Act Now for School Safety

school zone

I wrote an entire article for this month about security and severe consequences of not following security protocols and keeping up to date on security. The blog was about cybersecurity, and then the heartbreaking events of Robb Elementary School forced me to put that blog aside and write about a different type of security.

In previous blogs, I have written about the pitfalls of taking on political issues in social media and blogs, so I won’t do that here. I will only write about those things that we all agree on. We all agree that this event is abhorrent, sad and never should happen again. As politicians debate the best way to do that, I want to write about our industry and what part we can play in preventing these tragedies.

Consider that the AV industry is unique in the fact that we have the ability to control the entire environment of a facility. Our industry is involved in security at doors, lighting, audio, shade control, camera control and microphone control. Now add to that consideration the amount of money schools (including colleges and universities) have received over the past three years as a result of the pandemic. In many places, a good amount of these funds have been used to purchase and install technology. As AV professionals who sell “systems” we are in a unique place to help use these for additional purposes other than for which they were originally configured.

I have written about school safety in the past in rAVe [PUBS], but it is an issue that is so critical, that we can not write enough about it. Take a look at both of these articles from the past. One was right after the Parkland tragedy. The other was the following month when I heard about the PASS alliance. PASS continues to exist and has an excellent website with information about school safety. The industry veteran Chuck Wilson continues to lead this organization with great passion.

In writing this article I am struggling a bit, because I am not a law enforcement official, and my recommendations are more creative and commonsensical than they are official. I truly urge anyone who is engaging with schools to better secure facilities to bring in a partner like PASS or your local law enforcement agency. The absolute last thing that any of us would want to do is create a worse or more dangerous situation. However, it is quite likely that the law enforcement teams are unaware of or they do not realize how these systems can come into play to help them. Indeed, many school administrators may not be aware of how we could tie systems together.

Most schools today, public, private and higher ed, have security cameras in their common areas such as entryways and hallways. Let’s add the cameras and microphones that have been added into our classrooms. It is likely that these two systems do not communicate with each other. In many cases, it is probable that the classroom cameras are not tied into any “system.” Let’s fix that. The vast majority of cameras in today’s market are ethernet enabled. Our industry should be able to work with local schools to bring those cameras into a centralized system, with what should be a minimal expense. Schools should then work with local law enforcement to make sure they understand and have access to these systems. Yes, there are some privacy issues and concerns with that. Parents, teachers and students may have concerns about the ability of law enforcement to look into a classroom. This is where organizations like AVIXA and PASS could help by defining parameters in which this would be acceptable. State and local governments can pass legislation that legislates what is acceptable. The critical piece is that at the moment an event occurs multiple organizations (school administration, law enforcement) can help determine what is happening and make decisions on actions. Would there have been some different outcome in Uvalde if law enforcement had a view into the school, and the classroom? I don’t know for sure, but as a parent I would certainly choose to spend the money that may save lives, rather than not spend it because we don’t know if it would.

Other actions that we can help with include lighting and sound. Again — I urge everyone to converse with law enforcement before implementing any idea. Would it help to be able to raise or lower blinds in schools from a central location? How about locking, closing, or unlocking doors from a central location? There is the possibility that as law enforcement is moving into a situation, an officer on the outside could be using these tools to trap the perpetrator while allowing everyone else to get out. Systems currently exist that can detect the unique sound of gunfire. At such a sound, we have the capabilities of turning on all cameras and mics, locking doors, closing blinds, etc. These systems are sitting there waiting to be tied in together. A significant piece of current training in schools is to behave in a way that throws the perpetrator off their guard. There are suggestions about throwing things at them, screaming at them, anything that takes them out of the mindset that they are in control. We could do the same with audio, and with lighting. Alarms, blacking out hallways and causing background noise so the perpetrator can not hear what is going on, may all aid law enforcement in putting an end to the situation.

It is terrifying for any of us to think about the idea that this will happen again. Yet, we know it will. If it takes a community to raise a child, it takes a community to protect them as well. We, in the AV community, have tools, skills, equipment and knowledge to help our schools think through how to do this, maybe without major investments. There is no other job we could ever perform that would be as important as protecting the students in a school. Please. Now is the time to act.