Making the Grade With School Security

The Hauppauge School District in Suffolk County, on Long Island, N.Y., is building a state-of-the-art security system to protect students and staff. The system includes a closed-circuit television network, access control for doors, vehicles equipped with global positioning technology, and hand-held computers for security officers.

Edward Spear, security supervisor for the Hauppauge School District, credits a unique association of local school security directors for helping to assemble the Hauppauge security system. Called the Suffolk School Security Alliance (SSSA), the group includes security directors from 15 county school districts.

Five years ago, Spear and his colleagues in Suffolk County began to compare notes about the challenges of school security. They found school security dramatically different from conventional security, and they wanted to find a forum for sharing ideas. They discovered, however, that no local organizations existed to support their efforts.

“The National Association for School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers covers school security,” Spear says.“And the American Society of Industrial Security has a standing committee devoted to schools. But neither of these organizations meet as local chapters.”

As a result, Spear and his colleagues formed their own organization, SSSA, which met for the first time in February of 1995. To keep up with developments in security technology, the group invited manufacturers and vendors to join the group in 1996.

SSSA has met monthly to discuss school security issues ever since. At these meetings, national and local vendors make presentations about security technologies and how these technologies might be adapted for use in schools.“It is important to stress the educational value of this alliance between manufacturers, vendors, and schools in our organization,” Spear says.

Through SSSA, Spear has found the help he needs to assemble a sophisticated system that allows for freedom of movement yet enhances security.

Two years ago, for example, Spear installed CCTV systems in six Hauppauge School District buildings, including the 500,000-square-foot high school. The high school system uses 75 cameras to monitor the interior of the building. This year, Spear plans to add six exterior cameras to the system.

Video travels from the cameras via cable into a security center control room where devices called multiplexers display video from each camera on monitors in a continuous cycle. Time/lapse videocassette recorders capture events on tape. Video logs remain on file for 30 days.

“We have ordered a computer to use with the system,” Spear says. “The computer will allow us to enhance and refine images when necessary and to print images on a video printer.”

Thirteen access control readers monitor the comings and goings of faculty and staff through building entrances during the school day. The readers open doors when an authorized individual touches a special key fob to the reader contact. Spear periodically downloads data from the readers into a laptop and brings up a list of people that entered and left the building throughout the day.

After hours, the security staff uses keypads to enter and exit locked and alarmed doors throughout the building. The keypad system creates an alarm log that Spear can review. The log records which security officer entered or exited a door and records the time. “This helps me to manage the security force,” Spear says.

While the CCTV and access control system monitor movements through the school, that’s not really enough for a school security system. Suppose the officer in the control room sees a student wandering the halls between classes and dispatches a patrol officer to find out why. The officer has no way of knowing where that student is supposed to be.

To address this problem, Spear recently purchased a Palm Pilot system from Symbol Technologies. Both a scanner and a hand-held computer, the Palm Pilot enables the security guard to scan the bar code on the student’s ID and call up that student’s daily schedule, which, of course, indicates where the student is supposed to be. “We download the schedule and ID data from the student administration system into a Microsoft Access database,” explains Spear. Once the data arrive in the security department’s computer, another software programs reformats it and downloads it into the Palm Pilots.

At the beginning of this school year, Spear began testing a global positioning system (GPS) technology that promises to improve security staff management. “For this test, we’ve placed GPS tracking equipment into one of our vehicles,” Spear says. Manufactured by Elite Logistics, Inc., the GPS device, called Pagetrack 2, allows Spear to track the security vehicle over the Internet with another device called a smart pager. “Security officers usually work alone,” Spear says. “This system will let us know where an officer is at all times. That’s important in managing a security force and also for responding to emergencies.”

Spear’s focus on technology has given his school’s security officers new tools designed to meet the challenges of school security in the 21st century.

Michael Fickes is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with experience in K-12 and higher education issues.


What’s Next for SSSA

The Suffolk School Security Alliance (SSSA) has led to a new approach to security in the Hauppauge and other Suffolk County school districts. The group’s founder, and Hauppauge security supervisor, Edward Spear believes the networking capabilities of the alliance will become even more important as time goes by.

“Things have changed in schools these past couple of years,” Spear says. “The problem of school violence has become a great concern. As a result, we’ve invited vendors with products and services designed to address this issue to make presentations at SSSA meetings.

“We’ve brought in representatives from emergency service agencies to discuss topics such as school preparedness, critical incident decisions, and emergency planning.”

At one recent meeting, a speaker discussed the three keys to any emergency plan: preplanning, establishing a chain of command, and setting a chain of responsibilities. “We learned that during an incident, the most critical time is the first 15 minutes, the time just before the arrival of outside emergency response agencies,” Spear says. “During that critical period, we’re alone, and our job is to maintain the situation, to try and keep it from getting worse. To be successful, we need to follow an established emergency plan.

“Our purpose is to provide resources for our members,” Spear says. “SSSA is not a money-making proposition.”

Dues are $25 a year for members and $75 a year for business associates. For this nominal cost, members receive access to the wide expertise available in the group. Services available to members include the following:

    • Alarm system review and consulting

    • Guard system review and consulting

    • New York State security guard training

    • Fire and structural inspections

    • Monthly or annual in-service training

    • Physical plant inspections and surveys

    • First aid and CPR training

    • New York State Department of Motor Vehicles defensive driver courses

    • Right-to-know training

    • Residence investigation

    • Computerization of security offices

    • Video imaging and ID systems

    • Radio systems and FCC compliance