Spending Wisely on School Safety

As a leader in education, you know what is needed to keep your students safe. In the last several years, schools have spent millions and millions of dollars on safety improvements like cameras, reinforced doors, emergency notification systems, and access control. You know what you need to do, but do you know how to do it? Who do you rely on for safety and security advice? Security technology vendors? Local police departments?

If you are looking at new construction or remodeling in your district, utilizing the services of an independent security consultant can save significant money in both the short and long run. A security consultant who specializes in school safety can make recommendations based on the unique learning environment and industry best practices.

Furthermore, a review of school safety policy & procedure can lead to evidence and research-based recommendations that offer greater protection for students, staff, and visitors – often for less money than reactive measures like bullet-resistant glass.

Security vendors are experts in the products sold by their company, but they also have a vested interest in selling schools as much as they can. According to RAND Institute policy researcher Heather Schwartz, districts need an independent third party to “wade through the marketing from the different [security] companies.” Unfortunately, some companies are also taking advantage of the genuine and understandable fear and emotions surrounding school safety. After all, can we put a price on the safety of our children?

We can’t and shouldn’t put a price on safety, but we have a responsibility to ensure we are spending limited resources allocated for security in a way that best protects our students. Perhaps you don’t need as many cameras as a vendor recommends. Maybe your current access control system works just fine but could be reconfigured. An independent security consultant can review RFPs and bids, potentially saving your districts considerable money for reinvestment into other safety initiatives.

Understandably, schools often turn to their police department for safety advice. While police undoubtedly have the safety and wellbeing of students forefront in their minds, they usually lack the expertise necessary to make recommendations that fit in a school environment.

Schools should always include police and fire department personnel in any discussion related to safety and security, but also need to consider that, by nature, emergency first responders have an entire community to protect, and they often come to the table with that perspective. It is not safe to assume that someone who is an expert in response is also an expert in prevention.

Whether you are merely updating an aging security system or are about to design and build a new high school, investing a relatively small amount in an expert assessment of your safety and security needs can not only save you a significant amount of money but can also make your school safer.

Putting Limited Resources to Best Use

Availability of resources is an issue for most organizations – especially school districts. Schools can maximize their resources and plan for the future by having a security master plan in place. A master plan developed with the help of an independent security consultant will ensure you spend your money wisely and the technology you put in place will allow for future growth and integration.

The following article from Security Management explains their best practices in developing master security plans to help you make better decisions.

 


STARTING FROM THE END: CREATING A MASTER SECURITY PLAN

​My grandfather once told me, “If you build a levee six feet high but the water rises to seven, you’ve wasted 100 percent of your investment. But if you build that levee to eight feet, and the water rises to seven, no one will care about the over-investment.”

A good master security plan helps you spec and budget for that seven-foot flood with an eight-foot levee. And ultimately, a good plan leads to a good security system.

That’s what one of our clients, a large private university in the Puget Sound region of Washington State, discovered when we went through the planning process for its access control and video surveillance system. In developing the master security plan, we realized that just expanding the existing systems would not meet the school’s future needs, and updating the systems as an interim step would ultimately be more expensive than putting in new systems. 

So how should a security manager develop an effective plan? Here are my suggestions for best practices in creating a master security plan, based on 30 years’ experience in the facility vulnerability sector.

Start at the End

Where do you want to be in five, 10, or 15 years? Once that is established, work backwards from there. If you have a vision for your security plan, you can build in enough flexibility to get there without having to rip and replace every few years, and you can identify long-term cost savings and operational efficiencies along the way.

For example, what if, someday, your access control system could interact with the IT system to enhance network logins? Or if the video surveillance system could automatically release the car gate when the correct license plate is read?

Looking at the ultimate goals of our university client, we discovered that what managers really wanted was an integrated video and access control system, with higher-resolution security cameras. While that decision meant delaying implementation of some access points and cameras, choosing flexibility was a better long-term decision to meet the organization’s security goals.

Keep Going Broader

Once you have your video surveillance and access control needs handled, look for additional opportunities and vulnerabilities.  For example, look at how you can leverage existing video data for business goals, such as reducing inventory waste or worker productivity. Look for ways to integrate systems to reduce security headcount. Integrate physical security with cybersecurity systems to reduce human-created security vulnerabilities. Think big so you can do more than protect; you also help your business thrive.

In our example, the college wanted to ultimately create a single card that would act as a student ID, a food service card, a library card, and an access control card. While this integration would save money down the line, we needed to bring several different departments together to make sure that their interests would align. We ended up selecting a slightly more expensive card than it had been using—but the selected card had a proximity chip, a chip for financial information, and a bar code for library information. Everyone got what they wanted, and the cost was lower than purchasing four separate cards.

​Ask the Hard Questions

These are the questions that are hard to consider because the answers may be embarrassing, or they require negotiations between groups, or they require more resources. Some examples follow.

    • Are there hidden security flaws in our facility? How do we find them?
    • What are the known issues and what capacity for the unknowns should we build in?
    • What have we learned from past crises? ​
    • Where do we think emerging threats will come from?
    • How do we navigate between competing agendas?

College administrators had to consider choices such as spending on beautiful landscaping versus creating a safe environment. Other hard questions arose. For example, one department wanted a single-use card, but others preferred a multi-use card.

​Focus on the Future

Make sure your plan will help you grow. That means searching for products that can be integrated, that are scalable, and that can segment data and reports. It may also mean installing a larger conduit than you currently need or choosing the vendor that has a scalable architecture. And it requires investing more today to save on ongoing maintenance and configuration costs tomorrow.

In the college’s case, its existing video surveillance system was entirely centralized and was not capable of communicating with the access control system. It couldn’t record high enough quality images to meet the ultimate surveillance goals.  The access control system also had issues. It was at the end of its lifecycle and would not be supported within a few years, and its software was antiquated and incapable of integration with other systems. 

For the college, the least expensive decision today would have meant a lot more investment in the future. Thus, we oversized the new server to handle additional video surveillance needs in the future. In addition, as the college added new buildings, we made sure they were integrating a higher wire volume than current needs, as well as building in access control during construction. This last element can reduce access control costs dramatically.

When you apply these best practices in developing master security plans, you make better decisions.

Erick Slabaugh has more than 30 years of experience in the specialty contracting industry and is a serial entrepreneur.  He is CEO and majority stockholder of Absco Solutions and founder and CEO of FCP Insight, a SaaS business solution for specialty contractors.