Spending on School Security Tops $3 Billion, With Focus on New Surveillance and Tech

Staff Writer
Image of surveillance screens from security cameras.

The U.S. educational security market is projected to grow by more than 8 percent annually after surpassing $3.1 billion last year, spending that comes as the country attempts to cope with aftermath of the most recent mass shooting on a school campus. 

Omdia, the market research firm that released the estimates, says that the bulk of the spending is focused on efforts by school systems and colleges to upgrade existing access control and surveillance systems to newer, more tech-focused models.

More than 90 percent of all schools in the U.S. have electronic notification systems for emergencies and nearly as many use video surveillance systems in some capacity, the analysis says.

“Almost every school in the U.S. now controls access into a building via an access control system,” Omdia Senior Research Analyst for Physical Security Bryan Montany wrote in the commentary.

Campus Software, Locks

Access control products, like electronic locks and corresponding software, represented more than $125 million in spending last year in the education sector, which Omdia defines as both higher education and K-12 facilities.

Spending on those tools and systems is projected to grow by 9 percent a year on average between 2021 and 2026.

The analysis was released amid yet another massacre at a school building. On May 24, a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 students and two teachers, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

A preliminary report based on an investigation by a Texas legislative committee faulted the law enforcement response in not acting more decisively. But it also pointed to school security problems that have dogged many facilities around the country.

The report, released last week, said teachers at Robb Elementary School struggled to lock doors in the aging building, and that communications for both educators and law enforcement were difficult because of spotty cellphone and Wi-Fi coverage.

Additionally, building lockdown alerts had become so common that some staff may not have realized there was an imminent threat when they were told to keep students in classrooms during the attack, the report said.

[School security funding is a] roller coaster. There’s no long-term consistency.Ken TrumpPresident, National School Safety and Security Services

Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, isn’t surprised by the projections by Omdia, but said forecasts of future spending on school security are not always born out over time.

After the school shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, he said districts made investments in ongoing programs and comprehensive best practices, but for the most part, those programs have not been well-sustained. Most spending in the market now is based on one-time grants and aimed at visible displays of security.

“It’s a roller coaster. There’s no long-term consistency,” Trump said. When the funding is spread across an entire state, he said, tens of millions of dollars in spending can amount to “peanuts.”

Trump said he cautions districts to review proposed security products rigorously, and to look carefully at the education, training, and experience of those involved.

“There are a lot of qualified people in the industry, but after a high-profile incident, we have an onslaught of overnight experts, charlatans, gadgets, and gurus that pop up that don’t align with best practices and aren’t sustainable in the long haul.”

District Priorities

Amanda Klinger, director of operations for The Educator’s School Safety Network, also said Omdia’s predictions for spending seem on point.

She’s seen it in her day-to-day work, as the number of security companies reaching out to the organization and asking to partner with them has risen significantly in the weeks since the Uvalde shooting.

Those requests have come despite the fact the network, a nonprofit that provides training and professional development for school districts, has been “pretty consistent in terms of our hesitancy and concern about some of the costs and the limited efficacy of some of these measures,” Klinger said. “Yet I cannot keep people who are developing these things from banging down our door.”

Whatever the tool is, it’s only as good as the hand that’s using it.Amanda KlingerDirector of Operations, The Educator's School Safety Network

Much of the nonprofit’s work is focused on helping districts take an “all hazards” to school safety and security, and preparing for issues like fights, medical incidents, and accidents, in addition to active shooters.

“It’s tough to keep beating that drum in the wake of these horrific tragedies that take up so much space in our mind. But after [Uvalde] we have had other school safety issues that have resulted in injury or death in our schools,” Klinger said. “They don’t make headlines in the same way, but they are still something that we need to be working to prevent and mitigate.”

When the organization is advising a school on creating a comprehensive safety program, Klinger said they caution districts to be strategic and think about one question first: “Is this scalable?”

In the wake of major incidents, Klinger said schools may be interested in specific products for doors or classrooms, without looking at the overall effectiveness or the cost to implement and maintain the products.

“We’re always getting people to think globally about what is the investment you’re talking about, and what is the scope of the utility of that investment?” she said.

Training to Match the Tech

The Educators’ School Safety Network also stresses that the most important part of implementing any software or hardware safety product is to ensure faculty and staff are trained well to use it, and that use is correct and consistent.

A security system that requires visitors be buzzed in is a standard safety measure, Klinger said, but if everyone who comes to the door is buzzed in without their identity being verified first, it’s not working as intended.

The same can be said about other measures, like locks, screening systems, and software programs, she said.

Klinger’s organization encourages schools to look for products that are designed with long-term implementation in mind, such as those that come with professional development training, as well as annual or semester-based reminders.

Any school security measure is only “as good as the hand that’s using it,” she said.

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