Over the past week there has been significant conversation in the United States regarding school security following the tragic massacre of twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
During this past week I have attended school board meetings to listen to the views of parents, administrators and law enforcement, been involved in conversations with school principals and district superintendents, written about security risks and threat assessments and surveyed schools to assess how knee jerk security adjustments have created greater risks. What I have confirmed in the past week is this … the notion that “airport style security” is a viable option for schools is false.
Time and time again the media, parents and school administrators have brought up the idea of installing walk through metal detectors, or placing a staff member at the entrance of a school with a hand held metal detector, citing its effectiveness in airports, prisons and courthouses. The fact is a school is not an airport, prison or court house and there are many reason this mindset needs to be set aside so more effective solutions can be brought to the forefront.
For those of you who believe schools need a metal detector keep some things in mind. Any ‘secure entry’ procedure is only effective if it is in place on a full time basis at every point of entry into the school. Failure to secure the building at all times, at every point of entry, provides no real security at all. This means people must enter from one entrance only, or full security must be in place at the main entry, the entry to the playing fields, the recess yard, the play ground and any other possibly way into the building. Windows at the ground level, or near fire escapes, must be secured as well.
Furthermore, true ‘metal detector security’ isn’t just a metal detector. An effective entry point with a metal detector consists of a walk through metal detector, a bag x-ray screening system, a sterile area for searching bags manually and multiple security agents staffing the lane, with the ability to contain a threat in the area. Each security lane would require a minimum of a three-person team and an armed law enforcement officer overseeing the security screening area.
Installing security hardware and implementing a screening area would require drastic changes to a school’s physical infrastructure as well as significantly altering the schedule of a school day, busing and staffing. With schools typically being unlocked 2+ hours before classes start and closing late into night after post-school activities, security staffing would need multiple teams throughout the day.
A low estimate cost of a single security checkpoint at my local elementary school for year-one would be approximately US$250,000. These costs are hardware, training, minor infrastructure adjustments and basic staffing. This estimate does not take into account other factors such as multiple points of entry, adjusting daily schedules for students and staff, the impact to pre-school, post-school activities and additional staffing requirments.
For those who support ‘airport style security’ and metal detectors in schools, how would you justify the low estimated bill of US$5,250,000 for installing security in three elementary schools, a middle school and high school? Is it about the money? No, not entirely … but hand this to the voters as they struggle to try and find a few million dollars to repair school roofs, windows and other important infrastructure needs and see how it flies.
I am not cold, I am not heartless, in fact I live in a sleepy Connecticut town not unlike Newtown and have three kids in school, including a kindergartener. I have the same fears and concerns as other parents out there … especially in a town not to far from where 20 students were slaughtered in a place where they should always be safe … but I truly believe that a false sense of security is more dangerous than known gaps in security.
What is more effective than installing metal detectors in school? To name a few, school districts can train staff to deal with a crisis, implement updated communications, install school wide monitoring cameras and a system to lock barrier doors remotely to contain a threat, explore non-lethal school wide systems to neutralize a threat and base security strategies on Threat rather than Risk.
For the safety of everyone, I sincerely hope schools do not waste resources on something that at best creates the appearance of security and at worst creates the opportunity for a greater threat to present itself.