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Are Schools Wasting Billions on Security Products?

Schools have been struggling with how to hinder, and handle, mass shootings since 1999, when two gunmen armed with semiautomatic weapons killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Co. Trying to avert similar attacks has become a mission for tens of thousands of school leaders in the United States, the New York Times reports. In 2021, schools and colleges in the United States spent an estimated $3.1 billion on security products and services, compared with $2.7 million in 2017, according to Omdia, a market-research company. Security trade groups have lobbied for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state funding for school safety measures. The gun legislation that Congress passed last week includes an additional $300 million to bolster school security. Some manufacturers sell gun-detection scanners and wireless panic buttons for school districts. Others offer high-resolution cameras and software that can identify students’ faces, track their locations and monitor their online activities — bringing into classrooms the kind of surveillance tools widely used by law enforcement.


But there is little hard evidence to suggest that safety technologies have prevented mass shootings, according to a 2016 report on school safety technology by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Cobb County was the first school district in Georgia to use AlertPoint, an emergency notification system developed by a local start-up. District officials said AlertPoint’s wearable panic badges would help school employees quickly call for a lockdown or summon help in an emergency. Then, in February 2021, the AlertPoint system sent false alarms districtwide, leading to lockdowns at all Cobb County schools. District officials initially said AlertPoint had malfunctioned. A few weeks later, they announced that hackers had deliberately set off the false alerts. Civil liberty experts warn that the spread of surveillance technologies like gun detectors may make some students feel less safe. They say the tools also do nothing to address what many consider to be the underlying causes of school shootings: the widespread availability of assault weapons and a national mental health crisis.