Five No-Cost and Low-Cost School Safety Approaches

We are truly blessed with an array of highly robust and effective school security technologies. Today’s security cameras, visitor management systems and other technologies are far superior to what was available just a decade ago. When utilized appropriately, these amazing technologies can make our schools safer. At the same time, there are many low cost and no-cost approaches to school security and safety that are just as impactful as even the best technology solutions.

Safe Havens International recently assisted the Maine Department of Education in conducting a state-wide school security evaluation. A group of our analysts decided to develop a free resource for the Department as a pro-bono effort. Using their observations from the more than 6,000 K-12 school safety and security assessments they have assisted with over the years, the team came up with 20 strategies that are often easy for schools to apply. The resulting document, “Twenty Simple Strategies for Safer and More Effective Schools” focuses on strategies that most schools can implement. The guide can be accessed at

Here are five key strategies that we have found to be low-cost and in some cases, no-cost opportunities to improve school safety and security:

Improving Student Supervision

Thoughtful, organized and effective student supervision is one of the most reliable ways to prevent serious injury and death in K-12 schools. Improving student supervision reduces the risk of playground incidents, pedestrian and vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, acts of violence, fire, severe weather and most other potentially deadly types of school safety incidents. Effective student supervision not only helps to prevent incidents, but also reduces the time for speed to safety in major crisis events like an active shooter incident, fire or tornado.

Improving Space Management

Establishing a consistent practice to keep unoccupied rooms locked when an adult is not present to supervise students can help prevent an array of safety incidents such as sexual assault, arson and theft. Many tragic situations resulting from school staff leaving boiler rooms, utility closets, auditoriums, classrooms, gymnasiums and other areas unlocked and unattended take place each year. These types of tragic incidents have taken place in public, charter, parochial as well as independent elementary, middle and high schools across the country. Proper policy, staff development and leadership can result in a dramatic reduction of space management issues.

Improving Natural Surveillance

While many educators have attempted to block visibility in classroom and office areas due to fear of active shooters, the reality is this practice can increase risk for a variety of types of security incidents including those involving an armed aggressor. Training staff on the importance of tipping window shades and removing visual barriers can help reduce not only crime on campus, but the fear of crime as well. While there are some exceptions, being able to see and be seen reduces the opportunity for an offender to move around and inside schools without detection.

Reduce Target Identifiers

Though not an everyday occurrence, there have been numerous serious instances where an aggressor has been able to locate a student or a staff member to attack or abduct them by looking for target identifiers. Teacher’s names on classroom doors, student artwork with names displayed next to classrooms and reserved parking signs with names or titles have all been used by aggressors seeking to locate victims. Replacing a sign that reads “reserved for principal” with a sign that simply reads “reserved” can prevent a homicide on campus. A Florida independent school averted an attempted campus murder in this manner.

Remove Easy Access to Potential Improvised Weapons

A number of school employees and students have been attacked with letter openers, sharp scissors, hammers, knives, large wooden nameplates and other objects left on desks and office counters. While it is impossible to remove every object that could be used to harm students and staff from a school, it is preferable that an aggressor not be able to simply grab a seven-inch pair of scissors off an administrator’s desk in a moment of rage or emotional instability.

While none of these five simple strategies are complicated or expensive to implement, we have seen many horrible situations in schools where they were not in use. While there are numerous ways to enhance the safety of students and staff when funding is available, it is always appropriate to consider ways to enhance school security and safety using low-cost and no-cost strategies that have proven to be effective.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at

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