Five Steps on the Path to Greater School Security

Working in the school physical safety and security space, I am always asked, “What are the five things every school can do to make themselves safer?”

Generally, the inquiring person is looking for hard answers like ballistic entrances, metal detectors, locks, cameras and access controls. But the reality is that no two schools are alike. Those in the school safety space have a saying: “If you have seen one school, you have seen one school.”

Indeed, there are some 100,000 K-12 public schools in America, and they are on average more than 45 years old. These dated buildings rarely follow a consistent design, and what’s more, no two communities are identical. Diverse schools and communities require solutions tailored to their precise needs, challenges and vulnerabilities.

It must also be said that any solutions toward improving the safety and security of our schools should be part of a holistic strategy that also provides mental health counseling services, relationship-based policing as practiced by school resource officers, anonymous reporting systems, welcoming and environmentally healthy school environments, and of course solid academic programs.

Mass school killings, such as those at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland or Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, are low frequency-high consequence events. Violence on that scale is rare, but when it happens, it devastates families and communities and tears at the heart of our society. As such, those of us working to create more secure schools have an obligation to look far beyond single static measures like locks and detectors. Instead, what’s needed is a holistic, nuanced approach to improving security infrastructure and incorporating security technology and life safety systems.

Recognizing there is no single solution and that every school is unique, there are five things all administrators and communities can do to begin taking steps toward school physical security:

1. Perform facility risk assessments: Before vulnerabilities can be addressed, a school must first understand which vulnerabilities exist. A comprehensive risk assessment can reveal numerous opportunities for enhancing security, many of which may not be obvious.

2. Create a plan, policies and procedures to address deficiencies: Once a school understands where vulnerabilities exist, they need to codify the actions they intend to take. A holistic approach to school security requires a roadmap to get there, and that begins with detailed plans, policies and procedures. Policies and procedures are important because they can be no-cost or low-cost solutions to addressing deficiencies. Examples include limiting the number of entrances to the facility or staggering the start of the day for different grades to accommodate fewer entrances.

3. Budget for security implementation: Plans are well and good, but they must be supported with the resources they require for implementation. This does not mean throwing money at a vulnerability, such as buying the most expensive or most recent systems. Instead, it means analyzing each portion of the security plan,, determining how much funding should allocated and balancing that against the many other financial considerations schools face each year.

4. Implement the plan: Just as every school is different, so too is every school physical security plan. If you can’t implement the plan, it isn’t worth the paper on which it is printed. School administrators should work with partners, such as local police departments, school resource officers, parent organizations, students, and teachers to apply the policies, procedures, new security infrastructure, and technology.

5. Train, train and train: It’s said that in an emergency, we do not rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training. The first time security plans and infrastructure are tested must not be during an episode of violence. On an ongoing basis, everyone in a school must have opportunities to think through and rehearse the actions that will keep them safe in a real emergency.

There is no magic solution that will deliver the safety and security we all want for our children and the people who educate them, but there is a clear path forward. Ultimately, the schools that have assessed, planned, trained and prepared will be those best positioned to protect our most valuable national assets: our students and teachers.

Consider the Student Perspective in School Security

By Jake Glacer

A little more than a year ago, on February 14, 2018, I experienced a mass shooting firsthand inside room 1213 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, new security measures have been put in place at my high school, but from a student’s perspective, there is a long way to go. The lesson is not necessarily that Stoneman Douglas needs to do a better job of securing its campus (it does), but also, that all schools need to listen to student input and feedback when implementing school safety plans.

This is important because what is intended is not always the reality.

At Stoneman Douglas, nothing has really changed. When we started the school year, there were 18 security guards, including school police officers and campus monitors. One of their tasks is to check everyone’s student or teacher ID card at one of several entrances before they are allowed inside. It seems like a good idea, but the reality is that IDs are not always checked and this lackluster approach leaves us with many vulnerabilities and a false sense of security.

When I drive into school, myself and everyone in my car must show a guard our IDs. There have been many times when I drove past guards who seemed uninterested in whether we were actually students who belonged at the school. I have forgotten my ID from time to time, and the guard always lets me through the gate to get a new one from the front office. What is the purpose of having the guard checking IDs if I can get into the parking lot without an ID?

The entrance I use to get into school has lately been better guarded, as they placed a new campus monitor who looks at each and every individual’s ID. But this wasn’t always the case, and it’s not the case elsewhere on the campus. At an event after school, for example, we needed our IDs to get through the nearest gate. I was with three friends, and two of them did not have their IDs. My friend and I who did walked in, went to another entrance that was completely unguarded and unlocked it to let our two friends in.

Another major problem that still has not been addressed is checking backpacks. Stoneman Douglas implemented clear backpacks for a short period after the shooting, and it came with a lot of backlash from students and parents. Over the last year, friends and I have been able to walk past guards at entrances while carrying large bags that are supposed to be inspected. In one example, my friend was bringing in a large bag of supplies for a project. We both walked right into school and past two guards who didn’t say a word.

When the shooting happened in 2018, my school had no protocol in place for such an event. It made a chaotic event even more chaotic. Now there are designated safe corners in all of the classrooms, and students know where to go in an emergency. But at the same time, in the new portable classroom buildings, there is nowhere to hide. There is a window on each side, one of them being big enough to view the entire classroom from outside. Sitting in one of these classrooms, I question every single day (and so do the teachers) why nothing has been done to make these new classrooms safer.

This kind of activity has been going on ever since February 14. There are more people around the school but not much more security. It seems to me this is more of a human error than a security error. And this is the main concern I have with the future development of school security.

In a school that has experienced a mass shooting, you would think that security would be much more important, more thought through and more consistently applied. So how much more lax is security at schools that have not experienced mass violence? And more troubling, are schools even aware whether their school safety measures are actually being implemented?

Deciding how to secure a school campus is only the first step in making a school safer. The next step is ensuring those security measures are actually being used. That takes monitoring and feedback over time, and all schools need to proactively and regularly talk with the people most affected by school security: the students and teachers.

Jake Glacer is a senior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Special Edition: School Security

Dear Readers,

In 2017, the Secure Schools Alliance (the Alliance) began a unique relationship with the DomPrep Journal. The goal was to raise awareness of the need to improve K-12 school security within the emergency preparedness community.

Recognizing that school shootings are low-probability/high-consequence events, The Alliance has provided digital content to the journal over the past year. This content began with the macro argument of why school security needs to be improved and concluded with a call to recognize that schools are a critical part of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which has been ignored for way too long.

These articles showed that one does not need to sustain a physical injury to be a victim of a mass event at a school. They expressed the need to educate students on what “see something say something” means and the critical role of the public safety community in the education of youths. They shared how one community has been impacted by multiple mass incidents and how they responded and recovered.

As the Alliance and its partners make the rounds with legislators and policy makers, the question is frequently asked, “How much will school security improvements cost?” One article showed how much the favored approach, The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) guidelines, cost one school district and what that approach would cost on a state-by- state basis.

A huge concern in the frenzy after recent school shootings is the need to balance security and safety concerns. That issue was addressed with a case study of one state, Indiana, which has been proactive in its approach to school safety and appropriately serves as a model for other states.

Many states are passing legislation and forming commissions and task forces to address the needs of their states and communities. Unfortunately, many states are merely throwing money at what they perceive to be the problems, sometimes without careful thought or research into the solutions they prescribe. Policy makers are urged to consult with those organizations representing educators, parents, public safety, law enforcement, critical infrastructure protection, industry, and nonprofits that remain at the forefront of protecting safe and secure schools.

This journey began a year ago, in 2017. So far in 2018, the United States has had more of its citizens die in school shootings than in its entire military. The time for action is now.

Robert Boyd, Executive Director, Secure Schools Alliance

Are K12 Schools Really Safe?

(Robert Boyd via Domestic Preparedness) The recent release of the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card is notable – not simply because it gave U.S. public schools a D+ grade on their overall condition, but due to its failure to address upgrades needed to the security infrastructure, security technology, and life safety systems of schools. As the new administration and Congress consider a major national infrastructure bill, it is time to invest in upgrading the security infrastructure of K-12 public schools. (Read more . . .)

Investing in School Infrastructure Is Investing in Our Children

By: Mike Griffin and Tim Eckersley

Few people would argue against the idea that our children are our nation’s most important asset. Simply put, they’re our future. If we want to protect our future, we must protect them. And, to do that, we must secure the places where they thrive – like schools.

In fact, most children in our country are in school for 6-7 hours per day for approximately 180 days per year. That’s more than 1,000 hours each year, not counting before or after school programs and extracurricular activities. With so much of their time spent in school or on school grounds, it’s important to address the real security needs of education, many of which lie in physical infrastructure issues.

Currently, there are approximately 100,000 public K-12 schools in America. On average, the main instructional buildings for these schools are more than 40 years old. The age of those buildings can create an issue in building quality, possibly negatively affecting both students and teachers. (Studies show student achievement is linked to building quality, and facility quality can have a “substantively significant” effect on teacher retention.) If students are in school to learn and teachers are in school to teach, we want them to do that to the greatest of their abilities. They must have safe learning and teaching environments. (Read more . . .)

Home page photo credit: Alan Levine (License)