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Security Concepts and Operational Issues
(Chapter 1   The Big Picture, Continued)

A systematic approach to identifying the security risks at a school

Note: The following discussion considers all security risks to schools—violence, drugs, theft, and vandalism—not just those that may be addressed by the technologies covered in this volume. Depending on the acceptance and demand for this guide, future additional volumes will address the remaining technologies in greater detail.

In the past, schools have rarely understood the need or had the time or resources to consider their security plans from a systems perspective—looking at the big picture of what they are trying to achieve in order to arrive at the optimal security strategy. A school's security staff must understand what it is trying to protect (people and/or high-value assets), who it is trying to protect against (the threats), and the general environment and constraints that it must work within—the characterization of the facility. This understanding will allow a school to define its greatest and/or most likely risks so that its security strategy consciously addresses those risks. This strategy will likely include some combination of technologies, personnel, and procedures that do the best possible job of solving the school's problems within its financial, logistical, and political constraints.

Why is this careful identification of risk important? Because few facilities, especially schools, can afford a security program that protects against all possible incidents.

No two schools are alike and, therefore, there is no single approach to security that will work ideally for all schools. From year to year, even, a school's security strategy will need revision because the world around it and the people inside it will always be changing.

Defining a school's assets. For this school year, what is most at risk? The protection of the students and staff is always at the top of this list, but the measures taken to protect them will usually be driven by the defined threats. Are the instruments in the band hall very attractive targets for theft or vandalism? Is the new computer lab full of the best and most easily resold computers? Though desirable, a school cannot possibly afford to protect everything to the same level of confidence.

Defining a school's threats. For this school year, who or what is your school threatened by? Gang rivalries? Fights behind the gym? Drugs hidden in lockers? Guns brought to school? Outsiders on campus? Drinking at lunchtime? Vehicle breakins? Graffiti in the bathrooms? Accidents in the parking lot? How sophisticated (knowledgeable of their task of malevolence) or motivated (willing to risk being caught or injured) do the perpetrators seem to be? Measures taken to protect against these threats are driven by the characterization of the facility and its surroundings as mentioned earlier.

Characterizing a school's environment. Any security strategy must incorporate the constraints of the facility so that all strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies are realized and provided for. How risks are approached will largely be driven by facility constraints. If theft and vandalism are primary risks for your school, answers to questions regarding the physical plant will determine the optimal security measures. Is the school new or old? Are the windows particularly vulnerable? Does everyone who ever worked at the school still have keys? What is the nighttime lighting like? Does the interior intrusion sensor system work well, or do the local police ignore the alarms due to a high false-alarm rate? Are visitors forced or merely requested to go through the front office before accessing the rest of the school?

Exhibit 1.02 If outsiders on campus are a primary concern, it will be necessary to recognize the facility's ability to control unauthorized access. How many entry points are there into the buildings? Are gangs present in the area? Are the school grounds open and accessible to anyone, or do fences or buildings restrict access (exhibit 1.2)? Is there easy access to the school roof? Where are hiding places within the building or on the premises? Is the student population small enough so that most of the staff would recognize most of the students and parents?

If issues of violence are a major concern, a thorough understanding of employees, student profiles, and neighborhood characteristics will be necessary. What is the crime rate in the neighborhood? Is the school administration well liked by the students? Are teachers allowed access to the school at night? Are students allowed off campus at lunch time? How much spending money do students generally have? Are popular hangouts for young people close by and, for business establishments, does management collaborate with the school? Are expelled or suspended students sent home or to an alternative school? How many incidents of violence have occurred at the school over the past 4 years? What is the general reputation of the school, and how does it appear to an outsider? Are your most vocal parents prosecurity or proprivacy? Do your students like and respect your security personnel well enough to pass them pieces of information regarding security concerns? Once the school's threats, assets, and environmental constraints are understood, the security needs can be prioritized such that the school's security goals are understood by all those involved.

Identifying security needs and then securing the funding to pay for them are usually unrelated at most schools. Schools have to have a "Plan B," for program design which may be the perfect "Plan A"-but spread out over several years of implementation. If the desirable strategies (e.g., fencing, sensors, locker searches, speed bumps) are too costly or unpalatable to the community, a school may then need to modify the facility constraints (e.g., back entrances locked from the outside, no open campus for students, no teacher access after 10 p.m., all computer equipment bolted down, no lockers for students, and so forth).

Most school districts or school boards will be more supportive of security measures and the requested funding if they are well educated about the most likely risks faced each year and the options available. A security staff should not have the wide-open charter to "keep everything and everybody safe." A school board should be briefed as often as once a month as to what the current security goals are and what strategies are recommended, realizing that these will and must continue to evolve. If a school board member is clearly aware of a school's most important concerns and what is required to achieve them, then he or she is less likely to be swayed by an irate parent into making a decision that will handicap reasonable security efforts.

 



Research Report:   The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools