By Annie Linskey
Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- After the Newtown shooting rampage, Tennessee’s Dickson County pledged to spend $500,000 on classroom barricades and a surveillance system at its school buildings -- enough money to pay for 14 first-year teachers.
“The school shooting up in Connecticut gave us a chance to stop and review things,” the county’s mayor, Bob Rial, said in a telephone interview. “You are always worried about that person on the fringe.”
The slaughter that left 20 children and six educators dead 11 months ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School unleashed a wave of concern that is prompting officials from California to New Jersey to direct tax dollars toward security measures in hopes of protecting against a threat as rare as it is terrifying.
Almost 90 percent of U.S. school systems have made changes to their facilities or security policies since the Sandy Hook shooting, according to a survey of 600 districts that will be published next month in Campus Safety Magazine, a trade publication. Annual spending on school security systems is projected to jump to $4.9 billion in 2017 from $2.7 billion last year, in part because of mass killings like the one in Newtown, according to IHS, an Englewood, Colorado-based research company.
While Congress failed to enact gun-control legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, companies including Tyco International Ltd., Assa Abloy AB and Axis Communications AB are stepping in to meet increased demand for security by local school officials.
Tyco Integrated Security had an 82 percent increase in web inquiries for school products over the past year, said Brett Ludwig, a spokesman for the Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland-based company. SimplexGrinnell, a Tyco unit that installs security systems at K-12 schools in the U.S., has seen a 68 percent jump in orders since Newtown, Ludwig said.
HID Global Corp., a U.S. unit of Stockholm-based Assa Abloy, reported as much as a 50 percent increase in sales inquiries from K-12 schools in the past year, said Brett St. Pierre, the company’s director of education solutions. HID is experiencing a 25 percent jump in sales for education, more than twice the increase it saw last year, he said.
“It is across the board,” said St. Pierre. “We’ve definitely seen a lot more interest from the school-district level than we have in the past.”
Statistically, the chance of a child being killed on a campus is small. Only 19 of 1,369 youth homicides in the U.S. from July 2009 to June 2010 -- about 1.4 percent -- occurred at a school, according to the U.S. Education Department. Eleven students were killed at schools in the same period the following year, the data show. Since the department started keeping data in 1992, the deadliest school year was 1997-1998, when 34 pupils were slain.
“The truth is that schools are the safest place a child can be,” said Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the Washington-based National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.
Van Roekel said he also wants funds spent on mental-health services and training teachers to identify and address students who might be at risk of committing a violent act.
“What is really important is that people don’t reduce this down to the one answer,” Van Roekel said.
He’s pressing Congress to pass gun-control legislation. In April, the U.S. Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to pass a measure backed by President Barack Obama that would have expanded background checks on gun buyers.
Companies say that even before Sandy Hook, they viewed school security as a fast-growing market.
“It is high volume,” said Steve Surfaro, a spokesman for Lund, Sweden-based Axis, which is also reporting an increase in inquiries. “There are so many schools.”
At least three states -- Connecticut, Indiana and Pennsylvania -- created or beefed up grants for school safety in the past year, which will inject a combined $49 million into the market from state coffers. Additionally, the state grants typically require some type of local matching funds.
“Every week, it seems there is an announcement that some school district or county or state is upgrading school security,” said Robin Hattersley Gray, executive editor of Campus Safety, which is based in Torrance, California. “After Sandy Hook, we’ve seen a significant public push for schools to increase security.”
In Connecticut, the site of the Sandy Hook rampage, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy announced $16 million in school-safety grants this week, the second round of funding in two months. In September, he allocated $5 million for school security under a measure approved by the legislature.
The funds mean 604 of the state’s 1,035 schools will get more money for security. Malloy said he plans to go back to the legislature next year for additional cash.
“We will never be able to prevent every random act of violence,” Malloy said in a statement. “But we can take the steps necessary to make sure that our children and our teachers are as safe as possible.”
In places without new sources of state funds, such as Verona, New Jersey, officials plan to finance proposed security enhancement through bonds and existing state grants.
“We are not looking to do outlandish things; we are looking to do what we think are best practices,” Steven Forte, Verona’s schools superintendent, said in a telephone interview.
In Tennessee, where Rial is putting $500,000 toward fortifying 13 school buildings, all of the funds will come from other programs in the county budget.
“The most important thing we can do as a government is ensure the safety of our citizens and the safety of our students while they are at school,” he said.
Initially, the money, which represents 5 percent of Dickson County’s non-salary general fund, was earmarked for furnaces, painting and refurbishing of other municipal buildings, including the county courthouse, the state’s oldest. He said he would also like to add a police officer to each school.
The U.S. Justice Department is helping to pay for additional officers like those sought by Rial. It awarded $45 million from Community Oriented Policing Services grants this year to schools that planned security enhancements. Last year, schools that focused on security received $11 million.
Security companies seeking business with school districts stress that their products will also address other, more frequent, issues on campuses, such as bullying, fighting and theft.
Standing before a dozen school officials at the Axis offices in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, last week, Dan Michelinie of the video company BriefCam rattled off a series of statistics about U.S. school violence. He then demonstrated how his Modi’in, Israel-based company’s software can condense hours of surveillance video footage into minutes.
“This allows you to see crowds of kids forming,” he said, showing time-lapse footage on a screen. “It shows who is doing what in the hallways.”
Since the Newtown massacre, there have been other high-profile mass shootings. A gunman killed five people near the Santa Monica College campus in California in June. Another one killed 12 inside the Washington Navy Yard in September.
“The market is being driven by an increased focus on student safety,” said Paul Bremner, a video surveillance and market analyst at IHS who wrote a report on the global school security market. In the U.S., he said “Sandy Hook was mentioned by everyone we spoke to for our report.”
Fear of similar attacks has given rise to new products, including soon-to-be-released software from Elerts, a Weymouth, Massachusetts-based company. It allows school staff to lock down a campus from a mobile phone.
“It turns every smartphone into a panic button,” said Ed English, the company’s chief executive officer.
There’s also the bullet-proof white board, created by Hardwire LLC, based in Pocomoke City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which can be used as a shield against mass shooters. The product is made from a plastic developed to protect U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from improvised explosive devices.
“We just have a different threat and a different front,” said George Tunis, the company’s chief executive officer.