NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn takes a look at next-level security, its costs, and plans to make Long Island schools safe. Credit: Newsday/Drew Singh; Kendall Rodriguez

As Long Island schools make their journey from pandemic to normalcy, they are once again sharpening their focus on two disparate but major security challenges — minimizing the threat of school shootings and cyberattacks.

Numerous Island school districts are undertaking significant security projects, some of which had been delayed or postponed as COVID-19 forced them to pivot to issues such as remote learning, masking, contact tracing and other measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Many of those virus concerns have abated, at least for now, leaving room for educators to return to security concerns that remain a priority. Current projects include constructing security booths at school entrances, installing and upgrading surveillance cameras, replacing classroom doors and their locking mechanisms, and improving communication with local police. 

Glen Cove, for instance, included $2.2 million for security measures in the $30.5 million bond vote that passed Dec. 6, including replacing classroom and hallway doors across the district with automatic locking doors. 

In addition, the PA system in the high school also will be replaced, so teachers can more quickly communicate with the main office. 

That vote was slated to occur in March 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus, said Superintendent Maria Rianna.

"We got closed down before we could vote," Rianna said. "Security is on the minds of every administrator, teacher and parent these days, so yes, it was very upsetting we had to wait."

Postponing the work had a silver lining, Rianna added, because the pandemic brought a shortage of workers and materials, and price increases, which have somewhat subsided since.

School officials said the urgency of protecting the physical security of students and staff escalated following the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, during which two students shot and killed 12 students and one teacher. Before that, they said, security concerns amounted to little more than placing a staffer in the cafeteria to prevent fights and having them outside to make sure dismissals went smoothly.

More than two decades later, the urgency persists.

A total of 46 school shootings have occurred in the United States in 2022 as of Nov. 22, eclipsing the 35 in all of 2021, according to a tracker by Education Week. The May 24 attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, saw an 18-year-old former student fatally shoot 19 students and two teachers and wound 17 others. 

Some security measures already in place in Long Island schools are requiring improvements.

In Manhasset, voters approved a nearly $44 million bond on Dec. 8 that included more than $10 million for safety and security upgrades, such as further hardening classroom and corridor doors and adding interior locks. The district also will install a security booth at the entrance to the secondary school campus.

The Merrick school district had been replacing its analog surveillance cameras in schools with digital cameras that have a higher picture quality. But ordering a camera in the months after the pandemic struck in March 2020 took weeks or months rather than days, said Superintendent Dominick Palma.

The new cameras and software, Palma said, go beyond just watching an area; they issue alerts when unusual activity occurs there, and they can track a person's movement from coming in a door to their travel around the building. The district upgrade is costing about $200,000 for its three buildings, he said.

The district also was upgrading its Wi-Fi access devices with better security protections, but delays there also were a nightmare, Palma said.

"All that stuff was on back order. It probably took a year and a half to get Wi-Fi access points," Palma said. "This year things are totally different. We're doing things normally."

Some security projects proceeded without delay, such as moving the district's computer systems to a cloud-based platform, which heightened cybersecurity, he said.

A more recent threat to schools are cyberattacks, in which a hacker breaks into a computer system and steals information or locks up the network, demanding a ransom to unlock it.

A total of 1,331 publicly disclosed cyberattacks have hit U.S. schools since 2016, according to K12 Security Information Exchange, a Virginia nonprofit that tracks cyberattacks on schools.

Long Island schools have suffered at least 30 incidents of computer hacks and other cyber incidents over the past three years, ranging from attacks that crippled computer networks to worker errors that exposed Social Security numbers, addresses and other private information. 

The potential damage from such attacks has been playing out following a September cyberattack that hobbled Suffolk County government services, snarling essential functions such as police communications, payment to contractors as well as exposing personal information of some 26,000 employees.

"Five years ago, cybersecurity was not even on the horizon. Now it's front and center," said Hank Grishman, superintendent of the Jericho school district.

Grishman said many Island school districts are buying cybersecurity insurance. The Jericho district spends about $75,000 a year on its own cyber insurance. 

But it's the physical hardening of school security that has resumed after pandemic delays.

In Freeport, Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said creating security booths at front entrances of some schools was among the projects postponed due to the pandemic.

Also, the district had planned to upgrade classroom doors — replacing them with stronger, more secure doors — but that, too, was delayed due to COVID. Several schools have completed the work, while at others it remains ongoing, he said.

"It was a combination of things. We were closed for a few months, and we had a strict regimen on who comes and who goes in the buildings," Kuncham said. 

The costs of capital projects rose up to 30% during the pandemic, he said. The creation of the security booths are now costing, depending on the building, between $60,000 to $110,000 each.

The Middle Country school district was in the midst of upgrading its security cameras when the pandemic struck, pushing back some work up to a year, said Vincent Raicovi, the district's director of technology, business and information systems.

He said the district is completely caught up on the upgrade of 564 surveillance cameras, which are high-definition cameras that can pick up both day and nighttime images. 

The upgrade was made possible by the state Smart Schools Bond Act, approved by voters in 2014, which authorized the issuance of $2 billion of bonds to finance improved educational technology and infrastructure.

The camera upgrade was part of a $2 million project that also included a DVR system for the cameras, new swipe cards and readers for building access, and technology for security booths at entrances, he said.

Middle Country's camera system can now be accessed by the Suffolk County Police Department during an emergency, allowing the police to view interiors and exteriors of all the schools and quickly locate any threat, Raicovi said. 

Grishman, the Jericho superintendent, said that while the district's main focus shifted to dealing with the pandemic, the safety of students remained a top concern. That reflects the changing nature of schools, he said.

"If you look back 10 years, schools were spending minimal amounts on security. Now they're spending millions," said Grishman, noting that no security projects were delayed in the Jericho district.

Security costs quickly add up, he said.

Jericho spends half a million dollars a year for more than a dozen security guards, Grishman said. The district spends $30,000 a year for a consultant that helps develop safety plans, train staff and run emergency drills in the schools. It also spent $1.6 million to upgrade security cameras, install badge IDs to open all classroom and office doors, and automatic locks on classroom doors, he said. 

School security has become big business on Long Island, with an ever-increasing number of companies providing products and services including high-resolution cameras, social media monitoring, remote locking technology, shatter-resistant glass and round-the-clock surveillance.

 A+ Technology Security Solutions of Bay Shore began in 1979, but business "took off" after the Columbine school shootings, said Rick Cadiz, vice president of sales and marketing. 

The company works with about 70 schools on Long Island and estimates that 80% of its business comes from K-12 schools, Cadiz said. He said that in the past decade, the company has doubled its employees, to 100, and its revenue, to $20 million a year.

"The tragedies we continue to see are bringing security to the forefront," he said.

With Shari Einhorn

As Long Island schools make their journey from pandemic to normalcy, they are once again sharpening their focus on two disparate but major security challenges — minimizing the threat of school shootings and cyberattacks.

Numerous Island school districts are undertaking significant security projects, some of which had been delayed or postponed as COVID-19 forced them to pivot to issues such as remote learning, masking, contact tracing and other measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Many of those virus concerns have abated, at least for now, leaving room for educators to return to security concerns that remain a priority. Current projects include constructing security booths at school entrances, installing and upgrading surveillance cameras, replacing classroom doors and their locking mechanisms, and improving communication with local police. 

Glen Cove, for instance, included $2.2 million for security measures in the $30.5 million bond vote that passed Dec. 6, including replacing classroom and hallway doors across the district with automatic locking doors. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Long Island schools are once again sharpening their focus on two disparate but major security challenges — minimizing the threat of school shootings and cyberattacks.
  • Numerous Island school districts are undertaking significant security projects, some of which had been delayed or postponed as COVID-19 forced them to pivot to stemming the spread of the virus.
  • Current projects include constructing security booths at school entrances, installing and upgrading surveillance cameras, replacing classroom doors and their locking mechanisms, and improving communication with local police.

In addition, the PA system in the high school also will be replaced, so teachers can more quickly communicate with the main office. 

That vote was slated to occur in March 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus, said Superintendent Maria Rianna.

"We got closed down before we could vote," Rianna said. "Security is on the minds of every administrator, teacher and parent these days, so yes, it was very upsetting we had to wait."

Postponing the work had a silver lining, Rianna added, because the pandemic brought a shortage of workers and materials, and price increases, which have somewhat subsided since.

Decades on alert

School officials said the urgency of protecting the physical security of students and staff escalated following the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, during which two students shot and killed 12 students and one teacher. Before that, they said, security concerns amounted to little more than placing a staffer in the cafeteria to prevent fights and having them outside to make sure dismissals went smoothly.

More than two decades later, the urgency persists.

Some security features are obvious, but not all. Above, a...

Some security features are obvious, but not all. Above, a panic button in the Jericho district. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A total of 46 school shootings have occurred in the United States in 2022 as of Nov. 22, eclipsing the 35 in all of 2021, according to a tracker by Education Week. The May 24 attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, saw an 18-year-old former student fatally shoot 19 students and two teachers and wound 17 others. 

Some security measures already in place in Long Island schools are requiring improvements.

In Manhasset, voters approved a nearly $44 million bond on Dec. 8 that included more than $10 million for safety and security upgrades, such as further hardening classroom and corridor doors and adding interior locks. The district also will install a security booth at the entrance to the secondary school campus.

The Merrick school district had been replacing its analog surveillance cameras in schools with digital cameras that have a higher picture quality. But ordering a camera in the months after the pandemic struck in March 2020 took weeks or months rather than days, said Superintendent Dominick Palma.

The new cameras and software, Palma said, go beyond just watching an area; they issue alerts when unusual activity occurs there, and they can track a person's movement from coming in a door to their travel around the building. The district upgrade is costing about $200,000 for its three buildings, he said.

The district also was upgrading its Wi-Fi access devices with better security protections, but delays there also were a nightmare, Palma said.

"All that stuff was on back order. It probably took a year and a half to get Wi-Fi access points," Palma said. "This year things are totally different. We're doing things normally."

Some security projects proceeded without delay, such as moving the district's computer systems to a cloud-based platform, which heightened cybersecurity, he said.

Threats of cyberattacks emerge

A more recent threat to schools are cyberattacks, in which a hacker breaks into a computer system and steals information or locks up the network, demanding a ransom to unlock it.

A total of 1,331 publicly disclosed cyberattacks have hit U.S. schools since 2016, according to K12 Security Information Exchange, a Virginia nonprofit that tracks cyberattacks on schools.

Long Island schools have suffered at least 30 incidents of computer hacks and other cyber incidents over the past three years, ranging from attacks that crippled computer networks to worker errors that exposed Social Security numbers, addresses and other private information. 

The potential damage from such attacks has been playing out following a September cyberattack that hobbled Suffolk County government services, snarling essential functions such as police communications, payment to contractors as well as exposing personal information of some 26,000 employees.

Students in the hallways at Jericho High School on Dec....

Students in the hallways at Jericho High School on Dec. 7. The Jericho district spends half a million dollars a year for more than a dozen security guards, the superintendent said.

Credit: Danielle Silverman

"Five years ago, cybersecurity was not even on the horizon. Now it's front and center," said Hank Grishman, superintendent of the Jericho school district.

Grishman said many Island school districts are buying cybersecurity insurance. The Jericho district spends about $75,000 a year on its own cyber insurance. 

But it's the physical hardening of school security that has resumed after pandemic delays.

In Freeport, Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said creating security booths at front entrances of some schools was among the projects postponed due to the pandemic.

Also, the district had planned to upgrade classroom doors — replacing them with stronger, more secure doors — but that, too, was delayed due to COVID. Several schools have completed the work, while at others it remains ongoing, he said.

"It was a combination of things. We were closed for a few months, and we had a strict regimen on who comes and who goes in the buildings," Kuncham said. 

The costs of capital projects rose up to 30% during the pandemic, he said. The creation of the security booths are now costing, depending on the building, between $60,000 to $110,000 each.

The Middle Country school district was in the midst of upgrading its security cameras when the pandemic struck, pushing back some work up to a year, said Vincent Raicovi, the district's director of technology, business and information systems.

He said the district is completely caught up on the upgrade of 564 surveillance cameras, which are high-definition cameras that can pick up both day and nighttime images. 

The upgrade was made possible by the state Smart Schools Bond Act, approved by voters in 2014, which authorized the issuance of $2 billion of bonds to finance improved educational technology and infrastructure.

The camera upgrade was part of a $2 million project that also included a DVR system for the cameras, new swipe cards and readers for building access, and technology for security booths at entrances, he said.

Middle Country's camera system can now be accessed by the Suffolk County Police Department during an emergency, allowing the police to view interiors and exteriors of all the schools and quickly locate any threat, Raicovi said. 

The costs add up

Grishman, the Jericho superintendent, said that while the district's main focus shifted to dealing with the pandemic, the safety of students remained a top concern. That reflects the changing nature of schools, he said.

Jericho schools Superintendent Hank Grishman. 

Jericho schools Superintendent Hank Grishman.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

"If you look back 10 years, schools were spending minimal amounts on security. Now they're spending millions," said Grishman, noting that no security projects were delayed in the Jericho district.

Security costs quickly add up, he said.

Jericho spends half a million dollars a year for more than a dozen security guards, Grishman said. The district spends $30,000 a year for a consultant that helps develop safety plans, train staff and run emergency drills in the schools. It also spent $1.6 million to upgrade security cameras, install badge IDs to open all classroom and office doors, and automatic locks on classroom doors, he said. 

School security has become big business on Long Island, with an ever-increasing number of companies providing products and services including high-resolution cameras, social media monitoring, remote locking technology, shatter-resistant glass and round-the-clock surveillance.

A team from A+ Technology Security Solutions monitors cameras in real time.



	 

A team from A+ Technology Security Solutions monitors cameras in real time.

Credit: Drew Singh

 A+ Technology Security Solutions of Bay Shore began in 1979, but business "took off" after the Columbine school shootings, said Rick Cadiz, vice president of sales and marketing. 

The company works with about 70 schools on Long Island and estimates that 80% of its business comes from K-12 schools, Cadiz said. He said that in the past decade, the company has doubled its employees, to 100, and its revenue, to $20 million a year.

"The tragedies we continue to see are bringing security to the forefront," he said.

With Shari Einhorn

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