Should You Install Metal Detectors In Your School?
No security measure can offer complete certainty that students, teachers and staff will always be safe. However, given the rise in active shooter incidents, many people have advocated for the deployment of metal detectors at schools. While this is certainly a viable option, the choice to use metal detectors has always been a controversial decision.
Most schools in the United States do not use metal detectors on a day-to-day basis, but their implementation is increasing according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
If you are considering whether or not this is the right choice for your school or district, here are a few of the positive and negative aspects of placing metal detectors in schools.
1. A metal detector cannot be fully effective if there are multiple entrances to the facility
If the school has even a single point of entry that is not protected by a metal detector, the entire school is compromised. Someone approaching the facility with the intent to cause harm will look for the easiest way to get in; they are probably also already familiar with the premises and know if there is a door somewhere that is unprotected and usually unlocked.
In urban environments, many school facilities consist of a single building with multiple floors and one or two main entrances/exits. This makes it much easier to lock down the school, including all emergency exits, and could also make it a good candidate for metal detectors.
However, most educational campuses are open, with more than one or two points of entry, and people can freely walk into them from different locations. Additionally, most schools have a large perimeter, and most perimeters do not have a fence completely surrounding them. This makes it impractical to use metal detectors to keep weapons out of the school.
2. Throughput can be an issue when you are restricting entry
By limiting the number of entry/exit points at your school, you are compelling all students, staff and visitors to go through those one or two doors. There will certainly be times when this creates a challenge. For example, in the morning when students are arriving, a crowd is likely to form at that entrance. As the time ticks closer to the start of the school day, those students cutting it close in terms of being on time may become anxious about getting through. Best practices require a space of three seconds between individuals passing through a metal detector.
3. There are initial and ongoing costs associated with metal detectors
Metal detectors are not a standalone technology solution. Each one must be staffed by several trained security personnel to assure proper operation, check bags and conduct secondary screening if necessary. Each one of these individuals must have ongoing training to ensure they know the most recent safety protocols. Additionally, you must decide whether you’ll staff the metal detectors for the full day (including after-school programs) or only during peak entry times. If you leave them unstaffed for the balance of the day to save costs, your school will be vulnerable during those times.
Equipment upkeep and maintenance of the metal detectors must also be considered, as well as eventual replacement, especially if they are located in an outdoor environment where they are exposed to the elements.
4. The public has a mixed perception of metal detectors
The presence of metal detectors in a school sends a number of different messages to the parents, students and staff. While it can help create peace of mind by visibly demonstrating that everyone in the building has been screened, it can also raise stress levels by providing a daily reminder that knives, firearms and other weapons are an ever-present threat.
For example, schools in New York have been criticized for their use of metal detectors. In 2015, parent groups in New York claimed that the devices were discriminatory since most of the installs were in the schools with higher numbers of minority students. In 2016, members of the Los Angeles school district criticized a district policy to conduct random metal detector searches of students at all secondary schools. Students have reported mixed feelings. Some feel that the use of metal detectors is demeaning while others report that they feel safer with them in place.
While none of this is conclusive, district and school personnel should be aware of the sharply divided opinions on the subject in order to be prepared going into a discussion about school safety solutions.
The decision about whether or not to install metal detectors at your school or campus is not easy, and can be polarizing. However, by taking these points into consideration you can be sure to have the most important issues on the table – helping you to make the best choice for your facility.
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Robin Baker oversees the design and development of SilverShield, a cloud-based Visitor & Emergency Management System, and was also instrumental in ARMS, an anti-piracy security application for the safety of ships and crews at sea. In addition, Robin was also the founder of Learning Today, now known as iReady. Robin works with Schools, as well as Security and Software Development Teams internationally to improve the safety and security of schools today. American Heritage School of Plantation and Boca/Delray has adopted SilverShield and can speak about its effectiveness on their campus as well.
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