School Security Versus the CSI Effect & TSA Effect

Posted by on September 2, 2010

Surveillance cameras and metal detectors are used to varying extents in a number of our nation’s school districts.  Cameras are in place in many urban, suburban, and rural districts.  Metal detectors tend to be used regularly in a smaller number of districts, often larger districts with a chronic history of weapons incidents.

Parents, the media, and some in the community often have unrealistic expectations of security when cameras or metal detectors are in place. Many mistakenly believe anything occurring within or outside of the school at any point in time will be clearly captured if a school uses cameras, regardless of how many cameras or how large the school.  If a school regularly uses metal detectors, some often believe a school will be weapons-free.

These unrealistic expectations can be attributed, in part, to modern television and movies.  The CSI Effect, as some of us in security call it, refers to the false belief that cameras in a school will capture anything and everything at any point in time as shown in some TV dramas and movies.  Even if a school has invested a large sum of money and has a well-designed camera system, every single inch of the building and grounds will not likely be covered on a 24/7 basis.

Likewise the TSA Effect (Transportation Security Administration airport weapons screening operation), as I call it, leaves some parents and media falsely believing that because a school (or other facility) uses metal detectors, there is a “guarantee” that no weapons will ever be in the school.  First and foremost, most school security operations using metal detectors do not have the number of staff or the training for weapons screening comparable to a large TSA airport.  And the reality is that, like TSA and airports, even if they did there is a still a chance that weapons can and will get into the facility, not to mention that items already in the school can be used as weapons even if not designed for that purpose.

So our advice is simple:  Educators should not create unrealistic expectations for students, parents, staff, and the community when they are using school security technology.  Cameras are a deterrent to those who are deterrable and MAY serve as evidence for those who cannot be deterred.  Metal detectors may serve as a deterrent and will likely detect weapons in some cases, but there is no 100% guarantee of success and there is no 100% guarantee that something else already in the school will not be used as a weapon.

The largest amount of security technology, and the best quality of technology, will stil not give the 100% guarantee of security that some parents, media, and others expect when these measures are in place. 

Setting realistic expectations when security technology is used in a school is important.  The first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly-alert staff and student body. Any security technology is only as good as the weakest human link behind it. And even the best of security technology will still not create a guarantee of 100% safety.

Ken Trump

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