Ensuring Student Safety: 3 Technologies to Improve School Security

  • October 16, 2023

Respond quickly to threats with technology.

Let's paint a picture for you, a situation that one of our sales members experienced while conducting a walk-through at a school.

It was about 2 p.m. one afternoon when he found himself strolling down an empty hallway at a Nebraska junior high school he had attended nearly 25 years earlier. As he reminisced, he heard sounds coming from the boys' bathroom. He opened the door and saw three students attacking a fourth boy. He was aware that only school personnel should intervene, so he quickly exited and notified a teacher across the hall.

It was purely coincidental that he happened to be passing by the restroom. The irony is that he is a security technician by trade, who was at the school to discuss the installation of a Genetec unified security platform—with audio elements that can "listen" 24 hours a day for incidents just like the one he just witnessed.


Technology and Training Can Save Lives

Technology is providing a way to make safety more dependable, especially in critical situations like active shooter incidents at K-12 schools. Humans can't be everywhere simultaneously, and we can't always rely on them to act quickly in stressful situations.

It's not uncommon for training to fall short during a violent event. For instance, in a panic, a school secretary might forget to use a panic button, or she could be the first target of an attacker. When a manual panic button system fails for any reason, lives are put at greater risk.

Schools are not the only places that benefit from reducing human involvement in fast-paced situations. As technology has progressed in recent years, schools, retail stores, government buildings, and various other locations have increasingly used technology to enhance security and save lives.

A modern, best-practices school security system involves three main components: controlling who has access, detecting and responding to events, and having unified security systems in place.

The key is to combine technology with well-thought-out plans and training to make safety more effective.



1. Access Control: Proactively Preventing Violence

Preventing a problem is much better than dealing with it when it happens. So, the first thing in any K-12 security plan should be prevention.

A simple yet effective way to prevent active shooter situations is by managing who can enter. Gone are the days when small schools stayed secure with just one locked door. Today's schools are larger, with many students and entrances.

To ensure safety while keeping things running smoothly, we need to control who enters through these doors at different times and under varying threat levels. Here's how technology can assist with that:

  • Identify pre-access threats

Technology: License Plate Recognition (LPR) software has become sophisticated enough to “read” license plate numbers and associate them with filters/rules programmed into the system. Cameras are mounted at choke points (entrances) to school grounds. Software can even record speed of vehicles and even detect vehicle make, model and color.

Strategy: Set flags within software to notify appropriate personnel of known threats, such as students who have been expelled or suspended (black list). Or their parents. The system also can be set to notify staff when unknown vehicles enter a parking lot. Some license plates can be “white listed” – such as teacher’s cars; their entrance may be recorded without notifications. LPR readings can be time stamped and paired with recorded security footage from other areas of the school to identify and prove illegal or violent behavior – vandalism, for example.

  • Funnel traffic through a monitored checkpoint

Technology: Access control can be managed in person or with electronics such as video intercoms, security cameras, access badges and panic buttons. Depending on the software employed with technology, at-risk students, parents or unidentified visitors can be recorded — or even identified using facial recognition before they are allowed to enter. Some schools employ metal detectors to proactively identify weapons before they can be used to cause damage. Access control can be implemented in other critical areas, too, such as school offices, side doors, and entrances to sports venues.

Strategy: Every school’s needs are different. For some, it’s enough to simply post a resource officer or teacher at the entrance during class changes and other busy times to watch for potential problems in person. In these cases, training in threat identification and conflict resolution is essential.

In schools located in high-risk neighborhoods, a comprehensive approach that incorporates both in-person resources and access control measures becomes imperative to effectively identify and respond to potential threats. Cameras play a pivotal role in verifying the actions of not just students and visitors but also staff members. Engaging a proficient security contractor is essential in creating the most efficient and effective use of security tools.

  • Monitor and control locked doors

Technology: In addition to front-entry access control, a variety of coordinated security monitoring systems and door-lock controls can be implemented based on the school’s schedule, the remoteness of the doors, likely personnel on duty at certain times, and other conditions and needs. Cameras, with or without microphones, provide imaging and sound to detect and verify threats.

Strategy: School side doors are notoriously left propped open, and in multiple cases active shooters have gained entrance through these unmonitored doors. In some cases, friends purposefully opened locked doors for their friends, knowingly or unknowingly allowing shooters to enter. A security monitoring system can notify staff when locked doors are breached. Well-placed cameras can provide instant video feed information, as well as recordings to help identify and prosecute perpetrators.

At night, when teachers and students are in the school for extracurricular activities, a double swipe can allow doors to stay open between certain times. Because it’s then not possible to tell a door is unlocked from the street, it’s less likely someone passing by will enter the school with violent intentions during those times.

Monitoring and controlling access is the foundation of a comprehensive security plan for any school, and the hope is that this will prevent violent incidents. However, it’s reasonable to assume some threats will not be neutralized by access controls. So, the next step is to plan how technology will be used during a live active shooter event.


2. Active-Shooter/Violence Event Detection and Response

Because minutes — even seconds — matter when it comes to saving lives, event detection and response technology and strategy should be focused on minimizing the amount of time it takes to identify an event in progress, as well as the amount of time it takes to respond and stop the violence.

No one wants to believe such an incident would happen at their own school, but the only way to save lives is to be realistic and face the challenges head-on, putting security and safety technology into place and practicing responses.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, schools have to put plans together for a worst-case type of scenario and everyone needs to be thinking about it. K – 12 schools are not the only ones who must plan for active-shooter events and other violent incidents.

It can happen anywhere. Whether you are a multibillion-dollar company or a smaller institution. We all have the same fundamental security and safety issues. Here’s how technology can help:

  • Identify threats, even where people cannot be present

Technology: Today’s advanced technology includes sophisticated software that can work with cameras and microphones to identify threats before humans notice them and then automatically notify responders based on rules programmed into the software.

Audio detection software can be installed where cameras are not appropriate, such as bathrooms and locker rooms. This technology can identify gunshots, yelling and even distressed voices. It's inexpensive to install because it is power-over-ethernet, like cameras, and can ride on the school’s network-structured cable.

Strategy: To gain the most effective coverage in event detection, install cameras and audio detection where they support each other. Determine appropriate automatic actions to follow event detection, whether it is lockdown, notification, triggered recording or alarms. Most likely, it will be a combination. Work with security experts and law enforcement to create a plan that is automatically carried out to the best of your system’s ability – in concert with human responses.

Once a plan is created, practice it with students, teachers, staff and law enforcement through regular drills. This may be the most important step of all in ensuring the success of your incident response plans. In the event of a real incident, training and practice will help ensure proper actions are taken, even at times when fear and confusion are the norm.

  • Create an access plan based on threat level

Technology: Today’s sophisticated technology can determine the level of a threat, with or without manual input from human beings, and then institute pre-programmed actions. The heart of this threat-detection technology is software that makes use of cameras, audio detection and access controls including key cards and pin pads.

Strategy: Higher threat levels require heightened measures. The highest threat levels may instigate actions such as automatic lockdown of every door in the school, including classroom doors. This can be associated with time of day, too. For example, if an incident takes place when students are off campus for lunch, it would not be a good idea for them to enter the building and walk into danger, so all doors can be locked automatically.

Different actions may be required for unlocking doors. For example, in a high-threat situation you can require that one or two staff keycards must be used for unlocking doors – or a keycard and a pin number.

3. Automated Crisis Response through Unified Security Platforms

Automatic responses to school threats depend on different pieces of technology communicating with one another. Many, many schools in the U.S. do not have unified security platforms that allow technology tools to “talk” with each other and carry out coordinated actions.

A proper automated system not only ensures student and staff safety within one school, but also can automatically lockdown schools within a radius of the event, notifying proper staff so a shooter can’t go from school to school causing as much damage as possible – often their goal.

Technology: In addition to preprogrammed software prompts designed to identify school threats, lock down doors and notify responders, a unified security platform can be coordinated with city technology to notify and support efforts of law enforcement. Ideally, schools, businesses and different city departments would use the same platform to aid in integration. Once this is done, it’s easy – and fast – to share information.

Strategy: Software and hardware should be used together to provide seamless identification and notification. Privacy is important, so a system should be triggered only when threats are imminent or additional information is needed. For example, a school can federate in-school camera feeds to police to help them better prepare for an active event while they are on the way to help. Likewise, a motor vehicles department could provide camera-feed access to help a school identify a shooter who has left the school campus.

Whether it’s a scuffle in the boys’ bathroom or a life-threatening active-shooter incident, next time your K – 12 school faces a safety breach, wouldn’t it be nice to know you are prepared and lives will be saved? Schools can’t afford NOT to face these realities and take actions that give every life a chance.

To learn more about Prime Secured and our ability to provide effective solutions for school access control, event detection and response, and unified security platforms, contact Prime Secured services page.

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