As of the end of 2018, school safety & security was a $3 billion dollar industry, spurred on by events such as the shooting in Parkland, FL. District-level administrators are routinely bombarded with products and sales pitches aimed at one thing, & one thing only – closing a sale. As a whole, is the industry truly focused on making schools safer, or simply concerned about the bottom line? No catch, no gimmick – what follows are a few simple steps we routinely recommend to school districts for enhanced safety & security.
- Encourage Action. Amongst your faculty & staff, foster an environment that encourages them to report anything out of the ordinary. Encourage them to pay attention to the “spidey-sense,” the “hair standing up on your neck,” or the “gut feeling” that something is wrong. Gavin de Becker documents the impact of these feelings in his book “The Gift of Fear.” Malcom Gladwell provides exhaustive anecdotal evidence of this “sixth sense” in the book “Blink.” What it boils down to is the subconscious & its ability to absorb & process an infinitely greater amount of input than the conscious brain; that is to say your “gut” is likely your subconscious attempting to push a data point up to your conscious mind. In 10 out of 10 cases I would rather a faculty or staff member take action and be wrong – & for that to be OK with senior administrators – than to have someone fail to take action because they fear the consequences of being wrong. Give your faculty & staff the means to communicate – with other staff & the main office. The ability to communicate is critical in both preparedness & response.
- Early Warning. Superintendents & school safety staff have almost unanimously stated that one of the single biggest safety & security concerns is arrival & departure of students at the beginning & end of the school day. One way to address this vulnerability, whether perceived or actual: Implement policies & procedures that assign faculty, staff, and administrators to observe & assist with arrival & departure of students. This should NOT be a revolving group – but the same people, every day. These are your eyes and ears – the people who will be the first to pick up on something out of the ordinary, something wrong, or something bad happening. As with item 1 – they MUST have a means to communicate (handheld radios are probably the most simple, reliable, & versatile of the options available). I have personally witnessed the effectiveness of these procedures – unknown adults challenged as to who they are, who they are picking up, etc. – all because someone was out of place, an unknown in a series of otherwise familiar faces.
- Prepare. Districts have their Emergency Operations Plans, & their Emergency Response Procedures are posted in every classroom. Faculty & staff undoubtedly receive some sort of training on these – but what about the students? The largest population in the buildings we are discussing, & often the group that is EXCLUDED from anything more than a basic orientation. OR participate only in the required drills: ALICE, lockdown, fire drill, etc. The more your students understand what they are supposed to do in a particular situation (age appropriate discussions, of course), the more likely they are to respond appropriately. The extent of what is discussed, the context, & the frequency should absolutely be dependent on the age group. BUT. Plan, train, & prepare.
- Communicate. Communicate & coordinate with your local law enforcement, fire, & EMS agencies – more than once or twice per school year, even if you have SROs. Make sure that your plans and their plans fit well together, & include those agencies in the development of future plans. Invite your local First Responders to tour your facilities – walk through with them! The differences in perspective will help both you (the district) & them (First Responders) to better understand & identify strengths & weaknesses in the safety & security plans for your buildings. Involve these First Responders in your faculty and staff training sessions – the insights they can provide are invaluable to your staff. This also provides your staff the opportunity to as their “what if?” questions, helping to relieve some of the apprehension caused by ambiguity or lack of knowledge.
- Leverage the Tools You Already Have. It has been surprising – & enlightening – to see the number of districts that have already purchased/implemented certain safety & security-related systems, but fail to (A) use them to their full potential or (B) fail to use these systems at all. If your district already has a Visitor Management System – use it! Implement supporting policies & procedures that direct HOW & WHEN to use the system – couple this with a system of checks to ensure compliance. Most, if not all, districts employ Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS). Coordinate with your vendor(s) to enable desktop monitoring – see, in real time, that doors are indeed closed OR if a door that is supposed to be closed is open/remains open. Access Control Systems – again, coordinate with your vendor(s) to enable desktop monitoring of your access controls, giving you the ability to remotely unlock or lock your networked door controllers. The bottom line is that districts should conduct a survey of all systems you currently employ to determine how you can leverage these existing capabilities to enhance the overall safety & security of your district.
The Barton Malow/PrePlanLive Protective Design Team places a great deal of emphasis on ‘cost vs effectiveness’ when providing recommendations to school districts via our Security & Vulnerability Assessments. We feel that the value of any given solution is how much impact it has on your overall safety & security ecosystem – NOT how much the solution costs. Questions? Please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.