Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Safety Within the Budget

Safety Within the Budget


What can schools with little or no money available do to improve their security and safety programs? In assembling “Twenty Simple Strategies to Safer and More Effective Schools” for the Maine Department of Education, Michael Dorn and his colleagues at the Macon, Ga.-based nonprofit Safe Havens International went a long way toward writing the book on the topic.

But in a recent interview with SP&M, he also stopped just short of recommending that, before doing anything, everyone involved take a deep, cleansing breath.

Reaction to active shooter events in the news has become “so emotional and so visceral,” says Dorn, “that I would say children are dying each year due to preventable injuries” because people are fixated on the shooter threat.

During a 34-year career in school safety and security, he says, “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Dorn adds that some districts that overcommitted their resources in that direction are “getting clobbered” in court for failing to address problems that have resulted in school fatalities that were far more preventable.

For those with clear enough heads to address broader issues of school safety and security — the topic of this article — Dorn lists three top priorities.

“The first would be traffic safety.”

Although many districts can’t afford consultants, without cost “a local traffic officer could do 90 percent” of what a consultant could do by taking a look at foot and vehicle traffic patterns around the school grounds.

Second, he recommends having community fire, police and emergency management officials involved in emergency drills, including lockdowns.

A policeman for 20 years, Dorn says that when entering the wider field of safety, “he suddenly learned there’s a lot that I didn’t know” about the other two perspectives.

“The other one I would add, if you’re in an area where you’re prone to tornadoes,” he says, have the same team look at protecting students, with an eye toward moving them out of hallways and into locker rooms, bathrooms or more secure, protected areas.

Paul Timm: Collaboration, Consensus and Communication

In an interview with SP&M and as a presenter the recent SP&M webinar “Creating a Safe & Secure School,” Paul Timm, author of “School Security” and president of RETA Security, Inc., underscored the importance of three C’s: Collaboration, Consensus and Communications.

The first two are crucial for districts pulling together emergency preparedness plans, the third has two distinct and important roles before and during emergencies.

For schools that haven’t done so, Timm recommends a safety study aimed at emergency planning and preparedness simply because “so much is going to come up in that study” to raise the awareness of its importance.

Like Dorn, Timm recommends including police, fire and emergency management personnel in the team-building process aimed at “collaboration and consensus,” so that when an emergency arises, there is no hesitation about what’s to be done.

To illustrate the importance of then effectively communicating the plan with staff, Timm cites the experience of a district that had spent tens of thousands of dollars on a security system only to have a shooter enter the building while the door was closing behind a person who had used a security swipe to enter.

Timm lists clear communication during an emergency as another priority.

Predicting that smartphones are likely to become the pass keys for building security systems, he says Twitter increasingly will be the favored tool for communicating not only school events but emergencies, and adds that as tools to be used during emergencies, “I love two-way radios (not walkie-talkies) more than the spoken word can tell.”

The reason: They offer “one button immediate communication with a whole cadre of people who can help.”

Timm adds that even for staff don’t use any form of social media, “It’s time to explore your (Facebook) security settings” to advise students what they can do to protect themselves from the hazards of the social media milieu.

Finally, Timm says schools that don’t include students in their safety committees are “making a big mistake,” not only because students tapped into the tech world, but because “they have a much better pulse” for what’s happening in school and are aware of locations where threats including bullying and drug exchanges are taking place.

Mo Canady: SROs and Community-Based Policing

Community-based policing is increasingly expanding in neighborhoods.

But Mo Canady says there is no community where the approach is more important than a school community.

The president of the National Association of School Resource Officers (SROs) fears that too many people still think of an SRO “as a kind of security guard.”

“That’s not the goal,” he says. “The number one goal of SROs is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth” so they can identify and defuse potential problems before they arise.

Achieving that goal requires “good, solid relationships” with teachers, students and staff that administrators can encourage without spending any money.

Says Canady, “We’re talking about philosophy more than anything else.”

Of the triad of responsibilities SROs perform, he notes that, the law enforcement element is the “fairly easy” to them, simply because most SROs are assigned to schools by police departments.

But in their other two roles — education and counseling — it’s necessary that they be seen and encouraged to become “part of the school community.”

Administrators can help by making sure the door is open, both figuratively and actually to SROs — by inviting them in to be part of the school community, by connecting them with staff and faculty and by opening the doors of classrooms so that SROs can educate students about drinking and driving, distracted driving and other hazards in their world.

In that effort, Canady says administrators will find willing partners because SROs “are concerned about having a good relationship with the school administration.”

These links are important, he said, because being an SRO means being on the front line of the politically charges relationship between officers and their communities and high school age youth can be at the same time the ideal and most challenging audience.

Mike Halligan: What About Consultants?

During the SP&M Webinar, Mike Halligan, president of The Halligan Group, said that in time- and resource-strapped school systems — it could make sense to bring in a consultant to address safety and security issues.

On the other hand, he said, it’s important for districts who do so to do enough thinking and homework ahead of time.

In an attempt to solve a budget overrun, Halligan says, a college he worked with hired a firm that indeed helped them trim their building budget, but at the same time “they also jeopardized safety issues without knowing about it.”

Indeed, stories abound about public schools that, in an attempt to address concerns about active shooter situations, fitted all their classroom doors with after-market locking devices that, when installed, both violated fire codes and ruined the classroom doors’ rating for fire safety, requiring that they be replaced at enormous cost.

Halligan says the safeguard against such dangers involves two steps:

  • Talking to all the internal and external stakeholders including fire, police and emergency management.
  • Consulting peer districts, including benchmark programs, to see what they are doing.

In setting priorities, he adds, the best advice to a district is to know itself. A rural district in a Tornado Alley is likely to face a different set of safety issues than an innercity district plagued by gang issues.

By way of an update. Halligan also listed some impending safety-related building code changes on the horizon for schools, among them, changes on requirements for carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide detectors and changes on placement of smoke detectors in an effort to lessen false alarms.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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