The name of the game: Policies and procedures
Battery-operated, hand-held metal detection devices are a very viable technology for use by schools, and most detectors on the market work quite well (exhibit 3.9). By moving the wand of a hand-held metal detector around and close to a scannee's body, the operator can fairly accurately locate sources of metal (or more accurately, sources of conductive materials) that may be on, or even in, a person's body. When a suspect area is located, the hand-held device will generally give off an annoying squeal. These devices do not have the ability to discriminate between an actual weapon and some piece of benign metal. The responsibility of the operator of the device is to judge whether the squeal he or she heard is truly suspect, then to investigate and determine the cause of it. A very common use of hand-held metal detectors is in airports, where these devices allow the security staff to more accurately locate the source of an alarm on a scannee's body, after a scannee has already walked through a portal system and caused an alarm.
Although most hand-held metal detection devices on the market work well, the hand-held metal detector is only as good as the operator using it. Some vendors and users of hand-held metal detectors say that there are only three things that need to be considered for their successful use: procedures, procedures, and procedures. A disinterested or unmotivated operator can negate much of the benefit that could be derived from a school's metal detection program. While it is not difficult to learn to use a hand-held metal detector correctly, school administrators should not underestimate the value of annual training for their operators, as well as training for staff who may be called upon to serve as backup or supplemental operators. A complete training course, including practice time, should take no more than an hour. However, on-the-job practice is definitely key in allowing the school to achieve the throughput that will be required to process students quickly.
Policies and logistics for use are also very important. Though hand-held metal detectors are affordable, it would be unusual for a school of any size to screen all students and employees each morning using only hand-held detectors. Manpower would be far and away the major cost of such an endeavor. Using a throughput rate of about two students per minute, a school would need one operator for a full hour for every 120 students. This assumes the students' arrival rate is evenly spread across 1 hour, which is not very likely.
If a school is attempting to do a complete screening of students each morning, the hand-held metal detector will more likely be used as a supplement to portal metal detectors. As in airports procedures, the hand-held detectors allow the security staff to more accurately locate the source of an alarm on a student's body, after a student has already walked through a portal system and caused an alarm.
Most schools that desire to establish some type of weapon detection effort (but less than a full-scale, every-morning, every-person effort) will set up a policy to allow random spot checks on students or complete student population scanning as deemed necessary. It is very difficult to do truly random checks with any hope of locating weapons. There is almost always a small but distinct group of kids that a school is most concerned about possibly carrying a weapon. These high-risk students are going to object if you search them more than once, and they would quickly compensate for this anyway, by forcing another student to carry their weapon onto the campus for them. One of the more successful approaches being used is for a school administration to choose an entire classroom at a time and scan every person (including the teacher) in the room.
Complete student population scanning with only the use of hand-held detectors can be undertaken when a school feels that major weapon issues are evolving suddenly and quickly, i.e., a member of the school staff has received information from a reliable source. The school administration and staff need to realize the great amount of time this will take and be prepared to handle the discipline of the crowd of waiting students.
One approach that may help some schools is to establish a policy that allows the school to do a weapon detection scan of any student who arrives at school late in the morning. This may provide the school with a lot of leverage. There could be some excellent deterrence created if students knew they would definitely be scanned when they are running late, if only to convince them to not be late.
It would also be beneficial for information regarding the potential use of metal detectors at school events to be printed on all tickets for games, dances, and so forth.
A school should seriously consider having both a male and a female operator of hand-held detectors in order to perform scans on students of both genders.
Research Report: The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools