To understand physical school security, study history.
To understand physical school security, study history.

Apr 1, 1997 12:00 PM

Since the early days of inkwells and one-room schoolhouses, the school system has borne the brunt of vandalism and petty theft of one sort or another. Pranksterism marks the '60s

Until the mid '60s, nothing much was done about it. Who in their right mind wanted to rob or destroy a school? Then came the revolution. Young people began taking out their aggression inside the schools. Regarded as simple pranksterism, most of the problems were solved by installing chains around the push bars and handles of the doors. Heavy metal screens protected the windows, and except for a few infractions, it was enough to dissuade the large majority of would-be mini-terrorists.

Computer theft marks the '70s Toward the end of the '70s, chains on doors and mesh windows could not keep school buildings safe from interior attack. Expensive equipment was starting to be used in school offices, and more and more records were being transferred to computer, so a new form of crime was being pursued. A wild few could not pass the school databanks by without at least a token attempt at altering or destroying them. Computers and copy machines, the coveted new generation of electronic wonders, could be stolen and sold for a fair amount of money. Schools, once revered for their housed knowledge, were hard pressed to hold out against opportunists who perceived only that they housed valuable equipment. Petty crimes such as painting the outside of a school were being left behind as well. Now vandals took to the halls of education and trashed entire buildings, turning the fire hoses against lockers and rooms, not in protection against flame, but in fury. It was not a frustrated message; just sensele! ss destruction.

In response, school directors around the country began hiring security companies to come into their districts and protect their schools against the new crime wave. The security companies designed modern, electronic alarm systems and installed them from coast to coast. It was not cheap, and in most cases, we, the taxpayers, bit the bullet and paid the bill. What choice did the school directors and tax payers have? The cost of protection was far less than the cost of repair or replacement. Electronic alarms now protected the major hallways and offices of school buildings using innovations such as microwave motion detection, concealed and visible contacts on main doors, loud bells and bright strobe lights mounted outside buildings, key and digital pad arming devices and communicators to call local police departments for help.

Greed marks the '80s Toward the end of the '80s, a new crime wave against the schools surfaced. Administrative secrets were no longer the target of crimes, and breaking into a school took on a whole new meaning. This new generation of thieves, like their forebears, was after the newest and most expensive equipment - computer systems. The schools had a few new problems defending themselves. No longer were these expensive pieces of equipment limited to a few offices. PCs could now be found in classrooms throughout school buildings. Simple interior protection using chains and motion detectors in the hallways was not enough. Once a thief entered through a classroom window, the thief could enter and exit several times within the same evening or weekend, wiping out an entire network of expensive computer equipment.

Because this sort of theft was usually about greed, not vengeance, the vandalism to the classroom was usually confined to a broken window. Unfortunately, in areas of the country where the weather is severe in the winter, the ultimate damage caused by broken windows can be great. Also, generally speaking, the security companies still had a '70s attitude and were still prescribing bells, flashing lights and glass-break detectors for every classroom. The problems with this prescription are:

* The cost of total building, room-by-room protection is extremely expensive. * Just about any crime that can be completed in five minutes or less will go unpunished due to the inability of the police department to be everywhere at once. * Taxpayers are starting to balk at the cost of education, let alone protecting education. So what can be done? You must protect the area through annunciation, response and gathering of evidence. Solutions for the '90s Understand the motive and the thinking of the criminal: * The first motive is not to be seen or caught. Therefore, areas or subjects that offer the least exposure and threat are likely targets. * The second motive is to choose a target that is easily accessible for entry and escape. Therefore, buildings that have at least one main street close by are likely targets. * The third motive is greed. Therefore, areas or subjects that have something of perceived value are likely targets, hence school buildings. Multiple classrooms on the first floor are usually surrounded by fields or other large areas of little concern or visibility with no protection other than glass windows and an occasional wire mesh covering. One of the most common crimes of the '90s is PC theft. PCs are easy to carry, difficult to trace and easy to sell. It's the perfect crime scenario.

Again, most security companies will revert to individual classroom protection. But it is too expensive, even with wireless equipment, and it does not offer enough reasons for criminals to forgo the crime in the first place. Multitudes of false alarms caused by dogs, cats, blowing leaves, etc., frustrate police and school officials and allow continued break-ins and theft. But didn't the system make the area less accessible? Yes, to a degree. However, the crook, even an unskilled or young crook, can easily determine the average response time of the local police. So we're back to the five-minute ripoff. These people know their targets and entry points long before they attempt the crime.

Studies done over the past couple of years in Canada have proven that the most cost-effective method of school security is fast becoming the closed-circuit televison (CCTV) system. Do you think I'm proposing that every school should install a bunch of cameras around the building and ding, dong, the witch is dead? Hardly. Learn with me for a moment. With the integrated use of cameras mounted in strategic locations, outside digital video motion detection systems, two-way audio devices and a video central station, we have a viable defense against the crime of the '90s. Let me break it down:

* The first misconception is that all camera systems must be watched to be effective. Most camera systems are recorded for future reference. Additionally, the high cost of video protection is a myth engendered by not understanding the cost of crime. For example: If a $500 alarm system is installed and $5,000 of equipment is stolen because of lack of response, the actual cost of the system was $5,500. If a $1,000 camera system is installed and a crime is captured, prosecuted and equipment returned, the cost of the camera system was zero. In fact the camera system showed a $4,000 profit. If the camera system was installed properly and features interactive audio, chances are the crime will be averted completely.

* Digital video motion detection is a way to install black box technology into a camera system. We now have an interactive computer watching the video image with pre-set controls telling it what to watch and what to watch for. In the event the computer detects change in the video image in the prescribed area, an alarm is triggered, and the video image is sent live to a central monitoring station. The controller can see the problem at the site and anticipate the consequences. Using an interactive audio system, the controller can warn the perpetrator they are being recorded, the police are on their way, and that they should vacate the area immediately. Since the video motion detector is programmed for specific areas, dogs, cats and other such moving nuisances can be avoided. If such a distraction should set off the alarm, the operator can visually determine the cause of the alarm and not dispatch the police.

Remember: All digital video motion detection systems are not created equal. There are but a handful that have been designed to work outdoors. Although the up-front cost of such a system seems high, the long term cost will be significantly less than if you use the wrong - albeit cheaper - system.

* A CCTV central station is the point alarms are dispatched to. CCTV central stations are specially designed to receive, interact with, and dispatch video information as well as alarm signals. Results are dramatic in terms of deterring, apprehending and convicting perpetrators of a variety of crimes.

CCTV is one of the most effective methods of area protection born in the '90s. It is new enough that many security companies do not understand it, offer it, or know how to find it. But it is well enough established that it has proven to be cost effective and accurate.

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