By: Hannah Singer ’23
In the wake of countless school shootings, hundreds of thousands of schools across the nation have taken to tightening up security measures. From investing in gun-detecting scanners, wireless panic buttons, software that monitors online activity and hiring armed security officers, schools strive to create a safer environment for their students.
But are these measures effective? And who are they benefiting?
Companies such as AlertPoint, ZeroEyes, Centegix, and Evolv Technology have promised educators and school leaders that their high-tech products are innovative, protective and necessary. But these companies—along with dozens of others—are lining their pockets while struggling to offer proof that they live up to their promises.
In 2021, the school security industry grew to roughly $3.1 billion, and that number continues to soar today, per the New York Times.
“Despite the growing adoption of security tools across the U.S., the number of mass shootings at schools has remained relatively constant throughout the past 30 years and reached an unprecedented high at secondary schools in the past five years,” the Guardian reported.
Johns Hopkins University, in conjunction with Washington University, conducted a federally funded 2016 study that concluded that there was “limited and conflicting evidence in the literature on the short- and long-term effectiveness on school safety technology.”
“The [school security] industry is rife with self-appointed experts and consultants who claim to know what safety measures are most effective, but given that so little government or academic research has been done on what insulates students from on-campus gun violence, it’s enormously difficult for schools to reach conclusions based in fact,” per the Post.
With messages like “You could be next,” these companies capitalize off educators’ fear. The messages all surround one main idea: “If schools across the country put more emphasis on securing their buildings, school leaders could prevent shootings or, at the very least, mitigate the bloodshed,” per the Atlantic.
“Such a climate is ‘ripe for exploitation,’” Kenneth Trump (no relation to the former president), the president of National School Safety and Security Services, told the Atlantic. “The result is that the security industry has dominated the policy response to school shootings, drowning out subtler conversations about issues ranging from mental health to gun control, in favor of a rush to adopt costly, and largely unproven, methods to harden schools.”
“At the end of the day, they’re looking for new revenue streams,” Trump said.
These companies’ revenue helps the federal government fund school safety measures as one shooting after the next makes the headlines. “For example, the federal government increased funding for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program…from $400 million to $1.1 billion,” per the Center for American Progress.
In another instance, “The Federal Emergency Management Agency also received $249 million in grant funding that schools can use to create safe rooms and implement warning systems,” the Center for American Progress reported.
If nothing else, these measures to ‘harden’ schools’ security makes students feel less safe on campus, especially in districts with a higher percentage of students of color, per the Times.
“I am hearing more and more that schools are starting to look like prisons, and that makes young people feel more like suspects than students,” said Odis Johnson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who co-authored the 2016 study.
To many, these methods to bolster school security overlook the underlying issues. “[The school security companies] do nothing to address what many consider to be the underlying causes of school shootings: the widespread availability of assault weapons and a national mental health crisis,” per the Times.
“While hardening will make security companies wealthy, it isn’t a panacea for the problem of schools shootings,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We only need to look at Robb elementary in Uvalde, a hardened school, where officers waited more than an hour to engage the shooter.”
“We cannot innovate our way out of this,” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, a nonprofit representing parents of children in schools. “The saddest part about this is that it is not whether we know how to solve the problem; it’s whether we have the courage to do what is right by our children.”