EXCLUSIVE: Emergency response in K-12 schools

K-12 school students

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Jason Kallio, Solutions Marketing Manager, Access Control and Mobile Solutions at acre security considers the future of physical access control and visitor management at K-12 schools.

K-12 schools

Today’s K-12 school environments face a broad range of security threats that require comprehensive, innovative and adaptive solutions.

The need for enhanced security and emergency response strategies has never been more urgent.

Recent statistics and ongoing developments reveal that the integration of physical access control solutions and visitor management systems is one way to mitigate risks and ensure continued safety for students, teachers and staff.

These solutions play a critical role in shaping how schools tackle their security needs while maintaining an open, nurturing environment that fosters collaboration and learning.

Action now

The time to act has never been more critical. Many public K-12 schools in the US have taken steps in recent years to tighten security, including outfitting classroom doors with interior locks, drafting active shooter preparedness plans and hiring law enforcement officers to patrol buildings, according to recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Still, school security protocols vary widely by type of school, geography and other factors.

NECS found that almost all K-12 schools restricted entry by controlling access to buildings during school hours with measures such as locked or monitored doors and loading docks (97%) or by requiring visitors to sign or check in and wear a badge (98%). Nearly three-quarters (73%) had classrooms equipped with locks so that doors can be locked from the inside.

However, the cornerstone of any robust school safety architecture is an emergency alert system.

According to the NECS, during the 2017-2018 school year, 92% of public schools had established written procedures for responding to shootings.

However, a more recent 2022 survey revealed that only about 46% of schools had integrated emergency alert systems.

Working in tandem with emergency alert systems, a mass notification system ensures the timely and broad dissemination of critical information.

Despite the crucial role they play in facilitating real-time communication during crises, the adoption rate of these systems hasn’t reached a majority yet.

Emergency systems

Advancements in mobile applications are a critical component in enhancing K-12 school safety.

The evolution from traditional hardware-based solutions to mobile panic buttons, for example, represents a significant stride towards smarter, more efficient alert systems.

A 2023 survey found that about 28% of K-12 schools have adopted these apps.

The combination of panic button systems with silent panic alert technology helps maintain calm during security incidents, thus reducing the likelihood of escalation while expediting an emergency response.

Visitor management systems are undergoing a similar transformation, moving from manual systems to sophisticated digital solutions.

Although the 2022 survey found that 38% of schools had fully integrated digital visitor management systems, it also revealed significant room for improvement.

These systems serve as the first line of defense against potential threats, vetting each visitor’s credentials before granting access and ensuring that only authorized individuals enter the premises.

This technological shift has also permeated visitor sign-in systems, traditionally one of the most vulnerable points in school security.

Digital sign-in systems reduce the likelihood of human error during the check-in process.

Advanced technologies such as facial recognition, ID scanning and real-time database checks have transformed visitor sign-in systems.

However, with only 35% of schools adopting such systems according to the 2022 survey, there remains significant scope for increased integration.

As K-12 schools navigate the complexities of the digital age, security solutions must evolve accordingly.

A new era of school security is upon us, marked by the convergence of alert systems, panic buttons and visitor management technologies.

The focus, as always, remains on the safety and well-being of the students and staff and by harnessing the power of technology, we are making significant strides towards creating a safer, more secure learning environment.

While the adoption rates of these emerging technologies are growing, there is still much room for growth.

Schools must strive for a future where these systems become the norm rather than the exception.

It is vital to invest in advanced security solutions to maintain pace with evolving risks and schools must continually refine and adapt these technologies. 

This approach will ensure that our learning institutions remain safe havens for education, where students can learn and grow without fear.

After all, the goal of education is not just to instill knowledge, but also to provide a safe and nurturing environment that fosters growth and these technologies are crucial in achieving that goal.

This article was originally published in the September edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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