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One of the great frustrations we at SERAPH have had in our work with securing school environments over the past 20 years is the obsession many school board members and school administrators have with security equipment such as cameras.

In this article we will set the record straight about security equipment; when is it useful and when it increases security problems?

After the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999 the school spent an obscene amount of money on security equipment for the high school. Six months later a student walked through these systems with a loaded handgun. The school administrators didn’t understand school safety before April 20th and they had learned little after it. Human beings must manage other human beings!

Myth 1: Security cameras can provide a low cost monitoring system for each school in our district.

Wrong: Security cameras record an incident they cannot prevent it. Even if a school has a monitor in the front office [which is a good practice] or in the principal’s office [also a good practice], someone must see the problem and initiate a team of properly trained human beings to respond.

Security cameras do not have peripheral vision or cognitive function. They cannot see what the human eye can see and they cannot make a decision.

Myth 2: Cameras will prevent students from acting up. If they know they are being watched they will be more likely to behave.

Wrong: Please. Many years ago the practice of installing cameras on school buses was instituted in many school districts. To save money only one live [real] camera was actually working in one of the buses. Each day that real camera would be moved around to other buses [hopefully]. We have found that the students always know whether their bus has the live camera or not. This usually happens because they overhear untrained staff talking about it.

When human beings of all ages become aggressive, they usually loose focus and self control. Cameras cannot stop students from being aggressive.

A well managed school is a safe school!

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  • One of the difficulties of addressing human behavior problems in organizations is that the administrators of the organization are generally not trained to understand the role of relationship, communication, and monitoring–that you need people to relate, communicate with, and keep an eye on people–and intervening, especially in low-level transgressions, before they increase to high-level ones. Administrators have often been trained to think in terms of objectives that can be abstracted. So security, for example, can become a matter of a budget item or an equipment purchase rather than an ongoing process. That partly reflects a lack of understanding in our culture about the role of human relations at work, and partly reflects the fact that it is easier to teach administrators in training to think about objectives in abstract terms than it is to teach them to understand relational processes through experiential learning.