SIA tells Obama safer schools possible without policy shift

 - 
Monday, February 25, 2013

WASHINGTON—With the debate raging on in Congress about school security after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., the Security Industry Association recently sent a letter to President Obama to let him know that steps can be taken now to make schools safer without major changes in policy.

In a letter authored by SIA Chairman Jay Hauhn, the group promotes a "holistic approach" to school safety that includes funding for school security assessments; investments in technology such as digital video cameras and access control systems; and emergency preparedness training for education and law enforcement personnel.

Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for SIA, said these steps can be taken at the state and local levels, avoiding the rancor in Congress about Second Amendment rights.

"We understand that there is a gun component to this discussion and there's a mental health component," Dunn told Security Systems News. "But don't lose track of the fact that a 'shovel-ready' partial solution is to have a security system that can report to the first responders quicker to either deter or prevent a future event."

Dunn said the premise goes back to home protection: A security company's sign in the front yard is likely to make an intruder think twice about his potential target.

"If you're a criminal and you've got a choice of houses to go to, you're probably not going to go to the house with the ADT sign and you're not going to go to the house with the dog," he said. "You're going to go to the house that's a soft target. And schools, as we know, for a long time have been soft targets. They clearly need to be hardened."

Obama signed 23 executive orders in January related to gun violence and school safety. Among them were provisions to provide incentives for schools to develop emergency preparedness plans and training to handle "active shooter" scenarios on campuses.

"The policy pieces are going to take a long time to work out, but we were happy to see that the president included in his executive orders the allowable use of funding for school security upgrades," Dunn said. "It's going to be distributed to the states and they're going to be able to move forward."

Dunn said SIA members have expressed interest in offering free security assessments to school districts and state organizations. SIA is also putting together a committee of experts to share their technical expertise with the Obama administration and Congress as they work on new school security initiatives.

"The industry can help with this situation," Dunn said. "It's clearly not the definitive answer—to have a robust security system—and there are a lot of other issues that need to be addressed. But as far as making it better than it is now, quickly and inexpensively, we're ready."

SIA representatives were scheduled to meet with Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, this month to discuss school safety initiatives. Dunn said SIA was also lining up a meeting with Department of Education leadership to let them know that the industry stands ready to offer its expertise.

"They may simply not know what is out there and what we can contribute," he said.