Southern California schools contribute to rise of school safety industry

A vendor at the Safe Schools Conference in Garden Grove in 2016.
A vendor at the Safe Schools Conference in Garden Grove in 2016.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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The spate of recent shootings is driving growth in the $815-million a year school safety industry. That growth was in evidence this week in the vendor aisle at the Safe Schools Conference in Garden Grove.

Vendors appeared to have everything under the sun: pink-leather covered flashlights that double as 3-million volt stun guns; electronic sign-in programs that cross-check names with sex offender lists and child custody data; mass notification apps that allow school district employees, students, and parents to notify everyone on the app of an active shooter and other emergencies; and on and on.

Conference participants said that three years ago, school safety meant protecting kids from bullies. Not anymore, they said.

Private companies and entrepreneurs are stepping up to fill a demand created by the desire of school districts to avoid, however unlikely, an active shooter event at their school.

While school safety workshops at the conference ranged from student mental health issues and social media threats, organizers included a panel discussion on lessons learned from the San Bernardino shootings last year to help quench school administrators’ thirst for information about how public agencies deal with such emergencies.

“We have to react to keep the kids safe based on what’s happening in the world and sadly we have a very unstable world, said Kathy Espinoza,of Keenan and Associates, a firm hired by schools to evaluate emergency preparedness.

Other incidents such as power outages and fires are more likely to affect schools, but school administrators are asking for more information about how to deal with active shooters.

Conference organizers gave Newport Beach-based Titan HST their own workshop to explain how their mass notification app works.

“I actually picked up their literature on that [app] to come back and share with our county. I really liked the concept of it,” said Earl Smith, program manager of child welfare and attendance for San Bernardino County Schools.

Smith’s agency was one of those overseeing students and employees in the same building where the 2015 San Bernardino shooting took place.

Instead of one source of information, his colleagues were getting news from traditional outlets, social media, and police.

“We were hearing it was 40 people that were killed instead of 14,” he said.

The school safety industry is growing about 10 percent each year. Video surveillance, door locks, and keyless access, are the largest subgroups in the market, while installation of bullet proof glass is also on the rise.

Schools know that active killer scenarios (that’s the term replacing active shooter) are few and far between but sales of these products spike after a shooting.

“You don’t want your children going to school in a prison but you want to, ensure their safety,” said Blake Kozak, an analyst with IHS Markit who studies the school safety industry.