09/28/2018 | By Joe Hendry
Tragic events like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the increasing frequency of school shootings across the country has led to an increased recognition that schools need assistance to create a safe environment for their students and staff. The amount of funding to improve school safety is growing but many school officials don’t know where to start.
This influx of available funding that must be spent by schools has led to an inundation of security firms, contractors, and various device companies vying to provide their services, to capture these funds. How are school officials supposed to know which move to make first? Which vendor should you use? What are the ramifications for selecting the wrong one?
Ultimately, these decisions are about the safety and security of the children in your care. All schools want to keep their students and staff safe. But keep in mind that these decisions will be heavily scrutinized. You will want to work with organizations that have strong reputations for delivering the highest quality service and safety outcomes.
The following tips can help you evaluate potential vendors as you navigate the school safety planning process.
Start with An Evaluation
The best way to decrease your liability and ensure you have the right security measures in place is to start with a risk assessment. Before committing to school safety purchase decisions, you should evaluate what you have in place currently and make sure that the purchases support a larger plan.
Risk assessments are a comprehensive analysis of your facility, policies and people to identify critical factors that can negatively impact your safety and security. When you hire an assessor he or she should be able to apply, design and integrate physical security systems as well as a plan to implement the recommended security measures.
Many of the state-level grants funds available are tied directly to risk assessments.
Mitigate Risk and Liability with a Certified Assessor
The purpose of a risk assessment is risk mitigation and liability protection. These assessments should be the foundation of strategic planning and long-term safety, security and infrastructure investment. To achieve this goal, you must hire a professionally certified assessor.
Just because someone has an impressive resume, does not mean they are a physical security professional. ASIS International Board Certification for Physical Security Professionals (PSP®) is the leading physical security designation in the private sector. ASIS Board Certification has received the DHS Safety Act designation, meaning that ASIS board-certified professionals’ customers are shielded from lawsuits involving ASIS certification and acts of terrorism. Ultimately, when selecting an assessor, you must consider the legal ramifications. If your assessor does not have a certification, you may be increasing your risk of liability if their assessment does not hold up under legal scrutiny.
Beware of Traps
There are vendors out there who offer to provide a risk assessment for free. These companies typically specialize in some other product, such as security cameras and systems, shot detection systems, door locks, etc. If you select a device company to provide your risk assessment, you can be sure that your assessment results will call for installation of whatever product they sell. This may or may not be an appropriate solution. But it is more than likely the assessment conducted will not be as thorough as it needs to be.
Risk Assessments Must Be Comprehensive
These assessments must be comprehensive and multi-faceted. Assessments should incorporate Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) but should also go further. Assessments need to analyze physical facilities and infrastructure, external environment, people, and policies. They should be done from outside/in and inside/out. A majority of school shooting events start inside with a shooter who actually belongs inside of the building. Therefore, external security measures won’t keep out individuals who are supposed to be inside. A holistic assessment will include mitigation strategies for internal threats and external threats.
A professionally certified assessor will integrate current security systems combining the architecture, technology and operational aspects into a responsive and adaptable system. Risk assessments are not checklists or templates. These are not one size fits all plans. Assessments are living documents that continue ongoing security improvements, not a stack of papers put in a binder on a shelf, never to be looked at again. Assessments provide an implementation guide for all security measures that are incorporated in the plan.
Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions
Risk assessments of your facility should be completed before you purchase any equipment. This prevents reactive purchases that are more expensive, potentially unnecessary and not research based. There is a booming industry of safety gadgets and devices aimed at making facilities seem safer. Yes, some of these products can enhance safety. However, they are not a magic bullet. Safety and security plans need to be customized to each facility. Certified assessors do not recommend buying things just to give the appearance of security. Their recommendations include long-term planning for personnel, continued support and maintenance for equipment and planning for replacement. Quick decisions to purchase devices may appear to increase safety, but many of these decisions are not looking at long-term maintenance, personnel requirements and ongoing costs. These purchase decisions should be part of a larger strategic safety and security plan.
Risk assessments are not only meant to provide strategic guidance and holistic solutions to address gaps in your security but also help mitigate risk in the event a catastrophic man-made incident occurs. Your assessor should not only help you understand which move to make first but also the cadence of change. They should identify where you need to increase your security focus to ensure everything is in place to prepare your staff, students and facility to exceed safety standards. When your assessment is done you should have a goal for a safe school, a clear plan to reach that goal, an up-to-date EOP, and a long-term maintenance schedule to ensure a safe environment conducive to education, learning and community engagement.