Taking a Multi-layer Approach to an Effective School Weapons Detection Program
As of mid-March, 14 school shootings had taken place in 2022, leaving four dead and 24 injured. However, that metric is too narrow to account for the full spectrum of violence that can happen in schools. While less reliably tracked, stabbings are another fairly frequent form of school violence. And in December 2021, schools across the nation cracked down on security after a series of nationwide bomb threats were made on TikTok.
Because such an enormous range of items can be used as weapons, schools should not rely on one type of weapons detection program to serve as a catch-all. It’s critical that schools use a layered approach, which should include methods ranging from inexpensive, no-tech approaches to emerging high-tech solutions.
School boards planning to implement screening procedures should consider the full range of solutions currently available and implement those that are aligned with comprehensive security goals. Let’s look at how the technology market is evolving to better keep schools safe.
Security starts with human intelligence
In many cases, schools find that they can improve security by making simple procedural changes. “See something, say something” policies are a key example. As simple as it sounds, these protocols should be a primary component of any school weapons screening program. Encouraging students to report what they see or hear may often be the only viable way to know someone is preparing to commit violence to themselves or others. Kids see and hear a lot both during and outside school hours, but schools must provide clear instructions about what to look for and how to report potential dangers.
A tip line can be as simple as a phone number, email address or web form. Making anonymous tip lines available via multiple formats, including smartphone apps, text, email, and online, can be relatively inexpensive. A wide variety of choices exist, both for free and at varying price points. School districts even have the option to develop a custom app to make reporting more convenient for users.
Flexible low-tech solutions
Metal detectors are often the first solution schools think of when considering weapons detection. At present, metal detectors are typically only used in schools with a history of weapons-related violence. The common approach is to use metal detectors at controlled entry points and complement this with manual screening.
Schools are working to balance the security metal detectors afford with public sentiment that metal detectors create an intimidating, prison-like environment. This is where handheld metal detection wands can be useful. Handheld wands also provide flexibility in allowing schools to conduct random classroom screenings or use wands at sporting events.
For the vast majority of public schools, metal detectors may not be the right fit. School administrators must weigh the risk profile against the cost and complexity of implementation. In addition, it’s critical to remember that metal detectors are only capable of screening weapons with metal in them, which means they require supplementary procedures and equipment.
Emerging high-tech innovations
Most schools today have some form of video surveillance technology, but video analytics solutions have come a long way. Modern video analytics software utilizes machine learning along with computer vision techniques to detect weapons and other abnormalities that standard video systems are incapable of identifying. When abnormalities are detected, security teams can be instantly alerted.
School operations planning a technology refresh can add analytics-based products onto an existing system, making video analytics a somewhat more cost-effective solution. Even so, these newer platforms tend to carry a high implementation cost compared to more basic video surveillance solutions. Part of this cost is due to the need for appropriate staff training.
Because video analytics solutions are still fairly new, capabilities vary widely. This makes it particularly important to ask a lot of questions during product selection about capabilities, regular maintenance, and the level of staff training needed to get the most impact from this system.
The newest weapons detection technology solutions are radar-based systems. Because these technologies are just now coming onto the market, it will likely be a while before they are functional and affordable for a school operation, but they are a solution to watch. This emerging technology uses small, concealable signal generators and detectors to detect firearms, including those made of polymer materials, edged weapons, and even things such as canisters that are commonly used to make explosive devices.
Even more intriguing, manufacturers claim that these systems can unobtrusively cover a broad area, such as a pedestrian walkway or a lobby or school commons area. By deploying a radar-based system outside a facility, a threat could feasibly be detected before it reaches the building entrance, allowing security personnel the opportunity to intervene.
A layered security approach
Just as these episodes of school violence feature a range of threats, school weapons detection programs should be layered to more effectively detect potential acts of violence. However, identifying the most effective layers for keeping your school safe is best done with a site security audit.
This is an area where CRUX can help. Our security design and consulting services begin by helping school districts identify a holistic approach to security that includes site assessments, well-considered response protocols, and technology investments that meet your unique needs. If you’re ready to strengthen your schools’ safety, contact CRUX.