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Securing our future - security for the education sector

  • Matthew Blakey
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Educational establishments come in all shapes and sizes, from small nurseries through to large, multi-campus universities.  Whilst one security solution will never meet the needs of all these varied sites, there are common shared requirements and trends within the educational sector, from the move towards technologies to aid in emergency lockdowns, through to the need for system integration. 

In our latest blog, STANLEY Security Matthew Blakey, General Manager - SME identifies these common factors and looks at the security technologies – existing and new - that are best placed to keep staff and students safe.

 In this blog, Matthew will cover:

  • Why is it important to have a security policy in place and how is this best achieved?
  • What are the key security risks faced by educational establishments?
  • Are educational establishments well protected against risk?
  • What are the most suitable security technologies for educational establishments?
  • What’s new in security that’s suitable for educational establishments?
  • With COVID-19 in mind, can existing security technology be converted from contact to contactless?
  • Is this equipment expensive? Budgets are tight at the moment, what are the options for purchasing?
  • Is remote monitoring of security systems suitable for educational establishments?
  • Creating a safer, secure,  healthier, and more efficient learning experiences 

Why is it important to have a security policy in place and how is this best achieved?

Whilst education establishments are some of the safest environments in this country, it would be inadvisable to ignore potential threats posed by vandalism, arson and theft at one end through to more serious potential incidents involving a weapon or even terrorist attacks.  Keeping staff and students safe is a top priority, so ensuring you have a security policy in place to manage and respond to potential threats is a sensible addition to your overall safeguarding policies.

There’s no single security policy that will apply to all educational establishments as each is different in design, location etc.  You will therefore be required to conduct a risk assessment to identify the likelihood of a security-related incident occurring, assess the level of impact and then develop plans and procedures to manage and respond to any threats.  That policy will need to be a careful balancing act between maintaining a welcoming environment conducive to learning whilst protecting all those on-site from harm.

Government guidelines on developing a security policy are clearly laid out here and I would advise you to read this thoroughly: Click here

teacher covid

What are the key security risks faced by educational establishments?

Less than five or so years ago, the main perceived threats to schools came from vandalism and arson.  The focus was therefore very much on preventing unwanted visitors from accessing the site who might cause damage to property.  Intruder alarm systems, with some CCTV cameras, were, therefore, a good ‘off the shelf’ solution.

But there has been a sea change which I have noticed from around 2016/2017.  Requirements turned from this relatively basic approach to more in-depth discussions taking place on integrating security and emergency lockdown procedures.  A person with a lighter or a spray can is one thing, but now schools have to take into account the dangers posed by a person entering the premises with a weapon and even bomb threats, real or otherwise.  It's saddening that nowadays educational facilities actually face the same risks as what we, as a company, used to profile as high risk, high-security sites. 

Ultimately the number one priority identified by nearly every educational establishment we work with is controlling visitors and access to the site.  This can be very challenging when such sites often have multiple buildings and constant pedestrian traffic moving around the site.

The second priority is the ability for schools and colleges to be able to initiate a fast, safe mass lockdown if there is an incident on-site or a swift evacuation.  Both of these are really difficult to achieve.

These priorities remain consistent regardless of the size and nature of the educational establishment, be it a small primary school or a large university campus.  The difference is in the scale of the operation.

Security solutions have had to become more tailored, which has been made possible and more cost-effective through technological advances in the security equipment itself.

children covid education

Are educational establishments well protected against risk?

Generally, most educational establishments have a moderate to a good level of security already in place; a good foundation to build upon you might say. Where they often struggle is in the number of independent old legacy systems installed.  These systems have been added to overtime, sometimes as the school grows, with new systems added that are not compatible with what’s already on site.  For the customer, this isn’t ideal as it doesn’t make effective use of what they already have and is frequently difficult to manage, thus compromising their level of protection.

A key area for improvement– and one we are frequently called to take on – is to try to bring all the technology into one integrated system to make it easy to manage and provide them with greater resilience.  Wherever possible, we use existing on-site security equipment rather than rip it all out and start again, as budgets are tight and wouldn’t everyone prefer to spend the budget on equipping the school to better educate students?  I know I would.

It’s also important to avoid equipment redundancy from a sustainability perspective.  Sending CCTV cameras to landfill that are perfectly usable, but that may not be the latest model, is something we are all keen to avoid.

As you might expect, the ability to integrate will depend on the age of that system. At STANLEY Security, we always send one of our system designers to site to check whether existing equipment is compatible for integration.  In many cases, we can just enhance the existing technology in place, which reduces the cost and any disruption on-site.

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What are the most suitable security technologies for educational establishments? 

The most popular types of security systems within schools, colleges and universities are access control, video systems (CCTV or IP based systems) and emergency life safety systems such as fire alarms and emergency lockdown solutions.  These types of systems can really make a difference in identifying and reacting to a problem.

For maximum effectiveness, integration of these systems provides the very best solution.  So, for example, your access control system can give notifications to the camera that covers a door that has just been opened, enabling you to identify the person is who their tag says they are.  Integrating the systems on to one platform is the key here; it makes those systems a lot simpler and more straightforward to use and doesn't become a hindrance. 

touchless access control copy

What’s new in security that’s suitable for educational establishments?

One of the most exciting developments that are ideal for education-based sites, especially in the current pandemic, comes in the form of upgrades to access control systems.  Some of the latest touch-free systems now incorporate facial recognition technology in place of keypads, swipe cards or tags, along with temperature measurement and even facemask detection, denying entry to those who have an elevated temperature or are not wearing a mask where they are required to do so.  Some are even available with a customer flow-limiting feature and/or can be readily integrated into people counting and visitor management software, providing even wider scope for protection from potential threats now and in the future, whatever that may hold.  Post COVID-19, many schools of students as it's good practice for health and safety.

These are some really big advances but it’s something we've deployed very quickly.  The future is really smart technology.

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With COVID-19 in mind, can existing security technology be converted from contact to contactless?

The good news is yes, many existing security systems can be changed to a contactless system relatively quickly – sometimes within an hour – and without excessive costs.  Mostly, this applies to access control systems where we can replace the ‘reader’ to a different type of technology, which will allow you to have the contactless security with it.  We’re just adapting what’s there, without the need to replace the entire system, install new wiring etc.

Is this equipment expensive? Budgets are tight at the moment, what are the options for purchasing?

Originally, much of this equipment would have been defined as high-end technology, but it’s more widespread use in the mass market has naturally brought the pricing down.  So now schools don’t actually need to make a huge investment to get very good security systems that will last a long time.

Furthermore, capital investment can be avoided altogether through the use of the scheme, which has proven to be very popular in the education sector.  Rather than purchase the system outright, you rent the system through STANLEY Assure which makes it all the more affordable.

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Is remote monitoring of security systems suitable for educational establishments? 

More and more organisations are now using professional Security Monitoring Centres to remotely monitor their security systems.  This is most frequently performed out of hours and represents a considerable saving when compared to the more traditional approach of employing an onsite security guard.  Modern CCTV Monitoring is driven by schedules and alarms making it efficient and effective.

Schools have been using such services to monitor the intruder alarm system, and sometimes the fire detection system, for a while.  But remote monitoring is becoming more and more important and schools are upping the ante with the addition of video alarm verification.  Video Alarm Verification is the process of confirming an actual intrusion using video clips and, where available, live video. When police emergency services consider an alarm to be ‘verified’ they treat it as an in-progress intrusion and will dispatch quickly.

Even larger educational establishments can benefit from third-party security monitoring.  Universities may often have their own security control centre but they may require support if an incident escalates. They may have a member of staff who travels a lot between the facilities on site for which they require lone worker protection, but don’t have the in-house resources to dedicate.  It may even be the caretaker/facilities manager who is checking the premises during the holidays – who is keeping an eye on them to make sure they are safe?

So, potentially all education establishments can benefit from remote monitoring, but it could be the requirement is different.

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Saturday, 28 November 2020