Security and Schools

I’m going to ask a question about a sensitive subject. I know the experts don’t get political in these columns, and that’s okay--but I’m hoping that you can give some insights into the facts related to some serious issues.

Obviously, there have been a lot of issues in the news lately related to school security. Some people believe that we need to pass more laws regulating guns, while others are talking about mental health and school security. As promised, I’m not going to ask you guys to take a position on this stuff. But I would like to know more about security. What can you really do to protect a place like a school, where so many people are always moving around and coming in and out? If we assume that security is at least part of the solution here, what does that actually mean?

This is certainly a serious and contentious issue. As always, we’ll keep our political perspectives to ourselves. But you raise a very interesting question about a very complicated thing: security, and security in and around schools in particular. So let’s chat a bit about how experts strive to protect our schools.

The problems with protecting a space like a school are numerous, of course, as you astutely point out. School buildings are large and have plenty of entrances and exits. Making sure a school can be quickly evacuated is a big part of student safety, yet having plenty of ways to get out during a fire or another emergency means having plenty of ways for bad guys to attempt to access a school. Schools are, by definition, full of students and teachers--they’re places built to accommodate crowds. And when threats can come from students themselves, even stringent access systems can be ineffective.

These sorts of problems are the ones that school security experts grapple with every day. And we’re not just talking about school leadership systems, here: there are private security firms that are dedicated to solving this specific problem for schools and other institutions.

There is, of course, no perfectly effective security system in place at our schools today. But there are some pretty impressive things happening in the school security space that are worth talking about here.

Most notably, there are the ways in which technology is improving school security. Modern schools use things like alarm systems and security cameras, of course, but today’s revolutionary security systems rely on more than just those things. Machine learning and artificial intelligence, for instance, are increasingly being used to identify potential threats in real time. By relying on computer programs that are constantly learning, schools can actually monitor the information and footage they’re collecting without having to have humans focusing on everything around the clock. Surveillance is essential, and high-tech surveillance may be able to give us the best balance between security and privacy.

These new technologies work in conjunction with physical improvements: many schools rely on things like shatterproof and reinforced plate glass, for instance, as well as fire doors and other protective measures.

Of course, school security does rely on human elements, too. A security system must be paired with emergency plans and human intuition. While humans are imperfect beings, our ability to make snap decisions and instinctively react to stimuli can often be quite effective when paired with the powerful technological tools offered by a modern security system.

The idea that a school should be a secure place is not a controversial one, and there are certainly reasons to believe that we have room to improve security at the typical American school. Beyond that, of course, there are plenty of other factors to consider and debate--but, as always, we’ll leave that up to you!

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” -- Thomas Edison

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