5 Tips for Developing a Robust School Security/Safety Program
Co-Owner, Universal Security Providers and Contributor to Surveillance Magazine
Each society is granted children as a boon. For societies blessed with being able to provide formal educations, there is a responsibility to protect our children from harm as is reasonable.
There exists threats of active shooter type scenarios, but additionally, and at a much more frequent rate of harm, are incidents of medical health related emergencies, injuries, bomb threats, bombs, fires, boiler explosions, threat from external sources such as hazardous material, natural disasters, etc.
For anyone faced with this most awesome responsibility of protecting our children and mitigating any harm that may come, my advice in pursuing improving school security/safety is shared below:
1. EGO: Throw it away. Collaboration is a must when it comes to protecting our most valuable assets, children. Ego is a resource reducer and collaboration is a resource multiplier. This has to be one area where politics, being territorial, and saving perceived face, cannot become of higher value then the mission at hand.
2. Assessment: There are a myriad of solid assessment tools available. The one chosen should be comprehensive in scope. They should allow for the charting and inventory of what is currently in place by way of different plans, training, committees, doors, windows, locks, door frames, various types of systems (keyless entry, notification systems, other communication systems, access control, intrusion detection, facilities management, cameras, etc.) and include specifications. However formal the assessment is and whatever method employed, a team of multi-disciplinary personnel should participate. For instance, a security professional, a IT professional, an emergency preparedness professional, the teacher as subject matter expert, any school security personnel on staff, an Administrator, your local support agencies, such as Law Enforcement, Fire Chief, and a facilities person. By engaging in just the assessment activities, relationships will be created or improved upon and knowledge will increase.
3. Prioritize: After performing the initial assessment phase, the school will ascertain where they are regarding their security and safety posture. End state goals will be created. Preferably this is not just where a school wants to get to but where the entire school system wishes to get to. Pursuing this endeavor as part of an enterprise project increases efficiency, effectiveness, and cost savings. I recommend for these same reasons to have as an end state one that is substantially network based and with several integrated systems. Focus as schools move forward should be on enterprise, scalability, integration, and common sense.
From the assessment exercise, there will be a plethora of data to analyze. At this stage the recommendation is to pursue the low hanging fruit (LHF) while at the same time working on procurement planning.
4. Low Hanging Fruit: LHF are meaningful activities that can be done freely or inexpensively. Examples of LHF include: shelter in place (SIP), numbering doors, having a key control system, emergency plans, plans for training and drills, actually training and conducting training, interacting with the local support agencies on a continual basis, creating or improving upon existing committees, etc. LHF items I wish to expound upon:
- Each school room should be equipped with sufficient amount of duct tape and plastic to cover all gaps, all seals, and all windows. Depending on what the threat is, if it is airborne, to reduce air infiltration, this is a must. This is also a reason to have a facilities professional on the assessment team due to their knowledge of things such as lay outs, plumbing, HVAC systems, etc.
- Desks, chairs, and other furniture can be shoved against the door in cases of a perpetrator to slow them down and create frustration and doubt.
- It is wise to have a curtain or some covering over any windows to the door to room in order to keep the identity of students and possibly staff hidden in case the adversary is looking for a certain person or persons.
- Preparation for events that come from an external source when many students and personnel are outside. The planning and drilling of onboarding or reverse evacuation is very important, as in many instances, doing this quickly and doing this well, can make all the difference.
- Relationships created or improved upon via the assessment phase with the local support agencies, should not be permitted to go stagnant. The value of these external professionals being intimately involved in school security and safety cannot be quantified.
- I believe that there is great value in creating one master plan with all of the categories or sub-plans (Threat Assessment, Incident Action, Occupancy Emergency Plan, etc.) contained within.
- One team to create is a formal Threat Assessment Team. Within this team would suggest an administrator, local law enforcement, two teachers, a counselor, and nurse. This team helps create and or improve upon relationships with the students. Not only do they receive information that may be of great concern but they can also serve as an important central point for rumor control.
- The creation of a Student Care or Student Watch committee. The purpose of this committee is to offer training for them in peer counseling and to help promote what MUST be a priority, reporting. A climate of reporting must be enhanced. The Threat Assessment Team can professionally vet the information that is shared with them.
- Studies of incidents of school shooters show that in many cases there were behavioral clues and that they had talked. Having more students trained on what to be aware of and what to do with that information is important. Having a climate where they will do something with that information is essential. With the Treat Assessment team, a repository of information is built. Staff and students can possess bits of information that on their own, do not raise a flag significant enough to be assessed. Sometimes when these bits of information are added up, there is something adverse afoot and it can be prevented.
- It is incumbent on school administrators to empower their personnel to make decisions and to act in way that they see as prudent in that hypothetical 1% of the time. Empowered students and empowered personnel, show time and time again, to be a difference makers.
5. Procurement Approach: After prioritizing what actions are to be taken, planning must occur. It is important to perform this task with a multi-disciplinary approach. For example, if well-meaning school personnel do this research and procurement in a virtual vacuum, the school or system may handcuff themselves. If they procure a camera system they may tie themselves into this particular vendor due to proprietary software issues. As they wish to integrate different systems later, they will not be able to do this due to the licensing restraints or they will have to do this at a cost that is prohibitive. These diverse talents participation also provides other practical dividends. Many schools have unique features. Cookie cutter approaches do not take this into consideration. Common sense should rule. Prior to purchasing the next four thousand dollar door, consideration should be given to whether that money could have more utility invested on another solution.
Random and not so random thoughts for consideration in procurement planning:
- The closer a school can get to a real situational awareness capability, the better. Due to the actions of people, multiple systems in real time, sending data, going to the right people, through dependable conduits, to be received in the most user friendly manner. This is a worthy goal. The fruits of this can be seen in the following scenarios: In the case of a child suffering from severe medical distress getting assistance as quickly as possible, a child in a wheel chair being accosted by other students getting assistance as expeditiously as possible, an event occurring to where the multitude of cell phone being creates overload but communication still continues, students communicating a perceived threat to staff in person, the local law enforcement and 911 center getting an event “pushed” to them, being able to locate a active shooter and to control different accesses and peer in via the camera system while at same time sending out as appropriate, mass notifications.
- Schools should have maintenance agreements in place. It is folly from a safety/security and a liability standpoint to have non-functioning equipment. If the maintenance cost is prohibitive, negotiate on front end or keep shopping.
- Ample phones should be available throughout the school. Duress buttons are also an important tool. A school can give them to personnel, to students on the committee and to students with needs. Duress buttons can serve purposes from notifying the right staff and even the authorities of an event to even identifying exactly where the person deploying the button is located. They can also have the ability for two way communication. The functionality depends on what is purchased.
- People are often times trained to protect self, protect others, and then get assistance. The more communication resources are available, the easier it is to do all three things simultaneously.
- Also, with the above, schools will possess redundancy in communication.
- Color coded alerts to go off in the class room are beneficial. Notices going to teachers via phone and laptop are a positive, but integrating this into alerts visible within the classroom is a good layered solution.
- Cameras are a great resource. Each individual camera should be chosen to perform a very specific job. Cameras, to some degree serve as a deterrent. They are an excellent forensic tool. They are also more than just these two excellent things. Cameras should be installed throughout the inside and outside of buildings. Positioning them towards entry ways, hallways, common areas, stair cases, and towards physical assets (football fields, parking lots, expensive outdoor equipment, etc.), and along the walls to where someone would be visible being out of place. For the cameras viewing the outside walls where there are large periods of time where there should be no traffic, utilizing motion detection with some of the cameras is of good use. Also, with sensors, upon “tripping”, a push notification can be sent to assigned staff. Whether utilizing analog, hybrid or IP solutions, chosen personnel should have the ability to look in remotely, from whatever device they want to.
- Access Control: People being on boarded into the school should be done via a funneled approach. This should include on the exterior of the entry way an intercom and good quality fish eye camera. If fiscally feasible, another point should be established where the person entering, has to engage a school personnel prior to gaining access to the main portion of the building. The most robust use of technological solutions and written protocols, loses value if one door that is to be locked is left unlocked or is propped open. Again, no one solution is a panacea for all the adversity that can occur but if this endeavor is taken from a holistic perspective, if harm cannot be prevented, real and very meaningful mitigation can take place. Possessing policies and enforced regarding door use is a must. Having secured doors throughout the structure that can be remotely controlled and remotely viewed is the goal.
- An identification system of some type should be used. This can be used for simply identifying authorized people who are inside the school and spotting who is not authorized or can be include card readers at access points.
- Intrusion Detection: For cameras that a school chooses to have motion sensors on, they serve this purpose. Sensors can be used in a tighter space if you will then the cameras. They should be deployed in classrooms with expensive and or potentially dangerous assets such as a computer or science lab and can be used to enhance protection on the exterior of older or weaker constructed school buildings.
Hopefully this article offered something new, raised a question, or in some small manner assists in protecting our children and those who chose working with them as their profession.
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