Sometimes it seems like this recession will last forever. Month after month, consumers and businesses continue to hold their breath, “making do” with old resources and returning time and time again to find the coffers still empty. Schools feel the recession’s crunch perhaps more than other institutions. With budget decisions made far beyond their reach, school administrators have little control and much responsibility to stretch budgets, cut programs and allocate limited resources. 

Non-critical programming is the first to go. Dollars are focused on the classroom, as they should be. But much like trying to teach school without a building, a secure environment is an absolute prerequisite to successful teaching and learning in the classroom.

Without a secure environment, schools risk injury to students and staff, distractions to learning, and damage to property. To make things worse, the state of the economy is directly proportional to security risks: as the economy worsens, safety and security risks of people, property, and information escalate. All this to say: this is no time to let security lapse.

But in a rough spot, administrators do not have the dollars to dedicate to state-of-the-art security systems. In many cases, they are dismissing school resource officers (SRO) to cut payroll. So what’s an administrator to do?

Administrators must view the problem through a new lens. It’s not “all” versus “nothing,” or “state of the art” versus “status quo.” It is possible to advance security on a tight budget by leveraging existing equipment, taking strategic steps, and making sure every dollar spent is maximized.


Conduct an assessment to prioritize needs

Assessments help answer the question, “Where should I begin?” An assessment involves evaluating the school’s risks starting from the outside and moving in. Some third party assessments overseen by a security consultant can be expensive, but don’t be deterred. Armed with the right information, schools can conduct their own assessment. And while it may not be as thorough as one conducted by a security professional, it will uncover opportunities to improve security. Then, those scarce budget dollars can be spent mitigating high-risk areas and other critical security problems.

Starting with the surrounding community, is there infrastructure or activity that could present a risk to the school? Is there a transportation hub within walking distance that may bring unwanted foot traffic on campus? Or does a nearby manufacturing or chemical plant pose a risk? On campus, what traffic problems are most prevalent? Are there areas where signs or foliage blocks visibility, creating safety hazards for pedestrians or drivers? Are fences dilapidated, rusted or in poor repair?

Thinking through and documenting the issues help prioritize security and safety issues that need to be addressed. This effort of understanding the risks and prioritizing them makes it much easier to leverage limited dollars to accomplish the most.

Leverage existing systems

For schools with legacy video systems, upgrading these analog solutions to IP is a great way to enhance performance of the system and simultaneously primes it for a more cost-effective upgrade path to the latest technologies. An investment in encoders is about half the cost of replacing cameras with the newest IP cameras and lends the existing system all of the flexibility and performance of IP video. The result is much more frequent, efficient and effective use of video. Sorting, tagging and sharing video becomes much easier and means that it can be used much more proactively to keep an eye on things across campus rather than being used only after an unfortunate event has occurred. Suddenly, a tool that was rarely used is now used by individuals across the school, and can provide context for events. Who opened the door in the AM? When was it propped? Did anyone come through it while it was propped? Was there any disruptive behavior between classes? This type of upgrade path allows administrators to make a modest investment and, in turn, exponentially increase usage and value of existing video systems.  

Leverage in-house resources

When it comes to security systems, schools can quickly rack up expenses on maintenance and repairs with third party resources. While some of this is unavoidable, in-house resources can be trained to manage systems - particularly IP systems. With IP technology, IT professionals are accustomed to working with peripherals on the network. Training and certification programs are available and can impart crucial information about video and access control systems, allowing in-house staff to install, troubleshoot and service them at a fraction of the cost of bringing in outside consultants. Other benefits include reduced downtime of critical security systems and reduced installation time.

To backfill for the loss of an SRO, in-house resources can be trained and assigned some of the tasks fulfilled by an SRO. For example, teachers may be assigned to monitor the hallways during class changes, office staff may be trained to periodically review recorded video, and new security-reporting processes may be put in place. With everyone set up to contribute to helping make the school a safer place, the cost of both identifying and preventing problems is greatly reduced.

Although school administrators face tough budget decisions, they receive no leeway to provide a less safe environment for students and staff. No matter how financially strapped, administrators must still make safety and security a priority. By making the right investments, maximizing existing resources, and eliminating unnecessary expenses, administrators can minimize security costs without sacrificing a safe learning environment.