In my line of work, I see a lot of security technology and solutions that are effective. I also see some that are downright silly, impractical or even dangerous. Unfortunately, when a highly publicized active shooter attack happens on a campus, some people let their fears outweigh their common sense. This makes them prone to making ill-advised technology and equipment purchases.
A great example of this is bullet-proof backpacks, which can cost as much as $500 each. Inevitably after something like a Parkland, Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech tragedy happens, parents rush out to buy these things in hopes they will protect their children from the next school shooting.
There are several issues I have with these backpacks:
- Although the rate of gun violence in America is unacceptably high, the chances of someone being killed by an active shooter are really, really small. You are much more likely to be struck by lightning.
- Even in the unlikely event that a student does get caught up in an active shooter attack, the backpack won’t protect them from the front or side. Additionally, in an effort to get away from the shooter more quickly, they might take off their backpack, rendering it useless.
- Again, in the unlikely event that a student experiences a school shooting, there is a really good chance the student won’t be wearing their backpack if they are sitting in class, at lunch, playing on the playground or exercising in physical education class.
I also have issues with schools installing ballistic classroom doors, which can cost around $4,000 each. In all my years running Campus Safety magazine and CampusSafetyMagazine.com, I have yet to hear of a school, university or hospital shooter successfully breaching a locked interior door. Even those wimpy push-button locks haven’t been breached (yet). That’s because active shooters almost always want high body counts. When they encounter a locked door, they simply move on to an entrance that isn’t locked or is a softer target.
Now, there might come a time when an active shooter will breach a locked interior door. However, the likelihood of that happening at your specific campus is infinitesimally small. It’s even smaller than the remote chance of an active shooter attack happening at your location in the first place.
I’m not saying that ballistic doors don’t have their place on some campuses. If you have a high-security location —such as a nuclear facility or infectious disease research lab — that type of solution might be very appropriate. But if you install those doors on your run-of-the-mill classrooms, you are probably wasting your money.
So which security technologies and equipment should your campus buy? I generally prefer solutions that have multiple applications and can prevent or mitigate multiple risks. For example, locks not only enable teachers to lockdown their classrooms, locks also can also prevent theft and vandalism. The purchase is even better if you can use it during your day-to-day operations. For example, card access control solutions not only improve security, the cards themselves can be used by students, faculty, clinicians and staff as debit cards, cafeteria cards, library cards, laundry access cards and more.
So, here is a list of just some the security equipment and technologies I believe are wise investments:
- Classroom door locks: These should comply with all fire and ADA codes, and should be lockable from the inside of the room so a teacher, administrator or other staff member can quickly lockdown and shelter in place.
- Access control: Card access systems can enable a campus to lockdown quickly. They also allow administrators to deactivate a card when a person stops attending the school or an employee is terminated. Additionally, data from these systems can help law enforcement investigate campus crime.
- Two-way radios and other forms of emergency communication: These should be used not only during security and safety incidents, but also for regular campus operations. If possible, radios should be able to communicate with local first responders during an emergency.
- Emergency notification: Multiple layers of these mass communication devices should be deployed, such as public address systems, text alerts, voice evac systems, strobes, digital signage, etc.
- Security cameras: Video surveillance can help security personnel verify alarms. Additionally, cameras can help with investigations, as well as monitor other issues, such as damage from flooding and crowds at concerts and athletic events.
- Fire alarms: These sound when there is a fire and can be leveraged for mass notification.
- Intrusion alarms: These can monitor campuses during off-hours, as well as areas prone to tampering or other issues (such as flooding).
- Window security film: This solution not only slows down a would-be attacker from entering through a window, it also prevents glass from breaking during severe weather emergencies and protects building occupants from flying debris. Additionally, it can help conserve energy.
- Secure vestibules: This approach funnels all visitors through one entrance so their identity can be verified.
- Anonymous tip lines: These should not only accept information via phone, but also text and online. They can identify potential active shooters as well as individuals who might be suicidal or experiencing some other crisis.
There are many more excellent solutions on the market that I haven’t mentioned here, but this is a good start. In addition to these, be sure you incorporate Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts. Also, don’t forget about other non-technical solutions, such as threat assessment and management; training of officers, other staff, students and clinicians; mental health services; social services and more.
There are a lot of great campus security solutions on the market right now, but campuses must do their research and use some common sense so they invest wisely.