with things for many years. The way we deploy now, we are constantly evolving and meeting the needs of our community,” he said.

Technology systems can also be used to better monitor and manage access to school facilities that once were mostly the domain of physical security system providers, say safety advocates.

Grace said, for instance, that his district is working with a division of Stanley Black & Decker and its shelter technology system “that allows our classroom doors … to lockdown immediately just using the existing locks with an electronic function.”

Groups like SSA and the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), however, say the most important factor enhancing school security is human capital.

Educating those working within school districts on what security measures they need, how to act in threatening situations and how to use the technology they are acquiring goes a lot further than providing funding alone.

PASS, formed by the Security Industry Alliance (SIA), provides an assessment of education facilities, along with a tiered system of recommendations to advance their security based upon resources that are available, guiding school districts to advance their security addressing critical needs first.

“The human element I think is so critical in our discussion about securing our schools because there is a temptation to press the easy button,” said Michele Gay, co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools.

Gay, a mother and former teacher, lost her daughter in the 2012 Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school shooting, and has since dedicated herself to school safety. She urged safety education over the ease of technology alone as a false substitute.

It is important to not let strong technology trump training and awareness, for the two are integral to protecting lives, said Gay.

But funding for safety-related infrastructure improvements remains elusive.

SSA and PASS recently co-signed a letter to President Donald Trump with SSA and others calling for greater school safety infrastructure funding, Boyd said.

“There’s no money for implementation,” Boyd said in an interview with EdScoop. “We’re not suggesting that the federal government should bear all of the costs. We’re saying a third from the feds, a third from the state and a third from the local.”

“Schools are covered under the National Infrastructure Protection Plan,” he said, which attempts to focus federal attention on protecting critical infrastructure. But “it is buried under government facilities, in a sub-sector. For the last 15, 16, 17 years we have focused on high value targets.”

“Well guess what? The name of the game has changed. It’s about soft targets with high probability of mass casualties … and the No. 1 soft-target issue that most governments are concerned about is schools.”

Wyatt Kash contributed to this report.

Press Release: Secure Schools Alliance Co-Sponsors Congressional School Safety Caucus Briefing

WILMINGTON, DE (June 15, 2017) – The Secure Schools Alliance Research and Education (the Alliance) organization and the Security Industry Association will co-sponsor the Congressional School Safety Caucus Briefing & Lunch: “Securing America’s K-12 Schools” on June 28, 2017, from 12-1 p.m., at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, HVC-201. The event is free to attend, but registration is required.

Chaired by Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Rick Larsen (D-WA), the Congressional School Safety Caucus (CSSC) is dedicated to bringing lawmakers together with education, law enforcement, government and private sector leaders to discuss how to improve safety and security at our nation’s schools. Rep. Brooks will make remarks on efforts in Congress to improve school safety.

The CSSC is a valuable resource and advocate for the improvement of school safety. We are grateful for their support and the opportunity to present this briefing,” said Robert Boyd, executive director of the Alliance and moderator for the special event. “School safety is a non-partisan issue. We encourage all members of Congress to join the CSSC and help lead the effort to make America’s schools safe.”

The panelists for “Securing America’s K-12 Schools” include:

Michele Gay, Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. Gay shares the inspiring way she has chosen to help school communities improve school safety in honor of her daughter, Josephine, and memory of the other 19 children and six teachers lost on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

Guy Grace, Director of Public Safety for the Littleton, Colorado, School District. On April 12, 1999, the world was shocked by the mass murder of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School. Learn what changes to school security and safety that community made in response to that tragedy.

Robert Quinn of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and David Woodward of the Indiana Department of Education. Indiana state officials will present the proactive steps that Indiana is taking to improve school security and safety as well as how it could serve as a model for other states. In 2016, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation directing the establishment and maintenance of guidelines for school emergency response systems in conjunction with experts from the division of school building physical security and safety.

“This event will tie the need for improving the security of America’s K-12 public schools to real-life stories and expert perspectives. We also want to highlight what one state, Indiana, is doing to improve the safety of its schools,” added Boyd. “Indiana is a leader in the fight to improve school safety.”

The Alliance recently released a first-of-its-kind tool: An interactive map of state security policies and resources for K-12 public schools. The Alliance partnered with the Police Foundation and Dr. Erroll Southers of TAL Global to develop the online tool, which is intended to offer decision makers a place to easily review school safety and security best practices.



Are K12 Schools Really Safe?

(Robert Boyd via Domestic Preparedness) The recent release of the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card is notable – not simply because it gave U.S. public schools a D+ grade on their overall condition, but due to its failure to address upgrades needed to the security infrastructure, security technology, and life safety systems of schools. As the new administration and Congress consider a major national infrastructure bill, it is time to invest in upgrading the security infrastructure of K-12 public schools. (Read more . . .)

Subscribe to the Alliance newsletter!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from the Secure Schools Alliance.