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Metal Detectors in Schools

Metal Detectors in Schools – Rumors, Claims and Myths

School metal detector options and capabilities are rapidly expanding as the economics of the market becomes more competitive and scalable. Yet metal detectors remain an uncommon staple in schools overall.

Each manufacturer offers systems that can vary widely in cost, supported by sometimes lofty but well-intended sales messages designed to set themselves apart that further confuse and even deter buyers, while decreasing the confidence and diluting the practicality of the solutions. 

Each offering has advantages and disadvantages, so we’d like to provide “practical advice from the practitioners” based on our experience in recent years selecting, procuring, installing, and operating these capabilities that may help facilitate the decisions to implement metal detectors (or not)... 

There are several factors to think through when considering implementing metal detectors:


Metal Detectors are not 100% effective.

Several factors can affect their performance, reliability, and practicality as a security countermeasure:

  1. Sensitivity Settings: Most systems allow users to adjust varying sensitivity levels for each location or situation. If the sensitivity is not actively managed and adjusted commensurate with the risk, the systems may miss critical items or generate confusing and distracting false positives triggered by benign objects. 
  2. Non-Metallic Objects: No cost-effective systems today can detect non-metal objects that could be considered weapons in combination with metal objects, especially in a single scan. 
  3. Concealment Methods: Students, staff members, or visitors who intend to bring prohibited items into a school can employ various methods to evade detection, especially in systems that are not correctly configured. For example, if a system is not set to or incapable of a complete vertical scan, items hidden in socks or shoes can go undetected. Additionally, to reduce the number of distracting false positives, some schools allow people to pass certain things, such as laptops, through the checkpoint, bypassing the scan.
  4. Human Error: The operator's skill and attentiveness can influence metal detectors' effectiveness. The operator may only notice potential threats if correctly trained and attentive.

Staffing and Training:

  1. Deploying metal detectors will require additional staff. In a school environment, metal detectors must be set up to scan for weapons and other prohibited items – Maximizing effectiveness and throughput without creating long lines, bottlenecks, and queues. This requires a phased approach for each scan that includes areas for scanning, a decision, a resolution (threat/no-threat), resolution overflow, and threat management. Depending on volume requirements, a set-up could involve single or multiple lanes, with each lane requiring a single individual for overflow and threat management and another person to monitor the scanning process for every two lanes. 
  2. Security staff will need initial and ongoing training to operate the systems effectively and stay proficient with the latest updates, security policies, procedures, controls, and regulations. 
  3. Routine maintenance and troubleshooting requirements of metal detector systems will require technology staff to ensure they are updated, connected, and functioning correctly. 

A small percentage of schools across the US routinely use metal detectors.

Earlier this year, referring to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, the Washington Post reported only approximately 3% of elementary schools and 12% of high schools across the United States have deployed metal detectors to screen all students daily or conduct random checks on entering students. Additionally, in many cases, there has been pushback in communities centering on the use of metal detectors offering little to no threat mitigation, while, according to the U.S. Department of Education, being more likely deployed in where more than 75% of the population are minorities and creating a prison-like feel, further adding to the controversy. 


They should not be used as a stand-alone solution.

Considering their current limitations, metal detectors should not be regarded as a stand-alone solution but can be a critical part of a more comprehensive security program and supporting infrastructure. 

When made part of a comprehensive security program built upon sound security fundamentals, including Protection-In-Depth and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles, with supporting policies, procedures, and controls, they can be an effective tool in helping to mitigate the threat of weapons in our schools. Additionally, when included as part of a school’s modern security infrastructure that provides for digital access control, high-resolution video, supporting video analytics, visual weapons recognition, and in-classroom emergency communications, their effectiveness as part of a more comprehensive solution can increase exponentially. 


Legal, Compliance, Ethics and Culture

Metal detectors in schools can be a contentious topic, and the effectiveness of their use as a security measure depends on several factors, including:

  1. Privacy: Using metal detectors can infringe on students' privacy rights. Students may feel uncomfortable or stigmatized when subjected to regular screenings.
  2. Legal: Local laws or codes may require schools and school districts to regularly test and maintain their security equipment, including metal detectors, to comply with safety standards.
  3. School Climate: There is an ongoing and persistent debate in the United States that metal detectors create an atmosphere of fear and distrust within the school community and a hostile school climate by making students feel like they are in a prison-like environment. 


Summary

Adequate security is about identifying risks and minimizing enabling variables, including introducing metal weapons and objects that can be used as weapons. Metal detectors are becoming increasingly sophisticated and more accurate.  When made part of a comprehensive security program and supporting technology infrastructure, they can be part of a practical set of countermeasures that can significantly increase a school’s security.


However, they have drawbacks and limitations, including technical, operational, staffing, regulatory, and cultural, that must be carefully considered in any school's selection, deployment, and use.  

Screenshot 2023-10-30 at 7.27.49 PM

 

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