School leaders turning to physical security measures such as metal detectors, AI weapons detection systems, panic buttons or badges, and other trendy measures should exercise caution not to overpromise school security to parents, teachers, and students.
Superintendents and principals should avoid parroting vendor marketing claims and overpromising security
Some security hardware, product, and tech vendors make bold and sometimes questionable marketing claims. For example,
- An AI weapons detection company CEO was quoted as telling investors that, “people can gather together and know that nobody has a weapon.”
- A panic button company trainer told school employees that, “The power of the badge is to wear it. If you wear it, you are protected.”
Yet in recent weeks, we have seen a student get a loaded gun in a high school with weapons detectors. Another student slashed two students with a box cutter in a high school with a weapons detection system. And at yet another high school went into lockdown, alarming students and parents, after a false alarm from an AI weapons detection camera system.
Human factors often come into play and we do not yet know whether incidents we have seen occurred because weapons got in a school with students going through the detectors or if the detectors were completely avoided by those with the weapons. But we anticipate more incidents like these will occur as more school boards and superintendents buy security hardware, products, and technology in response to parent school safety pressures to show them visible and tangible “shiny objects” in the form of new physical security measures.
Vendors may make broad claims about their products and services. But school leaders should exercise caution not to overpromise on school security. Parroting vendor sales messages or talking points that the vendor provides to school administrators can later land superintendents, principals, and school boards in hot water with their constituents.
Assess and then react, don’t react and then assess
School leaders need to assess and then react, not react and then assess, when evaluating school security and emergency preparedness options.
As I recently was quoted in an American School Board Journal on AI and School Safety:
“Does it make sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, or potentially millions, for a novel high-tech product out of fear of an active school shooter—which most schools will never experience—and sustain those costs for all years moving forward?” Trump asks. “Or are you going to take a tactical pause in your thinking and have a comprehensive assessment of security threats, risks, and vulnerabilities, then spend limited resources on addressing issues more likely to impact day-to-day school safety?”
Being a leader sometimes involves exercising restraint and avoiding the temptation of possibility spending large sums of tax dollars only to create security theater.
Be transparent and authentic school safety communicators
Superintendents and principals need to have transparent and authentic communications about school safety and security measures. School leaders should be forthcoming about the limitations and gaps when they present new school security measures to parents.
School safety, and school leader credibility with parents, is on the line.
Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services
National School Safety and Security Services
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