Technology Plus Best Practices

A winning combination for school security

09/03/2009  |  DENNIS K. LEWIS

When combined with generally accepted best practices and strategies to maximize value, technology can be very effective in enhancing school safety and security. In particular, three different types of technology illustrate this maxim.    

First, video surveillance systems are probably the most common security technology employed by schools and are often used to monitor entry points, hallways, and parking lots. Second, some schools have implemented computerized visitor check-in and background checks due to a growing concern with non-custodial parents, as well as sexual offenders. And lastly, many Emergency Response Plans are housed on secure servers for access by school staff and emergency service providers.  

What are the best practices and implementation strategies that can enhance the aforementioned technology and create added value?  

Electronic Visitor Screening

A number of schools utilize software to screen visitors to the school. Guests are automatically registered and identification badges are printed. Many of the systems check criminal history and known sex offender files, alerting school officials when a potential problem is detected. Badges are printed using information obtained from personal identification provided by the guest.

However, selected best practices should be utilized to further enhance this technology.

a As a part of the written visitor screening procedure, office staff should engage the visitor in a conversation to obtain, mood, demeanor, and the purpose for the visit.  Visitor screening software can not ascertain these critical elements.

a Staff should visually inspect picture identification to match it with the presenter. This procedure provides an added level of assurance as to the visitor’s identify

a Visitor badges should be inventoried or accounted for daily, and a checkout procedure for visitors should be part of any screening system.  

a Lastly, staff should not automatically assume that a “clean screen” by any visitor screening software means the guest is still not capable of engaging in something criminal or inappropriate. All staff should be well versed in the screening and check-in procedure, including their personal responsibilities for monitoring visitors and questioning those not displaying proper badges.

Surveillance Cameras

It is important to recognize one can not purchase enough cameras to monitor everybody and every location on a school campus. Some places will have an expectation of privacy that excludes direct monitoring. In most schools, no one will be assigned to monitor the cameras during the normal school day.

What are some strategies school personnel should use in the placement and use of cameras?

a Prior to installation of a surveillance system, carefully review discipline statistics, school crime reports, and solicit information from staff for problem area locations. Identify areas where supervision is difficult or non-existent for camera utilization.

a To maximize coverage, avoid placing cameras covering entry points directly over or adjacent to exterior doorways unless logistically required. Place cameras in hallways or in a position to extend viewing.  As individuals enter and walk toward the camera, they will remain visible longer, giving personnel a better chance for identification and determination of destination. 

a Locate a monitor in the main entryway to the school and in the reception area of the administrative offices, so visitors and others are reminded that a surveillance system is in use. This can be a deterrent for criminal or inappropriate behavior. Display camera images showing the inside and outside of the main entry. This provides an opportunity for office staff to see who is coming into the school/office.

a Train key school staff in the operation of the camera system specific to monitoring and playback. In some emergency events, it will be necessary to assign someone to monitor or operate the surveillance equipment. Instructions for reviewing recorded digital images should be included in the reference section of the Emergency Response Plan.

Electronic Emergency Response Plans

Many schools house Emergency Response Plans on secure servers. While this technology has value, some basic best practices can supplement the strategy.

a Train all staff in the use of the plan through tabletop exercises. Not only is this method of training recommended by the U.S. Department of Education, it is a best practice for helping all staff be first responders in an emergency.

a Provide all staff with a paper copy of the plan. Typically, for non-emergency response team members, this is done through the staff handbook.  For many staff, this will be the quickest way to access information.

a In addition to maintaining the plan on a secure server, emergency response teams and others with a need should have the plan stored on portable handheld electronic devices.

Historically, when we have relied heavily on technology and failed to incorporate best practices along with common sense, the outcomes have not always been what we expected. Blending both will enhance a safe learning environment for both students and staff.

Dennis K. Lewis is the co-founder of EDU-SAFE, an advisory and training organization established to assist school administrators and others with the task of providing safe schools. For more information visit
Comments & Ratings