The Missing Piece Schools Need to Improve Safety: Interoperability



School safety is one of the most challenging yet most important education related topics being talked about today. Even those who aren’t in education can simply turn on the news to see the conversation happening at a national level. Yet, in the 2019 State of School Safety Report, when given the statement “My school has a false sense of security,” 51 percent of students and 44 percent of educators agreed. This result tells us that although safety is being talked about, there is a disconnect between the importance of the subject and actual follow through when it comes to our safety plans, which I believe is especially true regarding schools’ utilization of safety technology.


One major contributing factor to this disconnect is the history of school safety. Over the years, schools inherit safety and security technology from leaders before them. Oftentimes, it is a huge undertaking just to, maintain, fund, and train staff on these platforms, let alone be proactive and keep up with emerging solutions. This is why when you walk into just about any school you’ll find that the majority share a similar problem- siloed systems implemented on a project to project basis. Schools may upgrade cameras or their access control systems, but most don’t have the ability to comprehensively and proactively assess risk and address an issue when it arises. Not only does this result in communication breakdowns which can be an even bigger problem, but also contributes to a false sense of security. Simply having these technologies in schools doesn’t mean they are being properly utilized or improving school safety, yet many people don’t realize this.


Fortunately, there is a way to take these siloed technology systems and actually make them an effective part of your school safety plan with interoperability. In the context of school safety, interoperability refers to the ability for technology systems implemented inside a school, to communicate and exchange information with one another and make use of it. Like a clock, a school safety plan only functions if all of its individual parts work together–  A single gear doesn’t make a clock keep time, and a single technology system doesn’t make a school safe. For instance, rather than your security cameras, door monitors, and fire alarms all operating separately, with interoperability you are able to tie them together into one platform. Once this is done, they can function just like the gears of a clock—when one part moves, so do the others. All of the parts being connected and moving together is what produces a functional clock, as well as a functional safety plan. 


To further conceptualize this, think of what occurs when a fire alarm is pulled inside of a school. When the alarm goes off, because of the noise individuals know that there is a fire somewhere in the building and that everyone must evacuate. However, when all the different technology systems within a school are working together and not separately, once a fire alarm is pulled, they can be leveraged to provide important, potentially life-saving detailed real-time information on the current situation. For example, the fire panel in the school can be triggered to tell staff specifically which fire alarm was pulled, the cameras can be automatically programmed to send live video feed from the area the fire alarm was pulled, to first-responders and/or assigned personnel, and detailed alerts can be sent out directly to staff. Now, rather than simply knowing everyone must evacuate, there is valuable information made immediately available on why the alarm was pulled, who pulled it, where staff and students should and should not go, etc. Knowing everyone should leave the building isn’t enough, especially when so much more information is available. 


Another common situation schools are faced with every day is who they allow into their building. A decision as simple as whether or not to let someone in can be life changing. While each school has their own process, one of the first questions asked about a safety plan should be, “How do people get in?” Are the doors open and then people can simply enter the building to check in and the front desk? Are they buzzed in? Even with the doors locked and an intercom, how do you know the person is who they say they are? Interoperability allows for your existing technology to give you ALL the information. Your camera can be activated when someone buzzes the doorbell and live video feed can be sent to a specified staff member so they can physically see if the person is who they say they are. If they determine the person is allowed to enter they can buzz them in from wherever they are in the building. This allows the staff member to leave the front door and decide who can have access to the building without being in view of them. Not only is this more convenient, but it’s also safer.


These are only two examples, but there are numerous applications that occur on a daily basis within schools, proving a need for communication within our technology. There is no one solution to school safety, rather it’s achieved through maintaining a series of ongoing actions and strategies, however this isn’t possible if people aren’t empowered with the necessary information. That’s why interoperability is integral to an effective school safety plan—It allows for there to be a constant flow of information that allows people to make informed decisions on how to keep themselves and others safe. 


So despite there being an increase of discussions regarding school safety, unfortunately, interoperability is rarely a part of the conversation, although it’s integral for technology systems to effectively contribute to the overall school safety plan. But now is the time to do more than talk, and instead ask ourselves what we can actually do to improve school safety and then take the proper actions to follow through with it. So ask yourself how your technology is currently working in your schools. If it’s still operating in silos there is more you can do to keep your staff, students, and building safe.