Secure Emergency Communication Systems Prevent Misuse
The recent increase in school shootings (more school children have died in the US this year as of writing than service members in the military) has also seen an increase in perpetrators making use of the school’s emergency communication system for their own nefarious purposes. The suspects at both Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, and at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, pulled the fire alarm, causing students and staff to leave their classrooms, believing there to be a fire drill. In both cases, the very systems designed to keep students safe were instead used against them.
While the fire alarm is easy to access via its pull stations, it’s not the only system vulnerable to unauthorized usage. Most perpetrators of school shootings have been current or former students, or have other ties to that school. Therefore, they are more familiar with the school’s security and could know the number for the PA system and dial it, either to use it themselves or to prevent security or school administrators from using it. As more violent incidents at schools occur, the more future shooters can learn from the techniques of those who came before them.
It is vital to secure the emergency communication system from unauthorized usage. While this may be impossible for certain parts of the system, such as the fire alarm pull station or even the PA, the system as a whole should be protected with user log in and passwords, as well as different classes of user to restrict which users have access to what features as needed. This in addition to using multiple methods of communication could help prevent further misuse of emergency systems. For example, if students and staff are expecting any emergencies or drills to be announced with both audio and visual PA, it would be easier to know that something was wrong and that it wasn’t a real alarm if they heard only the fire alarm.