R U up 2 Speed?

If you are reading this article in a print magazine, you are already missing out on the superior experience of digital and/or electronic formats. If you are a steadfast member of the old guard, you may be thinking, “Well, the day I stop reading the old-fashioned way will be the day they’ll have to pry this magazine from my cold, dead fingers!” With an attitude like that, I can almost guarantee you will get your wish. Go ahead, hold onto your print edition, your cursive style of writing and your pocket calculator. While those preferences may not adversely affect your security program, failing to get in motion when it comes to trends in school security might. So, r u up 2 speed? Answer the following soul-searching questions to find out.

How Are You Involving Students in Your Security Program?
Proponents of the “old school” approach to security resisted any involvement of students because they considered them to be adversarial by nature. That kind of thinking, however, is either jaded or misguided for two reasons.
  • Where technology is concerned, students are well ahead of adults. Students not only have no fear of technology, they have greater access to it and are utilizing technology with a frequency that makes the typical adult’s head spin. If you are wondering what that looks like, Skype me and I’ll demonstrate!
  • Students have a much better pulse of what’s really happening in and around the school than adults do. I have had the privilege of bringing instruction in “technology safety” to hundreds of middle school students this year. The amount of information those students shared regarding issues such as bullying, social networking and crime, in general, was staggering.
What are the most appropriate ways to involve students in your security program? While anonymous surveys and inclusion on a Safety Committee are good practices, there is no substitute for good personal relations. Let me challenge you and your staff to simply make a practice of asking students about security issues — potential or real. Additionally, ask students how they can effectively contribute to a safer learning environment. I double-dog dare you!

How Are You Handling Visitor Management?
The bottom-line truth is that attempting to handle visitor management with a sign-in log and visitor stickers is ineffective, if not archaic. Visitors should never be permitted, much less invited, to sign for themselves. Please try to convince me that you can always read the normally illegible handwriting of visitors and that all the information they write is accurate! As far as stickers are concerned, the overriding reason they were chosen in the first place is economics. Replacing badges that were not returned by visitors, inadvertently or not, became too expensive. Unfortunately, sticker adhesive is either not good enough (sticker immediately begins to curl and eventually falls) or too good (posted warnings tell us not to affix stickers to leather, silk, suede, corduroy, fleece, satin, etc.). Consider, instead, the “credential exchange.” This practice requires all visitors to produce photograph identification (ID), be signed in and be authorized by a school staff member. That staff member gives the visitor a badge that hangs on a colored, break-away lanyard around the neck and holds the photograph ID until another exchange can be made upon signing out at the conclusion of the visit.

An even trendier and more technological option involves utilizing visitor management software. Offered by vendors such as EasyLobby, Raptor Technologies and LobbyGuard, visitor management software provides real-time, online sex offender screening. Since most of these systems print stickers, I recommend leaving the backing on the sticker and sliding it into a clear badge holder that is connected to a colored, break-away lanyard.

How Are You Improving Access Control?

A key ring with 10+ keys looks prehistoric and the term “key control” is often an oxymoron. In some schools it’s not uncommon to find that three generations of families have keys to the building. Before you think about the possibility of rekeying the exterior of your facilities, think again! Today’s electronic access control solutions are benefiting schools in numerous ways. Here are just a few of those benefits.
  • Every time a staff member’s card or key fob is used to enter the facility, that information (employee, time, location) is captured. This kind of audit trail can be helpful when investigating a security incident or for identifying operational patterns.
  • Administrators can determine user-level access rights all the way down to individual doors and times. For example, teachers may be granted access to the building between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. at several designated entrances, while support staff may be granted access between 7:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. at only one entrance and administrators may be granted 24-hour, facility-wide access.
  • If a card or key fob is ever lost, it can be immediately removed from the database and a new one can be issued. If a staff member’s employment ends, his or her access rights can be deleted within seconds.
Architecturally speaking, I would like to see a locked vestibule at the Main Entrance of every school. Utilizing this kind of “man trap,” the school permits visitors to enter an area that provides shelter from weather conditions. At the same time, the school prohibits visitors from freely accessing the entire building. Once inside a locked vestibule, a staff member is able to authorize visitors (see the “credential exchange” above), perhaps making use of a pass-through window, before electronically granting access to the rest of the building.

How Are You Preparing Your Stakeholders for Emergencies?
By stakeholders, I am referring to people inside your building such as teachers, support staff, students and organizations that utilize your facilities and people outside your building such as parents, emergency responders and neighboring entities. Effective emergency preparedness requires addressing at least the following three areas.
  • Effective Parent Notification Systems
    • Schools must have a fast and reliable way of contacting parents in the event of a potential or actual emergency. Services such as SchoolReach, Connect-Ed and Instant Alert enable schools to immediately communicate with parents and other stakeholders with voice, text and email messages.
  • Routinely Drilled Lockdown Procedures
    • Many states now require schools to practice lockdown drills. Remember, there are only two instances where emergency procedures can be evaluated. The first instance is during an actual emergency. Since an actually emergency would be an inconvenient time to discover procedural problems, I recommend you evaluate emergency procedures during the second instance — a practice situation. Begin with the least disruptive time, operationally, to conduct a drill and progressively move to more challenging times.
  • Compliance with National Incident Management System (NIMS) Guidelines
    • NIMS is a national system designed to coordinate emergency preparedness and incident management across federal, state and local agencies, including schools. The most basic instructional course (IS-100SCa) is “Introduction to the Incident Command System for Schools.” This course can be taken in a free, web-based version or through a local emergency response agency.
Now is the time to improve school security. The rapid advancement of technology poses both new levels of risk as well as new opportunities to make learning environments safer. The only question that remains is simply this — What will you do to face this new world? My recommendation is to boldly step forward to meet the challenge.

Paul Timm is a board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP), President of RETA Security, Inc., and a nationally acclaimed expert in school security. In addition to conducting numerous vulnerability assessments and his frequent keynote addresses, Paul serves on the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF) School Security Committee. Paul is certified in Vulnerability Assessment Methodology (VAM) through Sandia National Laboratories and the ALPHA vulnerability assessment methodology. He has been trained by the National Organization for Victims Assistance (NOVA) and is an experienced School Crisis Assistance Team (SCAT) volunteer. He is also a member of ASIS International, the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC), and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO). Currently working on his MDiv at Moody Theological Seminary, Paul holds a degree in Speech Communications and a Certificate in Business Administration from the University of Illinois. He can be reached at www.retasecurity.com.