Don’t build the moat just yet

12 things your school can do to make your campus safer now

03/30/2013  |  RONALD D. STEPHENS
school security

The dust has hardly settled on the Sandy Hook shootings and parents and other groups are coming out of the woodwork demanding that schools adopt and embrace and whole new series of security controls and target hardening steps. Before you build the mote around the local school it is important to take note of some significant realities. First, the history of school violence demonstrates that perimeter fences, metal detectors, camera surveillance, armed guards and visitor check-in points will not stop a determined killer. This is not to say that such strategies cannot be helpful in reducing the threat. However, the evidence is not convincing that it will stop all school shootings.

Although it is difficult for the public to embrace, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, our nation’s schools continue to be the safest place for our young people to be. Children are much more likely to be victimized at home or in their community than they are in the public schools. There are nearly 130,000 public and private K-12 schools in the U.S. Over the past 20 years we have experienced about 500 school-associated violent deaths in the schools. These incidents have occurred in an average of 28 schools per year. Granted, a single death is one too many, but the probabilities of being involved in such incidents is about 28 out of 130,000 or about two ten thousandths of one percent.

Many of the strategies being proposed for school redesign, include bullet-proof windows, concrete barriers in front of schools, bullet-resistant doors, the construction of “safe areas” in each classroom where students can be safely sheltered, perimeter fencing and other such measures would have little affect on keeping many of the shooters out of school. In more than half of the shooting incidents the perpetrator is an individual who is authorized to be on campus. Additional controls would likely have little effect on preventing the crime.

Clearly there are reasonable strategies that can be set in place to control access and screen visitors. However, school officials need to understand what they are getting with each strategy they consider. Rather than overspending the school’s limited education budget or unnecessarily seeking and spending federal or state grant funds, consider these 12 steps that can be taken to make your school safer in ways that will provide immediate dividends to the school district.

Review Your Crisis Response Plan

Make certain that it is up to date and that your staff and faculty have been assigned specific tasks to fulfill in a crisis. Go deep — make certain that each role and responsibility has three to four back up individuals assigned to meet the specific needs.

Create or Update Your Mutual Aid Agreement

Contact your local law enforcement, paramedics, firefighter team, county and state emergency operations officials. Invite them to come to your school and explain the procedures they will employ in a crisis. Ask them to train your staff as to how they can best respond and support the crisis response effort. Make certain to address the issue of incident command. School officials are not expected to be expert in all situations but they should know who their “go-to” experts are in the local community and state.

Provide Staff Training For Every Teacher and Staff Member

In some states, like California, all employees have been designated by state law as a crisis responder. Under this scenario there is a compelling argument to prepare and train each of them. Even without a state mandate for training it makes sense to provide each employee with the training necessary for them to successfully respond in and crisis. It is simply good management!

Develop an Emergency Communications Network

In the event of and crisis the school district needs to have and mechanism in place to immediately communicate with the crisis team, with first responders and with parents and students. An appropriate mass notification system should be developed.

Create or Develop Threat Assessment Protocols

These protocols should assist school officials in dealing with rumors and threats. Make certain that mental health professionals and law enforcement officials are part of the school’s team. Take all rumors and threats seriously.

Control Access to the Campus

Minimize the number of entrance and exit points for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Make certain that access points are consistently monitored.

Establish a Uniform Visitor Screening System

All campus visitors and guests should be processed through the front office. Require photo identification and confirm the background and legitimacy of all guests. Office staff should engage guests in conversation to determine not only the nature of their business but their state of mind.

Offer Counseling and Support for Students and Staff

There are those who may need special attention after the crisis. Just because the shooting did not happen to you doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to you. Often times, both students and teachers need additional support even when the crisis is elsewhere. After a serious national incident, offer counseling support.

Enhance the Physical Presence of Supervision

All custodial and maintenance staff should be provided with distinct uniforms or shirts that clearly designate them as an official part of the supervision team. Also provide them with two-way radios that are linked to the front office. Often times it is the custodial and maintenance staff who will be the first one to identify a non-student or suspicious person on the campus.

Improve Natural Supervision and Surveillance

This can be accomplished through improved good campus maintenance and design. Keep shrubbery trimmed to and maximum height of 18 inches. Keep posters off of window glass to improve natural supervision. Whenever the campus is being remodeled, design entrances so that pedestrian traffic can be easily monitored and controlled through specific entrance points that funnel all guests through and supervised main office or a controlled lobby.

Maintain a Supervision Plan for Each School

The plan should identify before and after school assignments as well as specific supervision locations. Supervision assignments should also be articulated during the school day.

Trained and Certified Officers

If armed officers are to be added to the school supervision team, make certain they are “academy trained” and POST (Police Officer Standard Training) certified. If armed officers are to be present on campus they must be of the highest quality in terms of their training and preparation.

If you implement all of these strategies will this stop all crime? No it won’t but you will have at least taken reasonable steps and demonstrated and responsible level of care. School officials should remember that they do not have to be “perfect” in preventing all school crime. They merely need to demonstrate “reasonable care.” School officials should “do everything they can, realizing they can’t do everything to prevent all crime.”

Until school officials are empowered with the ability to predict and control human behavior they cannot be expected to prevent all crime. Our schools are surrounded by and 360 degree perimeter of community crime that no school official can reasonably be expected to control. However, we must do the best we can in response to known risks in our community. The ultimate choices that and school makes will be driven by “community will.” Each school system should make choices that are responsive and relevant to the risks they face.

For additional information on safe school strategies, school crime prevention training, or school safety site/threat assessments contact Dr. Ronald Stephens, Executive Director, National School Safety Center, 141 Duesenberg Drive, Suite 7B, Westlake Village, CA 91362. 805 373 9977.
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