Soon after I joined Great Oaks Career Campuses as their Coordinator of Safety and Security, several in the district leadership team asked me, “Al, if you were to win the lottery and not come to work tomorrow, how would we know everything you do to keep our schools safe?” The answer to this question includes so much, which made me realize – some people do not know where to start when it comes to keeping a school safe.
When a teacher notices a change in student behavior or is told a rumor about a student bringing a gun to school, what should they do? They must report it!
I recently participated in a webinar series presented by PublicSchoolWORKS called “School Safety Talks.” The seriesfocused on crisis prevention, preparedness and response. My webinar within the series outlined the steps Great Oaks Career Campuses takes to prevent, prepare, respond and recover from crises – and help other schools build their own crisis plans. . Every building is different and has different risks that must be considered, but below are key considerations everyone can implement:
Understanding Crises for Your District
Before schools can create a plan to address crises, they have to understand the crises that could affect them. The federal government breaks crises into three categories: natural events, technological events, and adversarial events – and sometimes they overlap. Natural events are weather-related, such as flooding or tornados. Technological events include power outages, server failure, and data breaches. Lastly, adversarial events include fights, workplace violence, and active shooter situations. The impact these events can have on a school also fall into three categories: physical impact on humans or emotions, impact to property and financial impacts.
It is important to then look at the scope of the impact, as well. Is damage centralized or spread out across a campus? Is the event occurring at multiple locations? Is the event impacting other schools as well? Understanding the scope of an event will help a school respond to a crisis.
I recommend schools and districts conduct a risk assessment to determine the most and least probable risks, and the most and least harmful risks to determine where they should start planning. While all harmful risks should be addressed, developing safety plans and programs starting with the most likely to occur seems to provide for safer schools.
Systematically Approaching Crises
When I developed Great Oaks’ safety programs – whether it was for an emergency like a natural disaster or a fight between students – I took a five-step approach: Preparedness/Prevention, Protection, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation. Since active shooter situations are a big discussion right now, we will use it as an example of how Great Oaks applies the five-step approach to address risk at one of our campuses.
In developing our programs, I knew we needed to use technology to implement and automate our programs and much of it is managed by PublicSchoolWORKS providing me peace of mind that we are the best prepared for any event.
Preparedness/Prevention: This is arguably the biggest part of any safety program. What needs to be done to prepare staff and students to act in the event of an active shooter, but also, what can be done to prevent it from happening in the first place? We use a combination of practices.
Every September, we deploy online training to staff via PublicSchoolWORKS. At the beginning of the year, everyone is automatically notified to complete the training online. Whenever a new hire starts at one of our campuses, they are automatically enrolled in the training. This online training course sets the stage for our further active shooter response training called “A.L.i.C.E.” which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
We work with local authorities to conduct routine lockdown drills and active shooter drills. Active shooter drills help staff know what to expect and practice what to do should an active shooter situation occur. Because first responders are experts, they can estimate the hypothetical causalities that would have occurred based on how the drill went to determine the overall effectiveness. The PublicSchoolWORKS system also reminds our campuses when to conduct both lockdown and active shooter drills.
In the event of an active shooter, no one is going to pull out a binder and start reading the emergency plan. Instead, staff and faculty can access our emergency flip charts, plans, and even campus floor plans and aerial shots on their phones using NaviGate Prepared. We also share these digitized documents with first responders and law enforcement so they have the information before they arrive on campus.
One of the best ways to prevent an active shooter situation from occurring is to understand and know our students so we can notice a change in behavior. When staff members have close relationships with students, they can intervene if they notice a student’s behavior has changed or they can be confidants for students who hear rumors of a threat.
When a teacher notices a change in student behavior or is told a rumor about a student bringing a gun to school, what should they do? They must report it! Threats or rumors cannot be investigated if they are not reported.
The crisis plan should have community input from businesses, parents, and students. The community should know the general components of the plan, such as the district has designated a reunification site, but the tactical application, such as where the site is located and its security measures, should remain secure.
Informing them of the plan not only shows the school or district is doing its due diligence, it informs them how they can help.
Protection: Right after Parkland, there was a surge in sales for bullet-proof panels or backpacks, door locking or barricading technology, and other forms of protection. While protection is important, there isn’t a single solution schools should use, and these types of protections are certainly not the only thing they should be doing.
Great Oaks takes a layered approach to protection. We look at access control – how would someone gain access to our buildings? We gate the perimeter of our campuses, install physical barriers such as cement posts to prevent people from driving up to the building, and ensure there is ample lighting in parking lots. We employ a single point of entry for each building for visitors and access control using electronic locks for staff, installed a panic and lockdown button in each building’s main office reception areas, and we lock classroom doors. We installed physical security cameras and have a strict visitor management protocol. All of these work together.
Response: A school’s response is only as good as its preparation. Most active shooter situations last between five and seven minutes. This is when people will decide between the courses of action –fight, flight, or freeze. Having effective prevention and preparedness initiatives helps our staff to immediately act in the event of a crisis.
Recovery: An active shooter situation does not end when the shooter is apprehended. Recovery plays a big role in the impact a crisis can have on a community. This step should include plans for how to treat the injured, how to enact a reunification plan so students can get to a safe place and connect with their families as soon as possible, as well as a plan for how to communicate the details of an event with the media.
It should also include a plan for returning back to school. Will there be abbreviated hours? If there were casualties, do you have plans in place for where memorials should be placed, how long they will remain, and who will take them down? How will you accommodate student and staff needs for counseling or educational compliance? Recovering from an active shooter situation is not a quick process.
Mitigation: Lastly, schools and districts must evaluate how they handled the event. Were staff and students sufficiently prepared? Did their response mitigate the most danger and causalities? What preventative measures can be put in place to prevent an active shooter from happening again?
It’s important to understand that evaluating a safety program is not a one-time thing. Safety plans should be revisited, practiced, and revamped on a consistent basis. Doing so could help save lives.