Since 1999 when two students shot and killed 13 people and wounded 21 before killing themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., security solutions have been on the radar for secondary schools. In 2012 the tragic shooting of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., reminded schools around the country just how vulnerable they could be — inside and out — prompting renewed interest in lockdown solutions. But in the rush to placate parents and communities, many schools have put in place systems that were less than thought out. Many others are still in the thinking and planning stages.

April Dalton-Noblitt, director of vertical marketing for Allegion, Carmel, Ind., has been tracking the school market. “There is a tremendous amount of interest right now. There is better recognition of the need for classroom locking and we are starting to see some code changes and parents and teachers advocating for this.” What’s more, money is starting to be directed at the problem, she adds. “I have a system to track bonds that have passed in the U.S. that have some level of ADA, shelter or school security initiatives. In the last two years there have been more than $183 billion in funds passed. So communities are willing to fund security improvements when asked. Schools are starting to get the picture and take some action.”

Mark Berger, president and chief product officer, Securitech Group Inc., New York, is vice chair of the ASIS school safety and security council. He, and others, refer to the “castle and moat” analogy when it comes to schools. “The concept of having a drawbridge — which we call doors — is a good one. Most schools today have gone to a single point of entry that can be electronically released by someone in the office. Better schools have taken to creating vestibules with outer doors that you have to be buzzed in from the second door. It’s all about delay. A lockdown would immediately involve those doors. However, in an active shooter situation, they usually pass the doors and are then into the schools. Now we need to talk about securing classrooms, auditoriums, etc., as quickly as possible.”

While the high-profile cases are thankfully rare, the number of incidents — ranging from threats and rumors to actual shootings or attempts — show no sign of diminishing. Just last December the entire Los Angeles school district shut down for a day in response to a non-specific bomb threat that it later learned was also sent to other school districts around the country. For dealers and integrators who work in the education space, the secondary school market is an ever-changing landscape that can be tough to pin down. Much of the market is reactionary, prone to budget issues and poor planning. But there has never been a better time to get in there and act as the voice of reason, give expert advice based on real needs and sometimes even help with the monetary challenges — and in the process create good customers and better solutions.


School Market Challenges

The K-12 school market is unique in many ways, with a series of challenges and needs not typically found in other vertical spaces. What integrators will be able to do at and for schools will depend on a wide range of circumstances, from the size of the school (larger, urban school districts tend to do more with electronic security than rural and small districts); what they have already done (in some cases making potentially tragic mistakes); their current state of security (some have classroom doors that cannot lock at all); and, of course, budget.

One thing that has not yet affected school lockdowns, but likely will in the future, is regulation. While a few states such as California and Colorado have unfunded mandates for classroom locks, most districts are flying blind when it comes to solutions. And that can be dangerous.

“There are several organizations that are trying to define standards nationally for school safety and one of them will eventually play out,” says Ron Baer, director of business development, K-12 for ASSA ABLOY, New Haven, Conn. “There are a lot of related laws and guidance coming down.”

Fernando Pires, vice president of sales and marketing, Morse Watchmans Inc., Oxford, Conn., adds, “The majority of laws related to lockdowns at the K-12 level have been enacted at the state level and address the need for emergency planning and lockdown drills, rather than calling for specific policies, procedures or protocols to be followed in a lockdown situation.”

In other words, there is a lot of room for interpretation in lockdown solutions, which range from the most basic hardware barrier to an enterprise-level integrated solution and everything in between. The problem at the low end of that scale is that some schools take it upon themselves to implement a solution that can ultimately create an even bigger and more likely problem.

“You have to realize that while school shootings are capturing attention because they are horrific, there are a lot of other violence issues,” Berger says. “Schools need to make sure that while they are protecting against a known and real threat, they don’t ignore the more common situations like bullying. For example there are many solutions out there for lockdowns for individual rooms that block the classroom door to the extent that someone can’t enter from the exterior. These are major lawsuits waiting to happen for school districts because they violate the single motion egress rule.”

Bret Holbrook, product manager-electronics, Stanley Security, Indianapolis, has seen too many of these solutions in the field. “I have seen a lot of barricade devices like bars across the doors, pins in the floor. As a code-compliant manufacturer of products, those scare me. I am more scared of a teacher walking outside for two seconds and a student dropping a pin in the floor and doing whatever they want. Those are against code. You can’t fault the parents for wanting a solution, but there needs to be more education.”

Dalton-Noblitt agrees. “It is critical to spread the message that there could be more than just a shooter. There is so much passion in enabling a lockdown that they forget that a bar for the door could be used as a club in the classroom. There is no need for the crazy. There are solutions that are affordable but don’t put students at risk every other day.” (See related article, “School Lockdown Solutions,” on page 64.)

At the other end of the scale the situation isn’t necessarily any better. Rick Caruthers, executive vice president for Galaxy Control Systems, Walkersville, Md., says that while the school market is very strong and very interested, bad decisions and lack of expertise and planning abound. To add to that, many schools look to security in a reactionary mode — after a nearby or high-profile shooting incident — and move too quickly or in a direction that isn’t always the best choice.

“Security is a major part of any new construction,” he says. “In that world security is at the forefront. But if it is not new construction it will be a reactionary forum…. We see a big upsurge of business right after a school shooting. What we find then is designs and specifications that aren’t well thought out. Administrators have to placate the public by doing something, so they throw a large scope together and get it on the street. But they are not thought out from a detailed point of view.”

For example, integrator Buddy Mason, president of American Digital Security, Liberty, Mo., says one of his school clients had to replace all of their stand-alone locks they rushed to put in a few years ago. “They found it takes three days to go around and reprogram every lock in the district. Stand-alone locks were a bad decision for that district, but it quick-fit the budget, as opposed to them sitting back and locking the outer doors until they could raise the necessary funds. We are the ones who showed them the value of an enterprise card access system. For the $300,000 they spent they could have had a brand new system. I see that more often than not.”

Whether they have the money and don’t know what to do with it, or they are hemmed in by budget constraints or the need to raise the funds, money is always an issue for schools when it comes to security, and lockdown solutions are no exception. In many cases the interior doors of a school have older style locks that have to be locked with a key from the outside. Some have no locking capability at all, and in a retrofit, certainly no wiring to those doors. The money needed to get to these doors can be daunting.

However, with all the news about schools, security is now in the top tier of the budget, where it wasn’t before, Mason says. “We see more districts coming up with the funds, where five years ago you could hardly talk to schools about budget numbers.”

It is important to understand how funding works for schools, says integrator Scott Bohm, owner, Bio Touch Solutions, Clark, N.J. “Some if it is bond-based through the town. Or they raise taxes or get grants. There might be some state money available to enhance security. Not all schools are equal in terms of rights and access to the same money. What I am seeing across the country is a lot of people bringing up the question of needing to do something, but when it comes to a final solution [they are] struggling because of cost. I know one that just put in metal detectors. I never would have recommended metal detectors for this school system. I would have opted for other options and saved more money, but it is down to the school district not being educated enough.”

And when they aren’t educated enough, they do the wrong thing, adds Larry Reed, CEO, ZKAccess, Fairfield, N.J. “I was selling IT technology in the ’90s. When everything was new, users paid a lot of money for consultants because they didn’t know what they were doing. Ten years later they have their own internal IT departments, so they don’t rely as much on consultants. They are more educated, which can be dangerous because once they become 60 percent or 70 percent educated, they assume they are 100 percent educated. They are probably right seven out of 10 times. But those three times they can shoot themselves in the foot.”


The Integrator’s Unique Role

Selling and installing systems in this environment is definitely challenging. The sales cycle is longer, and sometimes changes halfway through due to funding. However, the K-12 market is certainly expanding and more than ever needs an expert to help them make the right choices for both safety and budget. Security integrators are in a prime position to play that consultative role. But the first step is a deep understanding not just of the technology available, but of each school customer’s actual needs.

“You can’t introduce technology until you understand the customer’s problem,” Reed says. “Too often salespeople focus on their product. Instead, I suggest offering a complimentary, no-obligation security assessment for the school. Establish your credentials (certifications, awards, years’ experience, referrals) sufficiently so the school will value and trust your assessment.”

Minu Youngkin, marketing manager, Allegion, encourages integrators to know the customer first, then the solution. “We tell integrators they have to know more than product. They have to understand critical openings and help schools prioritize them. Part of that is understanding the flow of the school. It is not just a matter of which doors are critical. These schools are made up of children who don’t carry credentials. Understand the traffic flow. What outside activities are happening? What non-school related people are there? The integrator really needs to be a part of the school and really help them prioritize and plan.”

Napco created an online tool called SAVI (Security Access-Control Vulnerability Index), designed for security professionals to use as an objective, brand-agnostic audit tool to evaluate any school’s access control vulnerability.

“The SAVI Index was created to help U.S. schools more adequately address the mass shooting/violence problem by outlining the steps to … implement a standardized security approach … and choose security technologies in an objective, cost-effective manner,”  says Jorge D. Hevia, senior vice president,  Napco Security Technologies Inc.

An integrator can simply survey what kinds of security they have in place, and SAVI automatically calculates a score for them. That score can then be used to create a plan of actionable next steps (See for a Whitepaper on the SAVI tool.)

Bohm cautions that integrators should be careful not to become “order takers.” Just because a school thinks they know what they want, it is often not what they need. “When I get that call I want to come down, go to lunch and assess the project. I want to make sure I am covering everything and didn’t miss anything. I need to talk to IT. Everything today relies on the network and the IT guy should be in the first meeting.”

As should many others, Baer says. “There are so many people involved in this decision-making process, from teachers to school board members to parent groups. The mantra from integrators needs to be a cohesive, legal, life safety-oriented solution. And that is a message that they have to keep bringing to every meeting they go to, because there are so many different players involved.”

All this up front work will pay off, Caruthers says. “I would advise integrators to better learn their customer and what they face daily as far as visitors and workers in the school. There is a lot of activity to consider. The worst thing to do is to box sell a solution based on something that happened in the previous project. There is a lot of planning, listening and observing how the school flows. If you put the extra time in up front you will have a better installation and ultimately a good reference.”

That has been Mason’s experience. His company goes so far as to offer a “try it before you buy it” approach to make sure schools are getting what they really need. “First off you have to build a budget,” he says. “If I am out buying something I am going to check three or four sources to figure out what it costs and save money. Schools are no different. These systems could be millions of dollars. I am very adamant they try it first. I put the software in one of the buildings to see if it meets their needs. I don’t want to install it if they aren’t going to like it, so I let them try it and give them a budgetary number for what it would cost.

“These guys running schools have no idea what they need, so we help them put that process together so they are bidding apples to apples and help them out. There is no guarantee we will eventually get the job, but we feel pretty good about it because they see the level of service we give. We ask them, ‘Do you need help? Do you need a budgetary number?’ We think that if we put in the work up front we have a strong chance of getting the job.”

The key is to be involved, Baer says. “Find out who is writing the documents for the school district and be involved in that…. There is absolutely a benefit to the integrator to be part of that. They become a valued consultant in the process. The contacts they make and the recognition for their efforts will be rewarded. If they can [further] help define the standards and expectations, they will be in a better position from a market standpoint.”

Karen Evans, president and CEO, Sielox LLC, Runnemede, N.J. has had integrator partners do just that. “In some cases they are actually writing the grants to get money for schools, or partnering with the local community when they have a vote coming up…. Sometimes you have to help them find the money. Schools love to spend their money on tables or books or another teacher. They don’t always put money aside for security.”

Even if they don’t actually help schools get the money, being a valued partner can only help the integrator in the long run. Mason recalls a recent proposal where an existing client actually sold it for him. “We won a $5 million project. I took a network specialist from a [school client] with me to the meeting. He pulled out a laptop and showed them the card access and camera system for me. If you bend over backwards for them they are willing to help you…. If you build those relationships the rest will come. I am in business to make friends and help people. When you do that, the money comes along with it.”

Because there is no “standard,” schools often talk to each other and get ideas, so relationships and reputation are particularly important, says integrator Billy Nichols, instigator, Huser Integrator Technologies, Portland, Ore. “In our industry a good portion of what you do is just consulting work that won’t result in a direct sale and that is even more true in the education market. Any medium-sized business has an alarm system and probably access control. They are familiar with those technologies. But schools are in the business of educating kids. They are [often] ignorant of what is out there. They are very interested in what other districts are doing. They all talk and share ideas.”

Whether a school is looking for its first access control solution or continuing a project by adding more doors depends on where they are in the process, which generally follows that castle-and-moat approach discussed earlier, Baer says. “When I talk to security directors and superintendents around the country, if they haven’t solved the moat question, the perimeter is usually their No. 1 priority. Once they have that, then they do vestibule and visitor management. Then once they have that ability to control the moat, the perimeter and immediate entryway, only then do they begin to think about interior doors.”

School Lockdown Solutions

There are three primary ways to look at lockdowns today, says Ron Baer of ASSA ABLOY. “There is the centralized decision with universal application; decentralized decision making and local application, which empowers everyone in specific rooms to make a decision to lock down; and application-appropriate solutions, which is a blend of both of these solutions.”

ZKAccess’s new LB7000 is an example of a centralized system, a “lockbox” that enables facility managers to instantly lock down all doors on a campus from a centralized location. “A facility manager simply presses a button on the lockbox,” says Reed. “All the doors (or a grouping) become locked down and impassable until the recovery button is pressed.”

Sielox LLC has a system called CLASS (Crisis Lockdown Alert Status System), Evans describes. A centralized button locks any doors that are tied to it, and blocks access to all but a few key people such as the principal and emergency responders.

Manufacturers such as Napco, ASSA ABLOY and Allegion have a variety of solutions, from hardware to wireless and beyond. “It can be mechanical or electronic,” says April Dalton-Noblitt of Allegion. “Many older schools and renovations think electronics are out of scope, but there are wireless solutions to enable that.”

Baer describes ASSA ABLOY’s offerings as application-appropriate, a “plethora of products ranging from electronic access control locks that can be locked centrally through a sophisticated access control system or from inside the classroom using a fob or a button on the inside of the lock; to mechanical locks with a variety of functions designed specifically for classroom applications. We believe there will soon be laws that will dictate being able to lock the door from the inside.”

“We designed a tiered solutions approach that is both budget-friendly and scalable — from retrofitting doors with mechanical- or server-based locks in an hour or so, to deploying a global, campus-wide system, integrating many buildings with video, access, alarms and locking with visitor- and threat-level management,” says Napco’s Jorge D. Hevia of the company’s LockDown offerings.

Securitech’s QID Series locks are a decentralized, affordable solution, says Berger. “Our entry allows anyone inside the classroom to project a deadbolt and lock the outside lever in one motion.”

Budget-conscious schools can use solutions like this on their own or eventually as part of a centralized system, Berger says. “We have a whole console with the QID system, but that is beyond most school’s budgets. It can monitor every door position.” Integrators can sell the Wi-Fi-enabled classroom locks as a stand-alone mechanical option that can later be connected to the centralized console as budgets allow, he adds.

Fobs or panic buttons are also popular options, says Bret Holbrook of Stanley Security. “It allows them to press a single button and lock the door while giving them time to do the other pieces of the procedure,” he says.

“The school decides what the fob does,” Holbrook explains. “It’s great because it gives the principal the ability to lock down the entire school, all in the $500 per door range.” Stanley’s Shelter product will be available in April 2016.

“Integrators need to have a long discussion with the school on how they want it done,” advises Keith Lathrop, business development manager, Midwest Wholesale Hardware, Kansas City, Mo. “If it is to be done through a computer, that is great. But what if the threat is actually in the office and it is not possible to do that? On the other hand, the ability to walk over to manually lock a door using a classroom intruder-style lock requires someone to do that in every classroom and how do you make sure everyone has complied?”

Galaxy Control Systems offers emergency lockdown cards that will immediately lock all the doors, says Rick Caruthers, executive vice president. The application can also be controlled from a mobile device.

Cost can be a prohibitive factor to bringing electronic solutions to classroom doors, says integrator Billy Nichols of Huser Integrated Technologies. Huser and his company have worked with a communications company partner to utilize a technology that virtually all schools already have. “Access control systems have relays, so I wondered, ‘Why can’t I program it using a radio?’ In conjunction with a radio company we developed a system where a specific type of radio can lock the school down with the click of a radio button. If they see something suspicious they can lock the school down and everyone gets the information at the same time.”

Relays are featured in the Brookline, Mass.-based Videogenix solution as well, says Mario Costa, executive vice president. “USwitch Pro is an IP relay triggered over the Internet from any browser, including phones.”

Costa likens the solution to the Internet of Things concept, where devices are creating reactions directly with other devices over the network without computers having to be involved.  “USwitch creates a contact closer. Any lock with any kind of contact input can be used, which is most automated locks.”

While many are coming up with creative solutions, some schools are more likely to stick with the tried-and-true, Baer adds. “My experience with districts around the country is that they are looking for something simple and reliable and proven.”

That is exactly the philosophy behind Morse Watchmans’ key management system, says Pires. Recognizing that many school districts will inevitably stick with the hardware key and lock system they already have, the key management system automates the process of managing and tracking the keys themselves.




The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) released its K-12 security guidelines in 2015. PASS is a volunteer alliance among the Security Industry Association (SIA), the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) and industry professionals. The PASS K-12 team was formed for a singular purpose — to provide school administrators, school boards, public safety and security professionals with guidelines for a tiered approach to securing schools. These guidelines are the first of their kind in the education industry.

PASS K-12 realizes that not every school system has the financial resources to invest in security enhancements, yet they face daily pressures to ensure that students are protected. A guide, such as PASS K-12, can provide administrators with a way to measure their compliance with specific industry standards.

Learn more about PASS and sign up for access to its tiered guidelines, based on risks and resources, online at