Surveillance cameras and fortified front entranceways with enhanced access control are among the most common security equipment purchases by school districts reacting over the past year to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Meanwhile, many schools continue to fail to invest the time and resources into the training, planning, exercising of crisis plans, and other more critical human aspects of school safety.
The cameras and access control are among the estimated more than $2.7 billon spent on school security systems over the past year. And according to one Colorado-based research company cited in a recent Bloomberg.com story, this figure will spike to $4.9 billion by 2017.
Sandy Hook final report leads to questions about rush to security equipment
School leaders and some state legislators rushed after the Sandy Hook shootings to spend dollars that in the months prior many of them claimed they did not have for school security. But the final report on Sandy Hook recently released by the Connecticut State’s Attorney raises questions as to whether these expenditures have even a remote connection to the Sandy Hook shooting issues.
For example, while many educators have believed for the past 11 months that the Sandy Hook shooter shot out the glass in the front doors, the official report confirmed what some of us have been saying all along: The shooter shot out the glass next to the front doorway, not in the actual doorway itself. So shouldn’t the knee-jerk reactions, if they were really in response to Sandy Hook, have been on fortifying all of the windows and glass around the ground levels of schools instead of just fortifying the front doors? And what about the dozens of other doors around many schools besides just the front doors anyway?
The Sandy Hook report also noted the front entrance access control system at Sandy Hook Elementary School did not record activity there. No other surveillance cameras have been reported at the school. And would cameras have made a difference in stopping this particular shooter regardless?
Don’t get me wrong. We believe that reconfigured main entranceways that funnel visitors into the school’s office are a best practice. We also believe there are applications for surveillance cameras inside and outside of school, as well as on school buses. And we believe these efforts should be a part of security assessments and actions prior to a national school shooting tragedy.
Balance investments in security hardware with investments in human side of safety
But we don’t believe that skewed, knee-jerk reactions based upon what some believe may have occurred in one given mass shooting should be the basis for knee-jerk funding and actions made in the name of preventing the next school shooting. We particularly have concerns when the funding and focus is skewed toward security equipment while schools continue to fail to invest time and resources into diversifying crisis drills, training teachers and support staff on proven best practices, and beefing up mental health support services for high-risk students.
Throwing money at security equipment does, however, meet two needs: The need for some legislatures to appear they are doing something about school safety, but only really putting out one-time grants for equipment rather than restoring/funding more comprehensive safety programs.
Buying security equipment also provides local school administrators with something physical and tangible they can point to when parents ask what they are doing to improve school security. But it is more difficult to point to the more meaningful school safety and security strategies (planning with first responders, diversifying and improving lockdown drills, etc.) that are often invisible but powerful.
The school security equipment business will likely continue to grow. But it is the human side of school safety — the Sandy Hook custodian who locked down the school and guided 911 dispatchers, the office secretaries who called 911 as shots were being fired steps away, the shot teacher who called 911 and left the PA system open so others could hear, and the educators who gave their lives to protect those of their students — that needs our biggest investments.
Are your schools investing in security products but not their people?