August 31, 2022

Article
3 min

New Technologies Help K–12 Leaders Enhance Physical Security

School districts adopt solutions to improve access control, safety monitoring and mass communication capabilities.

Bryan Krause

Physical security is always a top concern for school leaders, and one of administrators’ most important duties is to stay abreast of related trends. For instance, school safety and technology services departments are becoming increasingly interdependent. Typically, safety has been a separate area, but I recently met with a school whose CIO had taken over that department because the two functions had become so intertwined. Now that technology plays such an essential role in protecting our students, I expect we’ll see that shift continue.

Here are a few areas where school districts may focus their physical security efforts.

Camera Systems, Sensors and Remote Locking Strengthen Access Control

Access control is a high-priority issue for every district. A typical high school may have up to 100 doors and a constant stream of students, parents, staff members and delivery people coming and going. 

To better control who can access campus buildings, many districts have implemented video stations equipped with microphones. With these systems, visitors must request approval from staff in a central command center before being allowed to enter. Sensors can detect when someone has forced or propped open a door and can send an alert to staff.

Remote door locking is also becoming more common. In some cases, a school leader can send a command that can lock down the entire district or a single classroom. In the latter case, an individual teacher or staff member could use a door control card to lock classroom doors. This important capability is crucial when administrators are offsite at an athletic event or at another location in the district.

Better Monitoring Helps Districts Quickly Obtain Safety Information

Another challenge for districts, particularly large ones, is keeping an eye on what’s happening across a large geographical area. Video cameras integrated with GIS mapping make this job more manageable. 

A large district may have a central command center that is monitored 24 hours a day, but others might place monitoring screens in smaller areas, such as the principal’s office. Wherever they are housed, GIS-integrated camera systems enable administrators to see video streams with an overlay of location information. Using technology to provide location data automatically saves time when district leaders need to assess and respond to a situation quickly.

Sensors also help to extend administrators’ oversight. For example, many districts are installing restroom sensors that detect vaping and THC use (and can alert administrators if anyone tampers with the device). 

Sensors equipped with microphones and audio analytics software are another emerging technology. These can flag situations that require emergency attention: the sound of a gunshot, breaking glass and even aggressive words that could indicate threats or bullying. The tools typically alert the school’s first responder, such as campus security or a school resource officer.

Network Needs Can Change Quickly During a Safety Incident

Schools also are assessing their IT infrastructure to ensure it can handle the surge in communication likely to occur during an emergency. If an incident happens at a school, many students will start using their phones to text family members or record videos. If schools lack sufficient bandwidth to handle this surge, communication could shut down entirely. 

To prevent shutdowns and other problems, districts are examining their network capacity, considering alternative solutions such as temporary hotspots and planning for how to communicate effectively during an emergency.  

Conversations about school safety are difficult but necessary. One of the best ways for districts to keep students safe is to understand their options and stay informed about measures that peers are taking to meet these challenges.

Story by Scott Hiemstra