Security In The Education Market – Opportunities for Growth

By Ben Hattersley.

The security industry continues to grow, year-on-year, due to many factors, not the least of which are associated with persistent financial uncertainty, political instability, and competing religious ideologies around the globe. Public and private sector organisations continue to invest in security initiatives as a means of countering the threats they face during routine business operations. One area that is receiving increasing focus is the security of educational facilities, including schools and tertiary institutions. As education administrators seek to improve the safety and security of their clients, opportunities for security professionals to engage with the education sector will likely result in further growth within the security industry, both within Australia and abroad.

The risks that are prevalent in educational facilities on the international stage, particularly in the United States, are well documented. A number of well-publicised shootings on high school and university campuses in America have resulted in a comprehensive upgrade to the security at many of those institutions. Schools have seen the deployment of security personnel, who are responsible for ensuring the safety of students and staff, while some of the larger university campuses have their own police departments that provide a 24-hour security presence. Investment in security initiatives is not confined to public and private policing however, as physical and electronic security measures have become integral to the overall security management methodologies employed by these types of organisations.

As with other business environments, the security strategies that are ultimately endorsed and integrated with normal operations should be based on the outcomes of a methodical security risk assessment (SRA) process. The SRA enables security managers to plan for, and design, security measures that address specific and genuine threats that are applicable to the particular business environment in which they are operating. While it would be difficult to justify the same level of investment in school security programs seen in the United States, from a risk perspective, governments in Australia are beginning to identify security vulnerabilities within the education sector that require additional resources.

Under the Labour Government, approximately $1.9 Billion dollars has been channelled into schools across Australia over the last four years as part of the Digital Education Revolution. This program has seen the distribution of laptop, netbook and tablet style computers to students from years 9 through to 12 as well as the installation of a wide range of education technologies from interactive whiteboards through to data projectors, audio visual systems and more. With so much technology now powering classrooms across Australia, one has to ask what, if any, security upgrades have been made to schools to protect all of this investment?

Another section of Australian society that has perceived a threat to the safety of its students is the Jewish community. The Jewish school system has a well-organised security program that monitors the operations of its schools and synagogues through the use of private security firms and dedicated security groups within the Jewish community; with support from teachers, parents and scholars. Security awareness is promoted extensively within the Jewish school system and students are well accustomed to seeing armed guards controlling access to their schools. While opinions vary about whether the security risk to Jewish students in Australia substantiates the placement of armed guards at the entrances to their schools, Australian security firms are benefiting from the decision to do so.

While it could be argued that the Jewish community faces a higher level of risk than other groups within our society, particularly post 9/11, and may be able to justify a requirement for a large security guard presence at their schools, for the most part, Australian schools generally face lower level risks such as theft and vandalism. These risks can be mitigated through the consistent application of the widely accepted protective security principles of deter, delay, detect and respond. Protective security approaches may include a combination of physical security treatments such as fences, gates and signage, to deter and delay; electronic security measures, in the form of intruder alarm and CCTV systems for detection. Capital works, such as those that are typically required to improve the level of security within schools, are not generally accounted for in normal operating budgets and, therefore, commonly necessitate additional private or public sector backing.

One example of the type of investment that is occurring in this area at a Federal level is the Secure Schools Program (SSP). This program, administered by the Attorney-General’s Department, aims to assist ‘at risk’ religious, ethnic, and secular schools around Australia through the provision of funding for security related infrastructure including CCTV, security lighting, fencing and gates. The program is open to both public and private schools that are able to demonstrate the potential for security incidents to impact on the safety of students and staff as well as the security of physical assets.

Applications under this program are assessed by the Department in accordance with proven SRA processes and guidelines developed by the Australian Federal Police. Successful applicants are granted up to $250,000 in funding, which must be spent in addressing the specific security risks identified through the risk assessment process. Having previously allocated $20 million, the Australian Government has committed an additional $15 million over three years from 2011 to 2014 to continue the SSP. While these figures may represent only a small percentage of the total security market in Australia, they do demonstrate an increase in the demand for, and financing of, security initiatives in education. The onus is on security firms to position themselves in such a way as to benefit from these and other business opportunities as they arise.

Under the SSP, funding recipients are required to engage the services of security contractors in order to complete the scope of work that has been agreed under the funding arrangement. While this process may be less regulated for private industry, public sector procurement guidelines have become quite prescriptive, as a result of concerted efforts to eradicate the sort of corrupt activities that have traditionally plagued public sector procurement in the past. In general, these guidelines support the framework for procurement activities and include such directives as the requirement to obtain a certain number of quotes, dependant upon the capital cost of the project, or to select from a panel of approved suppliers that have already satisfied particular selection criteria.

Requests for tender that stem from the SSP and similar initiatives are generally advertised on State and Commonwealth Government websites, examples of which are NSW eTendering, QLD eTenders and AusTender, the Australian Commonwealth Government Tender System. Any business owner can register with these websites to receive notifications of business opportunities of relevance to them. This method of tendering promotes full transparency, ensuring that the process is equitable and that no one supplier receives an unfair advantage over another. Public sector tendering seeks surety that contracts are only awarded to reputable businesses and, in order to maximise the chances of success, it is imperative that any organisation wishing to tender for these opportunities has all of the necessary qualifications, licences, and insurances. It is also advantageous if contractors can demonstrate previous success on projects of a similar nature, both scope
and size.

With Commonwealth Government funding on offer through the SSP, and additional capital available through similar State Government initiatives, there should be no shortage of Principals keen to take advantage of opportunities to improve the level of security in their schools. If the experiences of educational establishments in the US are anything to go by, the demand for security within educational institutions in this country will continue to grow. And while the catalyst for growth in the education security sector in the US is alarming to say the least, the consequential business outcomes, for those who are engaged in the security profession, have been positive.

Most pundits agree that we can expect increasing demand for security in the vast majority of business market sectors over the coming years, and education should be no exception. Security consulting firms, fencing contractors, electronic security manufacturers, and integrators that can demonstrate the necessary expertise and capacity to acclimatise with public sector procurement processes, will be well placed to benefit from any injection of funds into the domestic security market. These are volatile times we live in and there appears much to gain from security firms partnering with the education sector.

 

Ben Hattersley, CPP is a Senior Security Consultant with Aurecon in Sydney who holds a Bachelor of Science (Security) and a Master of Security Management.
His expertise is in security operations management, security risk management, and security management consulting across a broad range of business environments.
Ben can be contacted on (02) 9465 5133 or 
ben.hattersley@aurecongroup.com.

 

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