The Washington Post published an article today about a new (to us) security system that some local daycares are using to supposedly protect the children from kidnapping or harm. The technology isn’t what caught my attention, but rather some of the numbers stuck out as rather obscene.
The technology is “vein scanning“, which is like reading fingerprints, except it scans the veins on the back of your hand. That’s great, except for guys with hairy hands like my own, but since it’s used in the Middle East, I assume they’ve accounted for hairy hands (I’m not Middle Eastern, but I have Mediterranean ancestry that I have to thank for my gorilla-like hands). But read the following snippits and then do the math with me:
When photographer Nancy Ostertag went back to work in April after giving birth to a son, she enrolled him at Lola’s Place, a private preschool tucked among the wide lanes and neat lawns of Sterling.
Never mind that Ostertag lives in Rockville and works in Bethesda, requiring a nearly two-hour commute each morning and evening. Lola’s Place, she said, was worth fighting traffic for. Its child-care philosophy matches Ostertag’s. Its building is airy, light and clean. And its security system? One of a kind.
“I love the idea that you can’t get in there,” Ostertag said. “You really can’t get in there.”
So Nancy commutes from Rockville, MD to Sterling, VA, drops her child off, then goes BACK to Bethesda, MD for work and repeats it all in the evening. That’s at least 100-120 miles per day, just so she could put her son in a place that looks at the veins on your hand.
Now for the commuting costs. Parents who think like Nancy will also go out and buy a super-sized SUV because they think it’s the ultimate protection on the road for their children. I’m being serious here. That means Nancy probably gets at best 18 mpg on her commute, more likely 15mpg since she’s going against AND with traffic. At an average of $2.50/gallon, she’s spending about $400 per month in gas or $4,800 per year, maybe more if she’s using premium in her premium SUV.
Now let’s look at the cost of the school:
Lola’s Place is part of a family of six Montessori schools in Northern Virginia. It caters to children between 8 weeks and 5 years old, and the cost depends on the child’s age, from $1,850 a month for full-time infant care to $1,450 a month for older toddlers. It has a capacity of 80 students; currently, 24 are enrolled.
“It’s pretty much the Cadillac of day care,” said Jessica Williams, a freelance consultant whose 2-year-old and 3-month-old attend Lola’s Place.
Nancy is sending her infant son to Lola’s Place all day, which means at least $1,850 PER MONTH (are there overtime costs if Nancy can’t get to Sterling in time to pick up her son?). That’s almost as much as our mortgage. That’s $22,200 per year! That’s more than I spent on 4 years of tuition!
So, Nancy is spending at least $27,000 per year so that her son is protected by a vein scanner, and a fingerprint scanner. After just a few years, she could have installed the same security system in her own home. Do you think this is all logical? Not everyone does:
Bruce Schneier, who writes often about security issues and is chief security technology officer at BT, a British telecommunications company, said this sort of convenience accustoms children to surveillance. “We’ve become acclimatized to a lot of security measures that make no sense, that are woven into the fabric of our day,” he said.
“It doesn’t solve a problem that exists. If you start running the math, schools are the safest place for kids,” he said. “But when you think about fear, you don’t do the math. Fear is about stories. You’re playing to perception here.”
I actually have another security system article coming up that speaks to this same “perception and fear” issue, but Bruce is right that some people simply don’t think logically and just go with what sounds safe to them. But I question one thing here, based on my own experience of working in highly-secure federal buildings.
What prevents one careless/polite parent from holding the door open for someone else? It doesn’t sound like Lola’s vein or fingerprint scanners are connected to turnstiles that strictly allow just one person through at a time. If it’s connected to a door, someone will ill-intent only needs to look like a parent, not act suspiciously and tail someone into the facility. People get lax on security when it becomes part of their daily routine. I’ll admit that I even hold the door open, because who wants to slam a door shut (or pull it shut) on someone who could be your next big client? At a daycare, mentality might be different, but not everyone cares about security as the next person.
No matter how tight security is, there’s always some way around it. But if reading your veins makes you feel secure, and makes you drive 4 hours a day, rather than just 1 hour, then so be it. Do what you need to do to feel safe and secure, but always stay vigilant, and pray that those around you are just as security-conscious.