Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

The Future of School Security

What Can Schools Learn from America's Busiest Airports?

school security bollards

PHOTO © JAYZ3T

Security is paramount in airports — charged with leading the continual evolution of public safety and heading off threats while providing a fair, seamless experience that doesn’t further intrude on the travel experience. Similarly, schools are challenged with addressing heightened security issues including active shooters, gangs and bullying, while preserving a welcoming, nurturing campus community. From stronger but less intrusive safety measures and “shut-down” protocols to juggling varying degrees of clearance in a complex environment, schools and airports share many of the same challenges and goals in public security. Corgan’s education studio is partnering with the designers of the nation’s busiest airports to study these spaces as living laboratories in public safety and adapt the latest technologies in passive security measures.

Because threats can come from anyone or anywhere, both schools and airports must equally and fairly manage a large throughput of users at several secure entry points while alleviating fear and stress for students and travelers alike. Complex environments such as airports present the added challenge of choreographing the security of a large volume of diverse users, as well as a variety of functions, including curbside, baggage, ticketing and airside operations. Likewise, at a large urban school, up to 3,000 students pour onto the campus within a short window via multiple entry points and several travel modalities — by foot, bus, car, bike or, soon, self-driving cars. Not unlike the passenger mix at most airports, the typical campus community welcomes a diverse mix of parents, teachers, community visitors and students varying in age, abilities and development — all expecting a safe, secure campus that doesn’t feel like a prison.

As schools look to evolve alongside the changing landscape of security, layered, ongoing and expanded measures have required an evolution in how to think of and define passive security. Schools must detect and deter threats earlier and at multiple times and points of the student’s day to maintain clearance from a growing number of safety concerns. However, the added layers of monitoring, scanning and tracking also requires that these measures are all but invisible. Airports, confronted with the same challenge, have expanded the definition of passive security to include the growing trend of ambient technologies and practices embedded into the environment that, virtually undetectable, reduce interference in how humans interact with their environment. Drawing inspiration from the future of passive security in airports, schools have a powerful opportunity to adapt these tools for the safety of today’s campus.

The Approach

Security and threat detection should begin as early as possible. Securing the campus’ approach mirrors aviation safety designations between “airside” and “curbside” clearance. Through a combination of safeguards, the campus is secured to maintain similar clearance and potential threats are diverted before they enter the campus.

In addition to scanners built into bollards and awnings along the approach and campus perimeter, new technologies are making it possible for school administration to better allocate their resources and detect threats. Environmental sensors from airports that measure vehicle and pedestrian activity can be used at the parking lot and in lighting not only to add surveillance but also collect data and better allocate resources.

Systems are also currently available that scan and detect possible threats within a transport vehicle. In aviation, passengers can have their luggage scanned and their identification verified as they make their way to the airport — “clearing” the traveler before they ever reach the airport. Similarly, fully automated school transportation systems are being tested to reinvent the nearly 100-year-old busing methods in use today. While this doesn’t address how everyone arrives on campus, “pre-screened” bus riders can proceed onto the campus without added visual interruption or time.

Environmental Monitoring

Once on the campus, multiple stages of detection and deterrence that follow the daily paths and rhythms of students seamlessly integrate into the environment for ongoing screening to maintain “campus-side” clearance.

At an airport in Dubai, entertaining environments serve as visual spectacles to alleviate travel anxieties while also creating a visual distraction from intandem screening measures. For instance, a tunnel can be transformed in a virtual aquarium or a space exploratorium and, using a system of cameras and biometric data, can complete screening for large groups in as a little as 10 seconds. As this technology becomes more developed, it is foreseeable that such technology could be introduced to a school vestibule or hallway, replacing the metal detector in scanning high volumes of traffic entering the building.

The advancement of technologies also makes it possible to manage large numbers of people with screening that is quick, inconspicuous and flexible. Radar and flooring systems, for example, can detect concealed weapons and effectively screen up to one person every five seconds through a single-entry point. They can be used for specific events and later be removed for use in another location.

Once inside the building, real-time monitoring systems can provide data for the campus population through existing cameras — helping identify where best to position staff, reduce bottlenecks and improve situational awareness.

Airports are also experimenting with automated baggage screening, including small imaging or scanning pods. One day, this could allow students to drop off a backpack at the door when they arrive to have it screened and waiting at their classroom or provide ongoing screening of lockers and other storage areas throughout the campus.

Biometrics

school security keypad

PHOTO © SOMPETCH KHANAKORNPRATIP

Technological solutions. In addition to scanners built into bollards and awnings along the approach and campus perimeter, new technologies are making it possible for school administration to better allocate their resources and detect threats. Face recognition software, for instance, can be used to register identities, grant clearance, provide an alert when recognized or located within the network or identify and track unauthorized visitors. Retina and fingerprint scanning complement this technology at specific clearance points, while laser molecular body scanners are in development to simultaneously scan multiple people to detect traces of explosives or drugs from further distances. Many schools that currently use electronic access card access system to monitor doors and provide notification of doors that might be propped open, will start to make the switch to fingerprint and retina scanning, which eliminates the need for cards that easily be lost or stolen.

Most campuses already employ some sort of badging and background screening of visitors. However, emerging biometric technology used in some airports provides a glimpse into the possibilities of a more accurate and less intrusive method of managing access, detecting threats and mitigating security issues. Face recognition software, for instance, can be used to register identities, grant clearance, provide an alert when recognized or located within the network or identify and track unauthorized visitors. Retina and fingerprint scanning complement this technology at specific clearance points, while laser molecular body scanners are in development to simultaneously scan multiple people to detect traces of explosives or drugs from further distances. Many schools that currently use electronic access card access system to monitor doors and provide notification of doors that might be propped open, will start to make the switch to fingerprint and retina scanning, which eliminates the need for cards that easily be lost or stolen.

Thermal scanning can also be integrated into video cameras to detect anomalies — identifying those with higher stress levels that may either be in danger or need additional monitoring.

The advent of robotics and drones augments the potential of these biometric technologies. The aviation sector, for example, is exploring various uses for drones modeled after a butterfly with facial recognition capabilities. Used in schools, these butterfly drones can track suspicious activity, locate active shooters, communicate locations and remotely monitor threats. Providing an extra set of eyes throughout the campus, they can quickly respond to security issues while providing ambient monitoring that is approachable, interactive and appropriate for the school campus.

National tragedies, the introduction of cyberbullying and a growing list of sexual harassment cases have kept school safety in the spotlight for decades. Similarly, terrorism and drug activity among several other threats to public safety keep airports in the headlines and at the forefront of security. While these technologies do not promise to remove every threat everywhere, nor do they remove the need for more active, visible interventions, they present a number of possibilities for districts to appropriately and thoughtfully consider as they explore the future of school safety — where the need for stronger security measures is met and balanced with the need to preserve our human experience in the way we perceive and respond to the world around us.