Among the most pressing concerns facing educators today is the challenge of ensuring the safety and security of their facilities, students and staff. With the evolving threat landscape, schools and campuses across the nation grapple with striking a delicate balance between fostering an inclusive, open learning environment and implementing robust security measures.

As educational institutions take proactive steps to fortify their defenses against potential risks, they encounter myriad complexities, from identifying system design and deployment best practices to integrating new security measures with existing infrastructure. This multifaceted pursuit reflects the collective determination to preserve the sanctity of learning spaces while creating a secure environment conducive to academic development.

Installing security contractors and manufacturers, along with other industry stakeholders, are central to this imperative. Collectively, they are at the forefront of a growing marketplace in need of innovative strategies and technologies.

When assessing video surveillance, access control, and intrusion alarm systems, Omdia estimates the education market in the United States — combining K-12 and higher education — was worth around $1 billion in 2022. Higher education — including universities and colleges, both public and private — is estimated to account for around 43 percent of that total number. Within the higher education market, video surveillance is by far the most dominant equipment type. The U.S. market for physical security equipment in higher education was estimated to be around $417 million in 2022, with the research firm projecting growth that will far exceed $500 million in 2026.

Sonitrol- walk through school building
When designing systems for K-12 and higher education environments, it is important to walk through each school building at different times to understand its operations and identify specific security needs. IMAGE COURTESY OF SONITROL

Shaun Castillo, president of Houston-based Preferred Technologies, says most security integrators assume the education market, especially K-12 schools, is a low-cost, low-bid market. Yet, making that blanket assumption is off the mark.

“While there certainly are institutions with that mindset, we’ve experienced many, many institutions that are incredibly intelligent, very sophisticated and willing to make necessary investments into safety and security,” he says.

SDM spoke with numerous security professionals who specialize in the education sector to flesh out the trends, challenges and opportunities unique to these end customers. Along with systems design and integration insights, find out what top pitfalls to avoid, how to remedy common deployment complications and much more.

Contending With Myriad Security Challenges

Security, both physical and cyber, creates increasing challenges for today’s educational institutions. Providing a safe haven for students, staff and visitors is a challenge that demands vigorous physical security, often for numerous buildings and outdoor locations.

A critical aspect of physical security is understanding who is on school property and managing the locations each person can enter, explains Tim Norris, senior director, product marketing, Brivo, Bethesda, Md.

“Upgrading legacy security systems to support mobile badging enables effective identity and credential management for all who enter a school environment,” he says. “Mobile access solutions allow students, staff and visitors to open doors, gates and other entry systems with a smartphone. Unlike physical cards or key fobs, smartphones are more secure, easier to manage, and more cost-effective for schools.”

Norris illustrates one example in the higher education space of how the legacy view of campus security is changing and modernizing. Using a smartphone app, students not only badge into class to be marked present, but also to gain access to campus facilities such as fitness centers, libraries, after-hours study halls, dorms and more. “Using devices that are so personal, like a student’s phone, means less sharing of credentials, and wider adoption of the security procedures that campus safety administrations want from the student body,” he says.

In K-12 districts across the nation, many schools continue to rely on legacy systems, including brass keys, to secure their facilities. Modernization funds — such as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) — and other grants to renovate school security remain available, but time is running out for executing security modernization, Norris says.

“With school resource officers becoming a political hot button in some communities, electronic security from access control, to video surveillance and monitoring are critical to ensuring the safety of staff and students,” Norris adds.

Schools are often led by sincere and caring individuals who have the best intentions in mind, says Brent Van Haren, president of SecurAlarm, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based security integrator. Still, when it comes to capital investments like security, the procedures in place intended to maximize and protect public funding can sometimes be a barrier for these leaders in evaluating and choosing trusted partners that achieve targeted outcomes, he explains.

“We spend a lot of time educating our team and our educational clients on [a range of topics and preparation strategies] so there is more awareness on how to get the most impact with each dollar,” Van Haren says. “And, [we explain] how to achieve ‘safer’ within the constraints of budget, operations, culture and why lowest cost on projects may not be lowest cost in the long run. This leads to much stronger partnerships where we can work within the process and still achieve desired goals.”

Today’s staff and educators are not only responding to everyday incidents, such as hallway altercations or minor health emergencies, but also critical emergencies and tragedies that continue to plague the nation such as natural disasters, bomb threats and active shooter scenarios.

“Video surveillance has long been a vital tool in improving school security. At the same time, its crucial schools meet NDAA compliance to ensure they can continue accessing existing and future federal grants, loans and funding.”
Jason Burrows, IDIS America

Security teams are responsible for monitoring large campuses with multiple building entries to maintain the safety of hundreds of students, teachers and staff, oversee student and visitor activity and monitor access to restricted areas and entrances, says Sharon Hong, vice president of enterprise technology, Motorola Solutions, Chicago.

“Schools want to ensure their security teams can do their job more efficiently and effectively,” Hong says. “As is the case with other industries, some schools struggle with outdated security systems and require security to spend hours manually pulling video from cameras and searching through footage for incidents or individuals, and they often do not integrate with other technology solutions.”

To address these challenges, by example, Hong says that schools can leverage AI-enabled video security solutions, access control, radio devices and weapons detection systems for a holistic view of events and to focus their attention on what’s important.

Despite the vast amount of technology available to mitigate risks to schools and higher ed campuses, identifying the right security solution remains a vexing challenge, says Bruce Czerwinski, vice president of sales, Zenitel Americas, Kansas City, Mo.

Video surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management, a VMS, alarms and more are some of the technologies that are implemented. Many schools also employ metal detectors, facial recognition, panic buttons and more. But every school and university campus needs a solution that enables clear communications that enables them to secure all facilities on campus by detecting and responding to security incidents, Czerwinski advises.

“Communications technologies, like IP intercoms and speakers, bring those technologies together, and provide a well-rounded and responsive communications umbrella that offers actionable insight into potential physical breaches,” he says. “Individuals on college campuses need to feel safe. When they don’t, they need a way to use their voice to ask for help and to receive it via a voice on the other end.”

David Antar, president of IPVideo Corp., Bay Shore, N.Y., says there is some great work being done by numerous organizations to help school security leaders better understand what is needed overcome challenges to securing their facilities and protect their students and staff. These include associations such as SIA and ASIS, as well as the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) and national guidelines available from the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS).

“Many states continue to be reactionary to high profile events and put out underfunded mandates to address portions of security, Antar says. “Schools want to be secure, but also maintain an open and inclusive learning environment where personal liberties are still protected.”

With limited funding and conflicting mandated priorities, it is hard for a campus security team to achieve all the identified needs in a phased approach, he explains.

“To help meet these challenges, I always direct my teams to develop affordable solutions that give our educational clients multi-purpose use cases that extend the reach and services of security teams while protecting the privacy of the individual,” Antar adds.

PASS: Achieving a Coordinated Approach to School Security

The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is a non-profit organization established in 2014 that brings together expertise from the education, public safety and industry communities to develop and support a coordinated approach to assist school administrators in making effective use of proven security practices specific to K-12 environments. SDM spoke with PASS Advisory Council Chair Chuck Wilson to shed some light on what installing security contractors need to know to succeed in the education sector.

SDM: What do education security directors look for in a security integrator technology provider?
They look for a trusted advisor as much as anything. As we discovered when we formed PASS, many school officials were frustrated with systems integrators as they appeared as commissioned salespeople interested in just the specific technology they sold as opposed to a more holistic approach as found in the PASS guidelines.

SDM: What do security integrators need to know about what makes for a successful partnership?
They need to have experience, code and compliance knowledge, great vendor partners and perhaps most importantly understand the education market. Often the best integrators have served on school boards, hired education professionals, coached their teams on showing empathy and really understand what educators face on a daily basis. It’s important that integrators become part of the district’s comprehensive school safety plan and not just be another low bid vendor. Building trust and a long-term relationship is far more important than doing a single one-and-done project.

SDM: Can you identify a couple of ways that you see security dealers and integrators fail to fully meet the needs of their education customers?
We see it every day. Integrators simply have to know the code(s) relevant to each occupancy type. They need to know critical details in the solutions they provide such as device placement, network integration, cybersecurity, privacy laws, etc.

One thing we advise integrators on is to review the top 10 mistakes made in school safety and security within the PASS guidelines and start there. Proper training is crucial before sending anyone out to a school representing your company. We see far too many mistakes made when systems designed for non-education venues are used in schools. The most important thing to remember is that school safety requires an all-hazards approach. A singular focus on active shooter response isn’t the answer.

SDM: How do you assess the security needs and vulnerabilities of educational institutions during the consulting process?
Risk, threat or vulnerability assessments start with the PASS checklist. We provide the consultants with a comprehensive gap analysis document that details the various component levels. This checklist follows the guidelines in documenting the status of the tier continuum from the very basic elements of tier 1 through the most advanced tier 4 integrated solutions.

SDM: What are some common security challenges that you encounter when working with educational clients, and how do you address them?
We mostly have to unravel what they found online with security hacks. At PASS we believe in doing things properly and never ever offering the “illusion of security” or what we refer to as “security theater.” Every school board member, administrator, educator and parent wants the very safest learning environment for their student. As such, when funding is scarce they often find ways to lock a door, block an exit, conduct a lockdown, use a phone system, use magnets on doorjambs and many other non-compliant measures to feel safe. As security and life safety professionals we must address this by knowing the code and being there as that trusted advisor when these non-compliant items surface.

SDM: How are K-12 schools prioritizing security measures based on the budgetary constraints?
That’s the one silver lining I suppose in all this. While we hate that school security and life safety has become such a threat and nationwide tragedy, we have seen lawmakers respond with increased funding at a state and federal level. We are tracking over 100 bills of which many have funding provided. One way systems integrators can help their education clients is to bring information on those funding sources to their attention.

SDM: Can you offer any other comments or insights to help security dealers and integrators understand this unique sector?
Consider applying to become a PASS partner. It requires training on layered and tiered approaches to making our schools safer. It requires a commitment to following the guidelines and applying those best practices in a very professional and methodical fashion. Layered security does work. We’ve seen undisputed evidence doing school safety properly saves lives.

Against a backdrop of high-profile violent incidents, increasingly more parents, stakeholders, communities and local governments are putting pressure on schools to improve the safety and security of students, teachers and staff. Security teams are particularly stretched, dealing with a whole array of challenges, says Jason Burrows, sales director, IDIS America, Coppell, Texas.

“Those challenges range from the need to update emergency response plans; conduct drills; and train staff and students to respond to different emergency situations, such as severe weather events, active shooter situations and medical emergencies,” Burrows says. “In addition, many officers, as well as teaching staff, have found themselves dealing with a sharp increase in student mental health issues and are tasked with identifying and addressing signs of distress or arranging appropriate access to counseling services for students.”

Couple with this the fact that age-old school challenges still exist, including illegal substances, weapons, bullying and harassment. These incidents also need to be diffused before they escalate. With a cache of sports, IT and laboratory equipment and students carrying expensive electronics such as laptops and smartphones, schools are also a target for organized crime gangs and opportunist thieves.

“Schools need to update legacy security systems to tackle these myriad issues effectively,” Burrows says. “Video surveillance has long been a vital tool in improving school security. At the same time, it’s crucial schools meet NDAA compliance to ensure they can continue accessing existing and future federal grants, loans and funding. Unlike many well-funded universities, K-12 security managers and officers busy with day-to-day tasks and without dedicated IT departments often don’t have the resources to fully assess a highly innovative security tech market. Nor do they have the technical savvy to vet a multitude of vendors that often bombard the education sector with a raft of hardware and software solutions.”

Design & Deploy Best Practices

Implementing effective security measures requires a comprehensive understanding of the environment and workflow, particularly in identifying potential areas of concern. It is crucial to establish who will use the system and how they will use it, explains Brad Cary, business development manager for education, Milestone Systems, Lake Oswego, Ore.

“Upon designing the system, the deployment should ensure that the right individuals have access with clear protocols on video sharing and levels of access. Incorporating user-friendly interfaces — be it a web client, a thick desktop client or a mobile client — will maximize the system’s efficiency and utility,” he says. “It may also be useful to do a pilot installation for a few weeks to familiarize yourself with the system and finalize the design based on hands on use.”

Cary points to PASS recommendations for “enhanced technologies,” such as weapons and threat detection, vape detection, electronic hall passes, and analytics beyond video like gunshot and glass break detection, panic voices, vehicle speeding, and biometrics. These technologies should be considered and integrated into the security system to be as proactive as possible, he advises.

visual indicators on door hardware
In an emergency, visual indicators on door hardware allow educators to know at a glance that their door has been correctly secured or remains unlocked. IMAGE COURTESY OF DORMAKABA

To ensure organizational buy-in from the beginning, educational institutions should involve stakeholders like faculty, staff, students and first responders early in the planning and design phase, preventing surprises during implementation, says Kendra Noonan, director of communications, Shooter Detection Systems, Rowley, Mass.

A multi-layered security approach incorporating physical barriers, access control, surveillance and advanced technologies such as gunshot detection systems is vital for enhanced safety, she says.

“It is essential to develop a comprehensive emergency response plan that outlines technology use in various emergencies, like active shooter situations, engaging all parties and clarifying the roles and limitations of different security systems,” Noonan explains. “Educational organizations should not hesitate to partner with local law enforcement and a professional security integrator to help keep emergency action plans and security systems up to date.”

Communication between a security systems integrator and the school district will be key in the designing and deploying of any security solution, says Jonathan Lach, vice president sales, Paxton Access, Greenville, S.C.

“Make sure that all levels of the educational institution have their voices heard to capture any and all risk elements that are present within a district or campus environment,” he advises. “When looking at the deployment of the solution, many schools will want the bulk of the work done when children are not exposed to the working environment. Due to this factor, careful coordination between contract issuance, material ordering and installation timing is required.”

Erin Wilson, influencer education manager, dormakaba, Indianapolis, also stresses the importance of open lines of communications. Do not design or decide on a system in a silo, she cautions. Make sure that all stakeholders are included in the discussion of the how, why, what and when.

“Be open to the concerns, requests and requirements of all stakeholders,” she says. “Just because the ultimate decision maker had an experience in another circumstance does not mean that that is the only situation that can occur. Two people can be involved in the same experience and have completely different responses and feelings about it.”

For a K-12 school deployment, Wilson says key stakeholders can encompass the district superintendent, district maintenance manager, district IT manager, principals, teachers, custodians, district police or regional security officers (RSOs), local police and parent-teacher organizations (PTOs).

“School district personnel such as principals, teachers and custodians should be included since they know the individual schools and the student population of the school,” she says. “Parents should be included so that they can make sure their concerns are heard and know their children are safe. For higher education and high schools, include student leaders and residence hall leadership as well.”

Departments are often siloed across campuses, which leads to redundant work and slower response times, says Bruce Canal, account executive, education, Genetec, Montreal. As educational institutions increase in size and complexity, maintaining an all-encompassing view can be a challenge. A truly connected campus starts with unified security, Canal says, giving security teams and campus police comprehensive oversight across all facilities and the ability to efficiently respond to emerging threats.

“Unification means that all physical security components are not only run from one user interface but are — at their core — the same system,” he explains. “A unified campus security solution maximizes usage of the infrastructure, makes upgrades seamless, and presents comprehensive cybersecurity threat level management.”

Plus, Canal continues, training is simplified as there is just one system and one interface for administrators and security personnel to learn. Support and maintenance are also more efficient, with one point of contact to find the root cause of issues and ensure compatibility between versions.

“A unified campus security solution can deliver a variety of additional benefits including increased situational awareness, real-time collaboration with the authorities, improved campus flow, more efficient parking management, and security that protects the assortment of areas and assets that can be found in an education setting,” he says.

Jeremy Bates, president of SONITROL of Lexington (Ky.) and Bates Security, emphasizes the importance of conducting comprehensive site assessments among his list of best practices when designing and deploying security systems in K-12 and higher education environments.

10 Pitfalls to Avoid if You Want to Make the Grade

Guy Grace has worked in the security field for 35 years. He served for over three decades as the Director of Security and Emergency Planning for Littleton Public Schools, a suburb of Denver, before retiring in 2020. On Dec. 13, 2013, a school shooting took place at Arapahoe High School in Littleton. Grace was a responder to the shooting and was the On-Scene School District Incident Command Coordinator during the event and the subsequent evacuation of the school.

He now serves as a school safety advocate, adviser, thought leader, presenter, consultant and is vice chair of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) Advisory Council. Among many national awards and recognitions, Grace has received “Security Leader of the Year” and “Most Influential People in Security” honors from Security magazine, an SDM sister publication.

SDM spoke with Grace and asked him to identify the various ways he has observed security dealers and integrators, among other stakeholders, fail to fully meet the needs of their education customers.

For starters, he says, taking a cookie-cutter approach is a big no-no.

“One of the problems we see is that some integrators, service providers and manufactures when they install a system do not fully explain or implement the system capabilities for the end user,” he explains. “For example, many districts often have fantastic access control and video management system capabilities that are not utilized by end users. Basic features like mapping analytics that would be of great use to the client often are not used because the end user is not educated about the capability and that it can be done.”

Many school districts have great technology and other security measures in place, but they don’t necessarily know what they have, Grace says. “Basically that would be the failure to not customizing and optimizing all site-specific life safety systems,” he continues. “Not training the end user how best to operate and manage security systems is part of a cookie-cutter approach.”

Graces urges K-12 security stakeholders to review and heed the following “Top 10 K-12 Safety & Security Pitfalls” compiled and distributed by PASS.

  1. Failure to assemble a planning team that includes all appropriate and necessary stakeholders.
  2. Insufficient prioritization of security based on an “it won’t happen here” mentality.
  3. Implementation of advanced technology and/or high-cost solutions without first ensuring baseline, proven security measures are in place (such as those found in Tier 1 in the PASS guidelines).
  4. Inconsistent implementation of disparate systems that do not meet security objectives identified in a comprehensive security plan or risk assessment.
  5. Short-sighted planning or products that respond only to the latest tragedy, as opposed to supporting a long-term, holistic approach.
  6. Choosing lowest-cost solutions above all other considerations, such as total life cycle costs.
  7. Reliance on technology for emergency communications that is not designed for such use.
  8. Overreliance on a single form of emergency communication or overdependence on a single type of solution or technology to address a broad range of safety and security challenges.
  9. Failure to appropriately balance external and internal risk mitigation. Based on risk assessment, different approaches may be more appropriate, depending on the facility. With active shooter events, for example, 100 percent of such incidents targeting elementary schools have been perpetrated by intruders from outside the school communities, while approximately 75 percent of incidents at secondary schools involved students or others associated with the schools.
  10. Unnecessary products that can be solutions in search of a problem. The recent proliferation of “barricade” or “secondary locking” devices is just one example. Offering no advantage over a lockset, such devices are typically offered as a lowest-cost lockdown solution. These devices can increase liability and risk and most violate fire and life safety codes as well as the federal law, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Walk through each school building during different times to understand its operations and identify specific security needs,” says Bates who is featured on this month’s cover. “Engage with staff members who will use the system regularly to gather their input on desired features and functionalities that will contribute to their success.”

Bates also advises installing security contractors to take the following steps:

  1. Budget planning and financing: Discuss the school’s budget and explore options for financing the security system, such as phased projects, grants or budget adjustments. Consider the initial costs as well as ongoing service and support expenses, ensuring they are adequately budgeted.
  2. Perimeter protection: Ensure that the entire perimeter of the school is properly protected. This includes implementing measures like fencing, access control systems, and surveillance cameras to deter unauthorized entry.
  3. Panic buttons and controlled entry: Recommend panic buttons in strategic locations for quick access to emergency assistance. Utilize card reader-controlled locks with live door status monitoring and integrate them with surveillance cameras. Install audio/video intercom systems at main entry points for controlled access and visitor management.

“Discuss the physical security aspects of the school, including protecting glass surfaces and selecting appropriate hardware,” Bates adds. “Collaborate with trusted partners who specialize in physical security solutions to provide expertise on glass protection and related products.”

An overriding goal is to give security personnel eyes and ears across their facilities, says Aaron Saks, Sr., technical marketing and training manager, Hanwha Vision America.

“We should think about placing cameras in blind spots, congregation areas, ingress/egress points, and outdoor entrances to a facility, such as walkways. The use of multi-sensor cameras allows us to cover a wide area, while also providing high-resolution images to give staff the detail needed for forensic searching,” he says.

AI-based cameras, Saks suggests, allow users to intelligently search for people and vehicles and to ignore foliage, lighting changes, etc., eliminating critical time when searching for key evidence. He also says to consider applying the holistic approach known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

“Think about lighting, landscaping and technology all working together, instead of trying to use technology to solve many different challenges,” he says.

Best practices can be applied both district-wide or by school-to-school, implementing layered protection for perimeters, parking lots, building structures, and interior areas, Burrows explains. A comprehensive mix of well-positioned cameras and flexible VMS is critical to this approach.

For district-level implementations, it is essential to thoroughly evaluate VMS platforms to ensure that the software is scalable and flexible. And it should not place a heavy burden on operating costs.

“Today’s generation of powerful yet affordable VMS delivers on these priorities, allowing a distributed video surveillance architecture that’s robust and flexible, with centralized monitoring run in tandem with distributed command and control at each school,” Burrows says. “This approach gives the district’s central control room a view over the entire campus, while at each school, authorized SROs and teaching staff have access to live and recorded footage, enabling them to manage local events.”

“It is essential to develop a comprehensive emergency response plan that outlines technology use in various emergencies, like active shooter situations, engaging all parties and clarifying the roles and limitations of different security systems.”
Kendra Noonan, Shooter Detection Systems

The choice of VMS should include protection against loss of footage in the event of a range of fault conditions, including network instability and power outages. If any part of the surveillance infrastructure fails, critical failover protection will recognize the problem and switch to a redundant system to maintain an unbroken video evidence chain.

“Yet, there’s also a need to respect the privacy rights of students and staff,” Burrows says. “Schools must ensure surveillance is conducted in compliance with local and state privacy laws and regulations and establish clear guidelines on how video footage is used, stored and accessed.”

For district-wide resilience, many schools now consider positioning cameras beyond the immediate perimeter. Cameras located some distance from the line of demarcation, such as road intersections, especially at campuses with more extensive grounds, provide a strengthened first layer of security.

“This can help schools detect, identify and act against known perpetrators before they reach school boundaries, especially if they work in collaboration with local police and public agencies,” Burrows adds.

Integrating Existing Infrastructure

Integrating security systems with existing infrastructure and systems within an educational institution can be achieved through several methods, Bates says. Leveraging the institution’s existing physical security devices, such as door sensors, motion sensors and cameras, allows for a seamless integration with the new security system, maximizing the use of the current infrastructure.

“By adopting these approaches, educational institutions can effectively integrate their security systems with existing infrastructure, enhancing overall security and creating a cohesive, safe and efficient security ecosystem,” Bates explains.

The first step before integrating any new technology is to do your homework, advises Suresh Yarlagadda, business development manager, solutions & services, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass. This includes assessing the current infrastructure and systems and understanding the organization’s present and future needs.

“Subsequently, you can identify and vet appropriate vendors and their offerings,” Yarlagadda says. “System requirements should be defined for the present and beyond since conditions will change. For example, educational institutions may plan to add a new facility or campus, automate processes or add technology outside the current budget.”

Upon determining what infrastructure and systems are in place, you can evaluate what new technology can be supported, he continues. For example, some institutions may have a system that uses analog cameras and the ability to upgrade to a networked system may be limited by resources. In the interim, it may make sense to utilize a hybrid system that uses video encoders to convert analog signals to digital and network video recorders (NVRs) to record and store video footage.

Among recommendations within security technology, SecurAlarm’s Van Haren says to choose unified, open platforms that have a history of success but are still actively innovating and evolving to face new threats and vulnerabilities.

video surveillance at schools
Integrating video surveillance and access control systems can yield valuable insights, such as historical movement data or the unauthorized use of misplaced cards along with visual verification of who enters doors and controlled areas. sshepard/E+ via Getty Images

“In our 30 years we have witnessed countless software solutions come, go, or be acquired, which can stall innovation. For this reason, choose hardware — cameras, controllers, readers, etc. — that can be repurposed by other software platforms if needed,” he says. “This futureproofs that investment.”

Integrating security systems with existing school infrastructure pivots around leveraging IT solutions, be it on-premise, cloud-based or a hybrid design, says Milestone’s Cary. It is paramount to have an open platform video management system that facilitates third-party solutions and open APIs for custom integration. For example, he says, integrating access control systems with video can yield valuable insights, such as historical movement data or the unauthorized use of misplaced cards along with visual verification of who comes through the door, or who enters controlled areas.

Jay Mele, vice president of sales - Central North & Eastern Region, Salient Systems, Austin, Texas, says the first order of business when integrating systems within an educational institution is to conduct a thorough audit of the infrastructure to identify any gaps or weaknesses in the current security measures.

“This information can then be used to design a comprehensive security solution that can integrate with the existing systems, such as access control and surveillance cameras,” Mele says. “The integration can be done by using open architecture platforms that can easily integrate with other systems. Ensure that all staff members are trained to use the new system effectively for correct implementation and usage.”

Amy Bolin, sales development & grant support program manager, i-PRO, Houston, say by far the factor that matters the most is whether the security system is proprietary or open. Proprietary systems where one manufacturer provides all components tend to be difficult to integrate and limit users’ ability to adopt new technology. Open platforms are better, she says, where particular providers solve problems together and provide standard APIs to enable specific integrations.

“Best of all is working with a provider with an open strategy, where they actively pursue technology partnerships and create a wide ecosystem where innovation can flourish and schools can easily access advancing technology,” she says. “And you can’t overlook fiduciary realities. Working with partners who have open strategies enables schools to ‘mix and match’ components and modernize security infrastructure a step at a time. i-PRO, for example even offers grant support to help schools access funds to modernize, and flexible financing options like multi-vendor bundling.”

Genetec’s Canal also advocates open architecture, stating it’s no longer satisfactory to put together disparate security components and just hope they will work properly together via an application programming interface (API) or software development kit (SDK).

“Instead of numerous data silos, unification puts operators and administrators in front of data into valuable and actionable business intelligence,” Canal says. “The right security system should do more than just protect people and assets — it should also provide business and situational data to enhance overall operations, helping campus security teams to work smarter and more efficiently.”

Castillo of Preferred Technologies explains that proprietary systems may remove complexity, minimize issues with integration and consolidate buying power, but they often remove flexibility. Hence, the integration firm promotes open architecture to support scalability and flexibility.

“Open architecture systems broaden your technology options, allow you to buy the best components for your specific needs, and make changes to components much less expensively,” Castillo says. “In our opinion, open architecture systems are a less risky investment than proprietary ones. You can mitigate the complexity of open architecture systems by partnering with a quality consultant and/or security integrator.”

Fixes to Common Deployment Hitches on School Campuses

As a long-time provider of security systems and consultative services to the education sector, Brent Van Haren of SecurAlarm has seen his fair share of deployment gaffes on school campuses. Ahead, he explains seven of the more commonplace issues he encounters and provides a remedy for each one.

Security cameras lack coverage. Cameras are often placed using a cookie-cutter approach, adding them to the corners of buildings and near entrances. But when the standard stops here, schools can miss critical areas and activities. Design should consider traffic flow, where people congregate, parking lots and driveways onto campus. In addition to the placement of cameras, design should consider the field of view and obstructions like banners, flags, artwork, storage racks, etc.

Access control is not fully leveraged and procedures are not monitored and adhered to. We’ve found exterior doors propped open or door hardware manually adjusted to keep them unlocked. This poses a huge security risk: Doors in this state will prevent a building lockdown. Additionally, staff could forget to relock the door, leaving it unsecure. If a door needs to be unlocked periodically, it’s much safer to program an automated schedule in the access control system. Think about how and when doors will be used during the school day and afterhours, then automate door schedules instead of making manual changes. A couple more cost-saving tips: use electric latch retraction instead of electric strikes — they last longer! Connect auto-openers to access control as this minimizes wear and tear on their motors.

Secure vestibules are installed incorrectly. A secure vestibule is intended for vetting the visitor before allowing them access to the school. Sometimes, door hardware is installed on the wrong side (i.e., the key for the door is outside the office), allowing anyone to simply use the handle to exit the office and enter the school. There can also be multiple doors in a secure vestibule, but only one that is properly secured. These spaces must be installed properly, then tested. Give the procedure a run-through to ensure visitors can’t get through without access from an authorized staff member.

Intercoms don’t align with procedures. Intercoms are often installed in areas that allow visitors partial or full access into schools. Instead, intercoms should be one of the first lines of defense as part of a school’s secure vestibules. This way, visitors can be vetted before gaining access to the entire school. Plus, with certain intercom and video management system models, video and audio can be recorded at the intercom. This adds another layer of security without a major financial investment.

Security software doesn’t match the need. When software is too robust for a small school with a few doors, it’s more complicated and costly to maintain. On the other hand, if the software is too simple for a large district, there could be key features missing. For example, a project with 30 doors spanning three different schools may need more advanced software; not because of the number of doors, but because several people from each building need to manage it from their own workstations. The few workstation licenses included in basic software options may not be enough. When specifying security software, consider how many schools are involved in the project (not just how many doors), how many people need access, and what features outside of base functions are needed or already in use.

Security and emergency response solutions are not integrated (or unified when possible). When security systems work independently, there’s a missed opportunity to increase safety and efficiency. In an emergency, the time required to find the right camera and execute protocol increases. But if video is linked to access control, schools can quickly see who is forcing open doors or trying to access restricted areas. Or, if intrusion is linked to access control and video, buildings can be locked down in one click when someone presses a panic button.

The lowest bid is selected for fire alarms. Choosing different vendors for different projects results in a lack of consistency throughout districts. This makes systems more difficult to manage and maintain. And in some cases, proprietary products are selected. These products limit service support and inhibit the longevity and scalability needed as technology and threats evolve. Instead, consider what current systems are in use and aim for consistency. Make sure that whatever system is selected has open-architecture and can be serviced by multiple providers.

Castillo offers other key considerations, including network, computing and storage components of the system. “These are often the most expensive parts of the system,” he continues. “Don’t just look at cameras, readers and software. Understand the impact scaling up has to your network, compute devices and storage infrastructure.”

Regarding electronic access control (EAC) solutions, there are new wireless technologies that can help institutions much more easily expand EAC to more doors and tie back into systems already established for hard-wired EAC, explains Chris Gisslen, director of K-12 business development, ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions, New Haven, Conn. In addition, PoE EAC solutions offer simple, single-wire installation and greater energy efficiency for openings that require the same level of instant communication that traditional hard-wired products provide.

“Silent panic alarm buttons in classrooms can tie into security monitoring within the school and district-wide to alert first responders as well as employees within the school or district,” Gisslen says.

It’s common to see video cameras co-located with EAC, Gisslen adds, especially at exterior and perimeter door openings.

“EAC data can be audited to check on who accessed an opening after hours, for instance, and then corroborated with video footage if necessary, providing a double-check protocol confirming that someone entering a building was truly authorized,” he says.

With an integrated security system, schools are equipped with a system that is easier to manage and maintain, allows for more efficient operations, reduces false alarms, and provides an IP-based access control management where access can seamlessly be granted or revoked, explains David Klug, state, local & education (SLED) BD leadership, Convergint, Schaumburg, Ill.

“As a result, schools have an increased confidence in security and can focus on educating the nation’s children,” he says.

Assessing the unique security needs and vulnerabilities of educational institutions requires an understanding of the headwinds they are facing — from concerns around safety and security, to evolving technologies, to budget pressures during these challenging economic times, Klug says.

“During the planning and design phase, we outline a security plan with the institution that takes into account how to efficiently identify, prevent and mitigate security incidents to keep students and staff safe, while keeping budgets in mind,” he says. “This includes having an emergency response plan in place, ensuring that everyone — students, staff and local law enforcement — are aware of emergency procedures and their role in such an event, and implementing or upgrading technology as needed that will monitor for and send alerts of emergencies.”

Preserving an Open & Inclusive Learning Environment

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on implementing advanced security technology to safeguard educational spaces from potential risks, ranging from intruders and violence to cyber threats and severe weather events. A comprehensive security approach must extend beyond physical measures such as surveillance cameras, access control systems and emergency response protocols, sources for this story say. It involves cultivating a culture of trust and support, where students and faculty feel safe enough to express themselves and explore new ideas freely. The integration of technology should empower, rather than inhibit, the learning process, sources say, ensuring that learners are not stifled by an atmosphere dominated by fear.

“The right security system should do more than just protect people and assets — it should also provide business and situational data to enhance overall operations, helping campus security teams to work smarter and more efficiently.”
Bruce Canal, Genetec

To accomplish this, it takes a village.

“Effective communication is essential throughout the process,” says Mele of Salient. “This includes discussing the security plan with staff, students and other stakeholders to ensure an open dialogue on how security measures could impact the learning environment. Involving all parties in the decision-making process guarantees that the security measures implemented are effective and don’t hinder the learning environment's inclusivity. Also, maintaining open communication channels between students, faculty and security personnel can help identify potential safety concerns before they escalate.”

Feeling safe and secure is a basic human need, and it’s essential to maintaining an environment that’s conducive to learning, says Yarlagadda of Axis. Structure and predictability are key to feeling safe — especially for students — and this can be achieved through a holistic approach toward security that draws upon people, processes and technology.

“As far as technology, it’s important to be unobtrusive in order to support an open and inclusive environment. For example, while many publicly facing, high-profile cameras may serve as a deterrent, they likely counteract the effort to create a welcoming environment,” Yarlagadda continues. “To strike a balance it is important to realize the difference between detection and deterrence. Detection can be achieved through more discreet cameras and intelligence that allow for unobtrusive surveillance. Today there are network video solutions that can help such as cameras with multiple sensors, which offer the ability to achieve broad coverage with fewer devices.”

Ultimately, a strategic approach to technology can provide educational institutions with greater situational awareness and the ability to proactively respond to situations, Yarlagadda says. A layered applications with thoughtful integrations between technologies — like video management and access control for example — can help to close security gaps and foster communication and collaboration.

“What’s more, as students and faculty regularly engage with technology, like intercoms for school entry and IP cameras for remote learning, network security devices simply become a familiar piece of the solution to provide an open and safe environment,” he says.

Lach says the use of electronic access control and video surveillance creates a great opportunity to achieve balance between an open and inclusive learning environment and security measures. When an access control system is deployed, by its very nature it can make authorized access to areas of an institution or facility a seamless process. Whether it is teachers opening doors or issuing hall badges all the way to a touch of a hand for a teacher to gain access to their classroom, he explains.

“The access control system can be effective yet has very little impact on the learning environment. This is not the case with overt security measures such as guards or security personnel,” Lach says. “Overt applications such as this are designed with visibility in mind to deter violence and create a sense of visible security. It may however have an impact on an open and inclusive leaning environment. Security cameras are the hidden eyes within a learning environment or education system.”

There is a fine balance of seamlessly incorporating safety technology with the environment, while at the same time making the technology visible to influence good behavior and promote a sense of security, says Hong of Motorola Solutions. For example, a camera’s form factor and placement can help ensure it is visible while simultaneously blending into the background.

Additionally, she says, concealed weapons detection systems can provide quick and seamless screenings without having to stop and frisk or remove items from visitors.

IPVideo Corp.’s Antar, who also serves as president of integration firm A+ Technology & Security Solutions, says non-invasive solutions that protect privacy will continue to grow in the market. These solutions are utilizing advanced AI-driven software that is a force multiplier of security teams, allowing them to cover much more ground by being alerted to security events before they escalate. Sensor- and analytics-driven alerts have helped take security to a new level where schools can quickly evaluate, respond and deescalate in a fraction of the time it has previously taken, he says.

 “These flexible solutions allow the person in need to trigger an alert through various means, such as verbal keyword, panic button, their smartphone or desktop apps, etc.,” Antar continues. “We also have passive metal detectors available that do not require pat downs. These new measures allow for an open and inclusive learning environment that is truly safe and secure for students and staff.”

Balancing security measures with an open and inclusive learning environment is indeed a delicate act, Cary of Milestone Systems says. Schools must continually adapt and develop processes and solutions that enable early identification and intervention of potential threats, to mitigate risks before they escalate into emergencies. Proactivity is key.

“The earlier school administrators can detect anomalies the sooner they can address them, thus preserving the educational atmosphere within the school. If they can detect a threat outside the fence, beyond the gates, or in a parking lot, that’s a significant win,” Cary says. “By using technology to shift security strategies forward and outward, schools are able to avoid being seen as fortresses while providing the highest level of security possible. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure an open, friendly, thriving learning environment without compromising safety.”

A key to achieve this very outcome lies in designing unobtrusive, yet efficient security systems tailored to an institution’s unique needs, without triggering anxiety about potential threats, says Noonan of Shooter Detection Systems, an company.

Fostering a culture of safety and responsibility within the campus community by promoting initiatives like “See Something, Say Something” is crucial, encouraging individuals to report even the smallest incidents or potential issues, she explains.

“Open communication with students, faculty, staff and visitors about security protocols and expectations is essential as well,” she adds. “By cultivating a security-conscious culture, organizations can enhance the well-being of their community while making security a distinctive selling point, especially for colleges, universities and private schools.”