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The Need for Low-Tech School Security Solutions in a High-Tech Market

by Daniela Doyle

I received the robo call while I was working one morning in April. Out of an “abundance of caution,” my children’s elementary school was on lock down. Rationally, I knew the call was probably a false alarm, but with no other details and not quite a year passed since Uvalde, my heart went to my throat and my husband rushed out the door.


We all want our schools to be safe, and there’s no shortage of vendors hawking the newest technology as a solution. There’s bulletproof window film, emergency push buttons, AI gun detection systems, and even robotic dogs that patrol school hallways. The U.S. educational security marketplace exceeded $3 billion (with a B) in 2021, and is only projected to grow.

Yet, when I attended the School Safety Advocacy Council’s National School Safety Conference in Las Vegas last month, the themes I heard from the main stage told a different story. Presenter after presenter – from law enforcement to academics – argued that the most impactful strategies are also some of the most low-tech (and often least expensive):

  • Caring adults in school buildings who can form meaningful relationships with students and identify and support those who may hurt themselves or others

  • Detailed, thoughtful response plans that make clear who will do what and go where in an emergency

  • Thorough training on those plans focused on proficiency (rather than checking a box)

  • Collaborative teams that include members of the school district, police department, and other key community members responsible for executing emergency plans so leaders have experience working together before a crisis takes place

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for investments in technology or physical security in our schools. My takeaway from the conference, however, was that we can’t let the latest “thingamajig” (as one national expert on school security referred to the market) lull us into a false sense of security; we need to ask how effective any tool will be if we haven’t also laid a solid foundation on which to use it. After all, when a mechanical dog finds a suspicious bag on the school perimeter, we still rely on real people in our community to take the next step.

The other reality that struck me as I walked the conference’s vendor hall is that we live in a world of finite resources and there’s an opportunity cost to every decision – but the trade-offs are seldom clear. For example, would AI security cameras or metal detectors be the better investment? The cameras could capture someone brandishing a weapon, but not if the weapon is in a bookbag. Of course, if a student or staff member props a door open with a rock so they can run out for a moment, a perpetrator with a gun could bypass metal detectors and get into the building anyway. And that’s before any consideration of how these tools might make students feel. (Spoiler: the answer is not always safer.)


The second robo call announcing that things were “all clear” at my children’s school came less than an hour after the first one. I was relieved, and a bit embarrassed by the range of emotions that had just passed. Above all, however, that experience burst my bubble. It’s no longer enough for me to hear school leaders say that safety is their top priority; I want to know how they’re making that so. As an advisor to education leaders and as a parent, I want to know that the leaders keeping watch over our children have strong relationships, a solid emergency plan, and are prepared to implement that plan if the day comes.


Daniela Doyle is a Director at Thru, based in North Carolina, and is focused on PK-12 research and district-wide strategies, as well as non-profit operations and leadership. She can be reached at

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