How Two-way Audio Devices Can Bolster School Security
- By Richard Brent
- August 13, 2020
By the numbers, mass shootings on school grounds represent less than 1 percent of overall school violence incidents. However, an estimated three million American children are still exposed to school shootings every year. The increase in school shootings in the last 20 years has had an affect on many recent school safety procedures, such that, in 2019, “about 95 percent of public schools now have students and teachers practice huddling in silence, hiding from an imaginary gunman,” according to USA Today. Gun violence has also had a profound effect on the mental wellness of young people.
Furthermore, children exposed to violence, crime and abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol; suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); fail or have difficulties in school; and engage in criminal activity, according to research conducted as part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV).
These effects have worsened drastically, as the number of school shootings has increased — a crisis The Washington Post characterized as “uniquely American.” In response, public and private schools have recognized the need for proactive and preventative security measures, and many across the country have begun implementing such strategies to protect students.
A Step in the Right Direction
For instance, today, more than two-thirds of high school students now attend a school with a school resource officer present. The number of schools using security cameras has doubled in the past decade, according to the National Center for Education. Beyond CCTV, in 2019, Western New York’s Lockport City School District began testing facial recognition technology, and some schools in New Mexico even require iris scans, according to The New York Times.
“School administrators feel they need to provide a solution,” said Monica Bulger, senior fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum’s Education Privacy Project Monica Bulger. “Schools aren’t considering whether [this technology] is the best fit; they’re choosing the fastest one.”
Sometimes, outfitting educational facilities with the latest security technology can raise concerns as students and faculty do not want to feel like they are in a highly monitored, prison-like environment. The ultimate question for campuses looking to bolster their security, then, is: What technologies are worth the investment?
Audio and Video: A Perfect Match
By far, the most popular equipment embraced by K-12 schools and high education organizations is a security camera. This now ubiquitous device, however, has one significant drawback. When a security system only uses video, the information gathered is often limited. Audio can solve this issue by enhancing and complementing existing security systems. Without audio devices installed alongside video, security staff are not able to understand the full picture of a situation. A security solution is far more effective when it uses both video and audio, in order to collect a variety of information.
In the event of a shooting that triggers lockdown procedures it might be difficult to understand an ongoing event using only silent camera footage. Many emergency responders often arrive on-scene with limited insight into the perpetrator’s motivations, knowing only that a shooting has occurred without knowing why, a hindrance that can impede mitigative efforts. The fact is incidences of school violence are rarely random or isolated events.
According to a study conducted by NPR, school violence is often related to bullying, discrimination and harassment. Audio devices, which provide insight into “school climate” and verbal aggression that cameras cannot, offer a chance to de-escalate a conflict before it starts.
The Unique Benefit of Two-way Audio Devices
If a school with a security system using both video and audio were to begin lockdown procedures, following the beginning of a shooting, command center staff would be able to use microphones, alongside active video footage, to quickly review what an aggressor might have said before the event, as well as monitor what was being said in real time.
This information would help first responders better understand details about the suspect or scene; voices, names, languages spoken, and directives are just a few examples of the information that can be aggregated. This additional data is critical for law enforcement as they assess the suspects intentions and threat level.
More than just “listening” to an event, industry-leading two-way audio devices allow security personnel to open a dialogue with a suspect in real time, in order to diffuse a dangerous situation. Very rarely are security staff able to intervene in an instance of school violence before it’s been carried out. Two-way audio devices, however, can immediately enable communication between security personnel and the perpetrator, as well as students, faculty and staff.
These devices are also contributing to crime deterrence efforts of other shapes and sizes. An audio security system that can provide two-way communication can function as a powerful warning that has the ability to dissuade a trespasser from vandalizing a property. It can also resolve a verbally hostile dispute between individuals on campus, even if there is no physical security officer yet present.
For these reasons, two-way audio devices are on their way to becoming a standard security solution across the education sector.
Best Practices for Deployment
In order to ensure your security system gets the most out of two-way audio devices, make use of these best practices for system design and deployment, as well as general tips for legal compliance.
Post clearly visible signage. This first best practice is by far the most important. Beyond merely installing audio devices alongside security cameras, there should also be a clearly visible sign placed at all major campus access points (front, side and rear entrances) that communicate that audio and video surveillance is taking place on the premises.
Not only does this reassure students and staff on campus; it also serves as a warning to all potential offenders and assailants. At times, this can even be enough to prevent a crime from occurring. Common places to position these signs include school fences, parking lots and the main office.
State monitoring practices in student code of conduct. It is important, in addition to signage, to notify students that the school is under surveillance by stating it in the student code of conduct. Not only does this practice increase awareness for all students on premise by integrating it into spoken and written school policy, it also reduces a school’s liability, should an individual claim he did not see a sign on campus saying the area is being monitored. Because privacy is a major concern for students and parents alike, this is a vital step to take.
Be cognizant of microphone placement. When designing a security solution that best fits your campus’ needs, determine precisely where integrating audio devices on campus might be most effective.
Consider where previous security equipment, like surveillance cameras, has been installed. Abide by acceptable camera placement guidelines as a model for where a microphone should and should not be placed.
Furthermore, for the same reasons a camera would never be mounted inside a public restroom, nor should a microphone. This requires both common sense and strategic consideration.
Assure staff of the purpose of monitoring. Finally, it is crucial that security staff communicate with faculty and staff, in order to iterate and reaffirm that security personnel will only use audio to investigate and resolve wrongdoings, in an effort to enhance the safety of staff and students.
Making all parties on campus aware of two-way audio devices not only increases the utility of these devices; it also instills a sense of confidence in the security system deployed. The bottom line is, if people know a system is installed for both their safety and peace of mind, they are more likely to rely on its benefits when the need arises.
The reality of gun violence, physical and verbal aggression and harassment on educational campuses is not an easy topic to navigate for many schools. For the sake of students, faculty and staff, however, making proactive decisions that keep everyone safe can substantially enhance crime prevention.
The most robust and reliable security systems, using technology such as two-way audio devices and security cameras, are built to detect and deter the worst-case scenarios — examples of which we are all aware. The heart behind these devices is simple: Safeguard campuses for today’s youth to ensure safer schools for the students of tomorrow.