Wren schools survey makes interesting access discoveries

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

ATLANTA--This summer, IP-video manufacturer Wren Solutions teamed with the National Association of School Resource Officers and the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers to survey schools across the country about something Wren isn't known for talking much about: access control. The survey's findings, released this week, indicate a large opportunity exists for helping schools secure their facilities and the critical assets that exist within those facilities.
First and foremost, the survey of 316 K-12 schools found that only 36 percent have electronic access control systems at all, on any door. And of those using access control systems, the vast majority, 93 percent, are using those systems on the front doors, with only a small minority using electronic access to control areas like the administrative offices (28 percent) or the server room/computer lab (13 percent).
Andrew Wren, president of Wren Solutions, said he was a little surprised by those findings. "With some of the sensitivity of student files and the protection of identification being so important nowadays, I thought there would be more use of access control on hard-copy student files, along with the IT infrastructure," he said. "Part of it speaks to the fact that there's a need for a comprehensive overview of schools' security operations and they may not have some of the reference points that exist in the industry."
Eighty-five percent of respondents were either school resource officers, who are usually police officers lent to a school by the local police force, or chiefs of police tasked with protecting schools in their towns or cities. As such, most people in charge of protecting schools come from law-enforcement backgrounds, and not necessarily technology backgrounds.
"A lot of police training is response-oriented," Wren noted. "We want to layer something on the front end, put things in place to minimize risk and make it so they don't have to react."
Wren recently hired Jeff Floreno, former global security and compliance director at Georgia Pacific, as its new director of security operations. He consults with end users like the SROs at schools and helps them to better understand the possibilities that exist in the marketplace. While Wren may not sell access control, the company wants to make sure schools (and other end users) get as much value as possible out of their IP video systems.
"One of the things we take away from conversations at the district level," Wren said, "is that when they hear a broader view of the world, there are things that have frankly never dawned on them."
Wren Solutions is also teaming with the National Association of School Resource Officers to create a scholarship program that will allow more SROs to get technology training.
Unsurprisingly, the most common impediment to widespread use of electronic access control is a lack of money, with 72 percent of respondents saying a lack of funding was the main reason they did not employ electronic access control. So how would they get that funding if they were looking to add access control in the future? Sixty-nine percent said they would rely on a federal or state grant, combined with 53 percent who said they'd look to use the appropriated school budget. A small percentage proposed using fundraisers or bond issuance to add security.
This jibes with the experience Cliff Cohen has had in the market. As manager of access and CCTV at Armstrong Locks and Security Products, in Orlando, Fla., he said he's had the most success in schools selling access control on a door-by-door basis.
"We sell them the cards and one of those IEI free-standing locks on the exit devices," he said. "Then, anytime they want to add a door, we put on another one and the cards still work. They like that. Every six or eight months, they say, 'Come do another door.'"
But what of the security-as-a-service model? Would a nothing-down, monthly-fee system make sense for budget-strapped schools?
Wren said he discussed that with a number of districts, but it's not as much of a no-brainer as you'd think. "We're kind of keen on that security-as-a-service model," he said, but, "when there are situations when funding is coming from a dedicated source like a grant, it's not applicable for the monthly model." Generally, granted money must be put to a specific use, a prescribed by the grant application, and people rarely think ahead of time to write grants for a pool of money that would be doled out over the next 20 years. "But [schools] do lease a lot of stuff," Wren noted, "and I think it will move that way."
There are other funding models out there, as well. For example, command-and-control software manufacturer MDI's Learn Safe program, which seeks alternative funding sources in the school's community, whether through grants or even using MDI's professional employer organization services.
Regardless of how it's paid for, however, the Wren survey shows there are very real needs and concerns in the K-12 school community.
As many as 30 percent of schools with populations over 2,000 are not confident that personnel and student files are protected against theft, 28 percent of those schools are not confident they could conduct an adequate lockdown. Thirty-five percent of schools with fewer than 500 students admit they don't even have the capability to conduct a lockdown. Only 17 percent of those large schools are "extremely confident" that they've adequately even identified the most common security problems at their schools.
Wren said this speaks to the fact that schools are in need of a deeper understanding of what their priorities are, and this is where integrators can step in and be a partner. "Schools have had experiences where something happened and they just went with technology adoption for the sake of adopting something," Wren said. "They read an article and then implement something that's maybe not a great fit." His advice for integrators: "Understand what your customer's risks are and figure out what technology or solution fixes the problem."