School security market data versus independent research data: Strategic school safety leaders need to know the difference

Posted by on July 1, 2024

School board member: We have limited resources. We need to spend wisely while also letting parents know we are doing something.

Superintendent: It’s hard to cut through the noise.

Principal: I don’t know who to believe or who to trust – and I don’t need more headaches that make leading our school more difficult.

I increasingly hear comments like these from school leaders who are bombarded with marketing spin from school security hardware, product and technology vendors.

But the “spin” is not the slogan, tag line or jingle of sales pitches of yesteryear. Today the spin often comes in the form of “white papers” or special reports with “research” and “data” that look authentically independent.

Very often, however, it is far from being truly independent research and data.

What is the difference between marketing data and independent research data?

Simply put, marketing data typically originates from the vendors themselves or third-party companies hired by the vendors to produce “research” and/or data on their products.

It’s their “research” claiming their products or tech is effective that is pushed at school administrators who are often well-intended but gullible consumers. And it is often not independently vetted or verified.

An accurate description of this challenge came in a February 21, 2024, article by The Dallas Morning News titled: 5 things to know about the growing active shooter defense industry in Texas; Some experts question the booming industry and whether any of these strategies are effective at stopping gun violence:

Odis Johnson, executive director of Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, said no evidence-based research shows that companies marketed to lower the risk of an active shooter situation actually do.

Most research on school safety tools is self-reported, letting companies focus on the variety of offerings, rather than effectiveness, according to a 2016 report on school safety technology by researchers at Johns Hopkins.

“Market research is there to attract and secure clients,” Johnson said. “We would not really know about the cases where their work really failed.”

The market research Dr. Johnson refers to comes from the security hardware, product and tech vendors themselves.

Independent research data, however, is done by parties having no financial interests directly in the products, services or technology being evaluated and implemented. Often this comes from academicians. They frequently look at things such as the impact of certain strategies on students, educators, school climate, and culture.

The International Association of Professional Security Consultants recently released a new evidence-based research paper titled, “The Effectiveness of School Security Measures on School Shooting Incidents.” The report is one example of an independent paper (not vendor-affiliated) that focuses on highlighting research findings and gaps.

Another exceptional resource is the independent research and reporting done by IPVM, the leading independent authority on physical security technology. This organization, often described as the “Consumer Reports” of the security industry, is not financially beholden to the companies whose products or services they investigate and test.

Keep schools safe by being critical thinkers and informed school leaders and legislators

School leaders need to exercise due diligence in consuming school security information in the same way they are with academic studies on educational strategies. You wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on questionable curriculum because a vendor gave you a link to their website filled with stats from their sales department. Legislators targeted by vendors or their lobbyists also need to do their homework and follow professional, evidence-based data – not lobbyists’ vendor data (or their money).

Be informed consumers. Scrutinize the “research” or “data” sources and methodology. And know that the academic, independent literature on the effectiveness of many school security hardware, products and tech is – at best – a mixed bag in terms of effectiveness.

As Dr. Johnson from Johns Hopkins said, “Market research is there to attract and secure clients…We would not really know about the cases where their work really failed.”

Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services  

National School Safety and Security Services

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