NEW YORK, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Many cash-strapped school districts in the United States expect to spend more this year, but not on teachers and supplies. They plan to pay for guards, cameras and other security equipment.
School safety purchases had stalled in recent years, but suppliers have seen renewed demand in response to the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which six adults and 20 children were killed.
It often takes school boards months to approve new projects, but companies are already seeing a significant uptick in inquiries and orders as frightened parents and administrators demand more protection.
“The day before Sandy Hook you couldn’t pay school boards, superintendants and legislators to talk about beefing up school security and now the inquiries run the gamut,” said school security consultant Ken Trump, president of the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services.
Home security firm ADT doesn’t provide security solutions for schools, but Tyco and Cisco Systems, Inc. have divisions that cater specifically to educational systems.
Cisco declined to comment “given the sensitivity of the subject.” But the company - buoyed by a small gain in sales -beat Wall Street expectations with its fiscal second quarter earnings report released in February.
Cisco projected third quarter sales would increase 4 to 6 percent on the year.
Tyco International, which sells surveillance equipment and high-tech locking systems, had 64 percent more inquiries on its Tyco Integrated Securities website in the week immediately following the Newtown shooting.
Tyco, which reported growth in sales of its security products in first quarter earnings, said an increase in web traffic and phone inquiries is a good indicator sales will increase.
James Krapfel, an equity analyst at Morningstar, said the company should see a slight increase in sales the next year or two as more federal and local funding becomes available for security purchases.
“Schools typically have a very regimented process,” said Tyco spokesman Brett Ludwig. “And we have a very robust process to make sure we provide the right systems for schools.”
The Pelham Union Free School District in Pelham, New York, saw Sandy Hook as a wake up call. The district hired Altaris Consulting Group, which specializes in emergency planning and preparedness for K-12 schools, to conduct a $21,600 assesment of its emergency preparedness.
The assesment was done in early February. It must still decide what if any security purchases to make.
Houston-based Raptor Technologies, which specializes in visitor management software for school systems, added 200 new schools as clients in the five weeks directly following Sandy Hook.
CEO Jim Vesterman said that’s a quarter of the 800 schools the company added to its client list in all of 2012, a number he found significant as it came when most schools were out for two weeks on holiday vacation. Raptor’s most basic visitor tracking system sells for $1,600.
The rush to improve security in schools following mass shootings isn’t a new development.
Millions of dollars was spent on metal detectors, security cameras and emergency response plans after 12 students and a teacher were killed in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado.
The percentage of public schools in the United States using security cameras nearly doubled in the three years after Columbine and increased threefold from 19.4 percent in 2000 to more than 61 percent in 2010, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).
The percentage of schools with closed campuses, meaning they have protocols for vetting visitors during school hours, also increased steadily in the 10 years after Columbine. According to the NCES, nearly 92 percent of public schools reported locking or monitoring doors during school hours in 2010, up from about 75 percent in 2000. Locked and monitored gates controlling access to school grounds increased about 25 percent over the same period.
Despite the improvements, consultants specializing in K-12 emergency preparedness say impulse investments in security systems eventually disappear as budgets tighten and memories of massacres fade.
“People want to plug gaps or find a magical solution right away and there is a big difference between the two,” said Paul Timm, the president of RETA Security, Inc., a small independent school security consulting firm.
Timm said his company was booked for months within a week of the shooting. RETA Security, based in Illinois, focuses on security assesments and safety plan implementation.
Timm’s business has generally focused on regional clients, but he received calls from small private schools on the eastern edge of Oregon to large districts in Florida and Connecticut in the months since Sandy Hook.
For Trump, the first step to managing the flood of business he receives after national tragedies is weeding out schools seeking his help as a public relations move.
“I’ve had one superintendent call and say he didn’t care if we were only in the school building for five minutes, as long as he could say we were there,” Trump said.