What pitfalls could face your district if you choose not to invest in a safety plan?

05/11/2020  |  By Kevin Wren
FACILITIES
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School safety is a fragmented space. Districts across the country are searching for the right combination of security solutions, training, advocacy and buy-in from their administrations. They need a roadmap, resources, and the answer to two basic questions: what should we do and how do we prioritize?

Failure to assemble a planning team with all appropriate stakeholders can be detrimental to a school’s safety. But schools must first answer the question: Who are the stakeholders? Who makes up the team that is making safety/security decisions?

But what happens if districts choose not to invest in a school safety plan? What pitfalls could they be faced with?

1.Tragedy

Not in a million years did Michele Gay or Alissa Parker ever think that they would create Safe and Sound Schools, a national non-profit school safety center, after sending their daughters Josephine and Emilie to Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. They did not think it could happen to their children at their elementary school. While active shooter events are rare, we must still be prepared for those situations like we would prepare for unwanted visitors, irate parents and even animals coming onto campuses.

2. Lack Of Stakeholder Buy-In

Failure to assemble a planning team with all appropriate stakeholders can be detrimental to a school’s safety. But schools must first answer the question: who are the stakeholders? Who makes up the team that is making safety/security decisions?

A school planning team should be led by a security director with members from community, administrative, integration and technology groups. This diverse group of stakeholders allows for different concerns and problems to be addressed through a comprehensive security plan. Students are served better when all stakeholders work together.

3. Overpaying For Solutions Without A Basic Security Infrastructure

Often when looking for solutions we first go to the shiny, expensive piece of technology we think could fix the problems. But what are the simple solutions we need to implement before we take the next step? What other solutions are available that fit within the budget right now? Basic security infrastructure pieces like training for staff, door locks and visitor management solutions are a key to creating a comprehensive solution and will help to prevent threats before they happen.

4. Reactionary Change Rather Than Precautionary Change

While shootings are tragic and rare, schools must have a plan in the event they happen. Schools should assess all hazards and threats and train staff accordingly. It’s easy to have a quick reaction when a tragedy occurs, especially in our current social media and 24-hour news cycle climate, however it is best to remain collected when reacting to a single situation.

According to a 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post, “the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly one in 614,000,000.” The odds of winning the Carolina Millions lottery is one in 1.8 million. Create a plan in the beginning to deal with threats so everyone is prepared in the unlikely event of an emergency.

5. Mismatched Systems

Communication is key when it comes to solutions, but what about systems communicating with law enforcement or even each school in your district? With proprietary systems having their own hardware and software requirements, there is always a chance they will not communicate properly with emergency officials or be able to alert other schools of an emergency. This lack of communication can lead to confusion during an incident and opens the district up to unnecessary litigation and emotional stress. By creating a strategic plan, the chance of this happening within a school district is lessened.

6. Pricing Traps

Unfortunately, school safety projects are often awarded to the lowest bidder. But, choosing the lowest cost solutions above all other considerations, such as total life cycle costs, is dangerous. What are the recurring costs that will be necessary to cover? Will the district have to pay for software licensing, upgrades and device licensing on a yearly basis? What is the life expectancy of the products we’re purchasing? These costs need to be explicitly stated and defined before the project begins. Additionally, schools should also consider additional vulnerabilities and cost to operate the technology prior to committing to projects.

7. Reliance On Ineffective Technology

Schools are government entities and as such must have an FCC license for two-way radio use, however this does not mean the standard walkie-talkies purchased from Wal-Mart or Amazon. Radios should have the ability to talk with law enforcement and first responders either directly or through a bridge. Additionally, fire code dictates that public safety officials must be able to use their radios throughout your buildings, which may require the school to install a dual band amplifier to boost signal.

Districts should keep this in mind when implementing emergency communication technology and pinpoint any faults in case of an incident, including how teachers and staff can contact officials in the event of something in their classroom.

8. Over-Reliance On Single A Single Solution

There is no way that a single piece of technology can solve all school safety and security issues. The problems schools deal with the most are human issues and as such are very complicated. Video surveillance, access control and the resulting analytics alone will not prevent every single threat even though they make schools overall safer. Schools should prepare for all threats, internal and external, with a comprehensive safety plan as discussed in the points above.

9. Failure To Address Internal And External Threats

Threats to schools are not universal. When looking at school shootings the vast majority of high school shootings take place by students or recent students — an internal threat. Elementary school shootings are done by perpetrators that are not students and come from the outside — an external threat.

With this knowledge, safety decision makers should look at hardened classrooms in high schools and hardened exteriors in elementary schools. This means the glass in classroom windows should be assessed and designated areas in classrooms should be developed as “emergency shelters.” Schools should also assess the locks on doors and how they will function in the event of an emergency.

10. Use Of Unnecessary Equipment And Technology

Similarly, to making reactionary decisions, it’s important to choose technology that is necessary and effective when designing solutions. However, it’s easy to make emotional decisions. The deployment of classroom barricade devices is a prime example. For several years, schools have attempted to enhance their classroom security by installing security devices, often called classroom barricade devices. These devices are designed to lock down a classroom door during an active shooter event. These are sometimes touted as being both effective and inexpensive — making them appealing to school districts under pressure from parents to enhance security. Unfortunately, many of these products not only violate current life safety code requirements, but they can cause increased risk and liability.

School safety and security does not have to be overly complicated. However, it’s important to be cognizant of the different elements of a safety plan. The cost of not securing your schools is too great.

Kevin Wren has more than 20 years of school safety experience and served as security director for two of South Carolina’s largest school districts. He was named National Campus Security Director of the Year by Campus Safety Magazine in 2016 while at Rock Hill Schools.
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