When school security consultants have hidden product vendor affiliations

Posted by on October 14, 2013

A public school district in one southeastern state spent more than $2.3 million in security equipment and upgrades at the recommendation of an outside security consulting firm. A school district in the Midwest received a school security consultants’ proposal that included a unique line about assessing door hardware as a part of the consultation process. In media interviews and public presentations, a consultant makes subtle and repeated comments supporting the installation of panic buttons in schools, a topic of much less frequent reference by many other school security consultants.

If your school district’s security consultant recommended millions of dollars in surveillance cameras, panic buttons and/or door hardware, wouldn’t you be disappointed to learn after his report was submitted that the consultant has hidden affiliations with vendors selling such products?

School boards and superintendents across the nation are hiring outside consultants to conduct security assessments of their schools, particularly after high-profile school shootings like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are a number of qualified, credential, and experienced preK-12 school security consultants who perform such services. Unfortunately, there are many more consultants offering such services that lack security experience in preK-12 school settings, are “overnight experts,” and/or have security equipment vendor affiliations.

Security equipment vendors regularly contact me to review, evaluate, comment on and/or endorse their products. Their inquiries increase dramatically after high-profile school shootings as vendors ramp up their efforts to market their products to schools. I firmly and consistently decline, even to the point of using a templated email response, as we are not product-affiliated and have a firm policy regarding this matter. Our client school districts appreciate this fierce independence.

Some school security consultants may have different standards and practices. Some consultants with product affiliations can be readily found online, such as one school security consultant who openly works for a Utah-based panic alert product provider to promote their product and his associate school security consultant who promoted the product vendor’s equipment on a cable TV show. The product vendor also openly lists on its web site other school security and education professionals who endorse their product, as well.

But other consultants keep their affiliations with product vendors more veiled. We have seen security consultants claim in one setting that they are independent and not-product-affiliated yet they are heavily promoted by, and many of their workshop presentations around the nation are funded by, security equipment vendors. Some security consultants work directly for product vendors who will provide “free” assessments which, not surprising, typically end up recommending thousands and thousands of dollars in equipment that their company sells.

And some security consultants simply talk out of both sides of their mouths depending upon their audience. I just finished listening to a recorded session of one school security consultant tell a parent at a community meeting that security assessment checklists just do not work. The same consultant’s company has produced checklist templates for security assessments licensed/for sale to education agencies.

The preK-12 school security consulting field in general is unregulated. School boards and superintendents must follow a “buyer beware” model in which it is incumbent upon school leaders to use due diligence in researching potential preK-12 school security consultants for product affiliation. From Goggle searches with the consultants’ name and keywords (such as surveillance cameras, door hardware, panic buttons, specific company names, etc.) to more aggressive backgrounding, school leaders must take charge to determine if the school security consultants they are considering hiring truly are independent of security equipment providers.

If they don’t do their homework on the front-end, school leaders may find out too late when they’re stuck with a report recommending thousands of dollars in equipment that they really may not need and expenditures that could be better spent on other safety measures.

Ken Trump

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