Why Airport Style Security Isn’t The Model For Schools

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.


Happy Flying!





  1. Airports and schools are radically different environments. The point of airport security is to prevent people with guns from getting into the air. If security is breached, the planes can be grounded and that is that.
    At a school, if the security is breached, the gunman could do probably just as much damage as the Sandy Hook gunman did. You’d basically need a firewall at every entrance that was controlled from a safe location. Incredibly unfeasible, and that isn’t even getting to the incredible number of schools out there.

  2. Thank you. As horrible as the events were, if you look back over the last 20 years, we would have to do the same thing to all our churches, malls, day care centers, movie theaters, etc. One of the most thoughtful comments I have heard is from Jim Brady who was shot while surrounded by FBI agents specifically trained to protect the President. I am paraphrasing, but it was essentially “If firepower on the side of the innocents protects, I should have been in the safest place on the planet.”

  3. It wouldn’t have mattered in a case like this anyway. The shooter shot out the window to get into the school. If an airport style security system were there, he would have just shot the people manning it first.

  4. You are way off base. Yes, an “airport” style security system would work well to prevent these actions from taking place again. A combination of armed uniformed police officers monitoring controlled access points while utilizing state of the art basic technology including cameras and facial recognition software would be a great start. Your figure of $250k per year is reasonable and worth every penny, especially if you consider the secondary benefit being a substantial creation of high quality jobs which America needs. Couple this with installing a 15 foot high fence around every school to be produced by American Manufacturing companies utilizing American made materials, and installed and maintained by legal American workers, and you have a win win win win. Argue with me, please. Furthermore, we need a law that gives any individual that is not an on duty police officer that is caught with any type of firearm that is caught on any school property will receive a minimum of 20 years in prison and up to 50 years in prison (just for possessing a weapon on school property) and the problem will be solved

  5. @Randy
    You are kidding, right?
    If people want to kill, people will kill. I have never understood this idea that people who want to kill, which is illegal, will reconsider because it is illegal to bring a gun where they plan to kill. Put up a security checkpoint, great, now you just added a few more lives to the tally of people murdered by a gunman.

  6. @Anon. Yah but if a security system stops the people trying to kill kids isn’t it worth it?

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