Cameras. While the use of a camera to see who is at the front door is logical when integrated with the rest of the program, not all camera applications are so well conceived. Richard Sem, president of Sem Security Management, notes that many schools don’t plan well enough before implementing the surveillance systems to ensure that they get the most out of the technology.
“I’ve seen some schools with literally hundreds of cameras, and yet nobody monitoring,” Sem says. He questions the value of those cameras and wonders whether school officials devised a strategic plan before installing the system.
Michael Dorn, of the nonprofit Safe Havens International, agrees that when schools put cameras in without live monitoring, they may not get the positive security results they anticipate. Dorn conducts “red team assessments” during which he enters schools and tests their security by trying to steal computers and vehicles; he even stages fake abductions of students, teachers, or staff.
“I have never been caught by anybody watching a security camera. And we have done this in some of the most heavily secured schools in the United States from a technology standpoint.”
Schools Dorn has tested have more technology than major airports do, he says, and yet, “we’re able to get into the building and steal a lot of stuff.”
He attributes the problem to the tendency of schools to invest only in technology and not to also invest in people to work the equipment. “The cameras will work, if you have people to work with those cameras. But you can’t just slap cameras on the wall and expect the problems to go away,” says Dorn.
Kaufer explains that sometimes the problem is that “very few districts have the personnel or the funding to allow live monitoring. So, most of the time, the camera is only used if they’ve got to go back and see a particular incident that may have happened.”
But even the investigative aspect of the system won’t work if images can’t be retrieved. Chuck Hibbert, president of Hibbert Safe School Consulting LLC, says that schools don’t formulate comprehensive surveillance policies when they install cameras. They don’t consider, for example, whether and how long they will store the images from the camera.
The bottom line is that cameras should not be installed simply as visible proof that a school is committed to security, because there is a lot more to safety than a camera on the wall, says Paul Timm, PSP, of RETA Security, Inc. He notes that Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado, and Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, both had sophisticated camera installations that did nothing to prevent the shooting incidents they suffered.
Current statistics on the use of cameras are hard to come by; Indicators’ most recent data is for the 2005-2006 school year. The numbers, while a bit dated, do show that use has been trending up. The report found that the number of schools using one or more cameras in the school year spanning 2005-2006 was 43 percent, compared with 19 percent for the 1999-2000 school year.
Metal detectors. Metal detectors are often purchased in a knee-jerk reaction to an incident rather than as part of a comprehensive security program, say several experts. If the school does not consider the rest of the building design and other ways in which weapons can be brought into the building, the money spent on metal detectors is likely wasted. For example, many schools have first-floor windows that weapons could be passed through.
“So the whole thing of being able to keep weapons out of schools by having kids walk through metal detectors, I think is just a feel-good scam, quite frankly,” says John Weicker, security director for Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana. Hand-held detectors may make sense in some situations, he says.
Kaufer agrees that metal detectors should not be purchased unless a school has integrated them into an overall security plan, he adds. This is actually good advice for all technology.
Perhaps because the technology is more intrusive than surveillance cameras, metal detectors have not seen the same growth. Their installation at schools stayed fairly steady between 1999 and 2007 and was the least observed school safety measure, according to Indicators.
Lockdowns. Experts agree that schools should have lockdown capability. As police psychologist John Nicoletti points out, school shooters do not historically take time to kick a door down, although they may shoot into it in an attempt to injure someone on the opposite side.
But Nicoletti warns that just being able to lock outside doors isn’t sufficient. In an active shooter situation, that approach could potentially be making a “burial tomb,” because the shooter is often already inside when officials realize there is a threat.
Many experts recommend that teachers have the ability to lock classroom doors from the inside during an emergency and that schools establish safe areas that faculty and students can go to and secure in case of violent intruders.