The War at Home: Military Security Technology Coming to a School Near You

By Jim Crockett, Editor-in-Chief June 23, 2006

Whether it’s a show like NFPA’s recent World Safety Conference in Orlando, the ISC shows or the American Society of Industrial Security’s annual exposition, attendees, more frequently, are seeing both fire protection and security hardware exhibited on the show floor. It’s also not uncommon to hear a lot of buzz about integration of the two. And certainly, there’s been a growing number of official educational sessions dedicated to discussing the advantages of integrated fire protection and security design.

But one player in this evolving marketplace is taking that philosophy to an entirely different level: military-grade. And at an unusual target: K-12 schools.

GE Security, formerly Edwards Systems Technology, is planning on introducing “itemizer”-style explosion-detection devices, presently used by the U.S. military in Iraq, as well as in some airports, into the nation’s schools.

“We’ve been doing a lot of market research in the K-12 education arena and in talking to a lot of principals and superintendents, the two big issues on their minds are drugs and explosives,” said GE’s Mike Browning.

Besides the obvious benefits the sensor devices offer for explosive detection, they can also be adapted to fight the war on drugs. Right now, Browning said, many schools use dogs to check lockers and other areas. But he said kids are smart, and in the case of drug-sniffing dogs, they can often figure out when a search is going to happen and simply remove any contraband. But drug searches using scanning technology can be performed on an almost daily basis—something you can’t do with dogs.

“The idea is not to arrest kids, but to create such a deterrent that kids will simply choose not to bring drugs to school,” Browning said.

Another area where the company sees room for security improvement is visitor management. “Take, for example, construction projects,” said Browning. “When a crew checks in it’s usually only the chief who logs in. But even if the school had some kind of a database of, say, known pedophiles, you still don’t know about the rest of the workers.”

Not to jump to the worst-case scenario, but Browning said the reality is that schools do tend to attract such predators, and there must be a better way to protect students. Requiring access cards for all visitors will allow anyone having any association with kids to be cleared appropriately.

Offering these out-of-the-box solutions, the company is hoping to make a major impact in the market. “We’re going to make a major push into the education market, because not only can we bring these new technologies, we can deliver traditional fire protection, access control and CCTV,” said Browning.

In fact, he said the merger with GE is what has really allowed for more crossover fire/security opportunities and the possibility of taking a big leap like this. “We’re really committed to making this happen,” he said.