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4 School Security Basics Your K-12 Campus Should Implement Now

Securable space, communications, threat assessment and management, and common protocol are the foundations of a good school security program.

4 School Security Basics Your K-12 Campus Should Implement Now

School security improvement is an ongoing process and requires a strong foundation. Photo iStock

February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, like every highly publicized act of school violence before it, has precipitated both concentrated scrutiny and a deluge of suggestions for administrators on how to improve school security. Ineffective, unsustainable or simply impossible remedies fill comment cards and inboxes. The pressure can be intense. An enthusiastic army of security vendors selling their newest products can overwhelm the search for effective solutions. For complex, multi-faceted problems like school security, the answer “All you need to do…” rarely is.

This predictable drama plays out against a background of limited resources and expertise. For most educators, all their training, background and experience revolve around student achievement. Given that, determining meaningful improvements in your security profile often becomes confusing.

As with anything, start with the fundamentals. What are the essential elements for effective school security? The following recommendations from the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security (IOSSS) outlines those foundational elements as well as the research supporting them.

School Security Foundational Elements

1. Securable Space 

As asserted in The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Report, properly secured classroom doors have repeatedly proven to be an effective response in school shootings. Classroom doors should be lockable (without a key) from the inside the classroom. Metal framed, solid core, fire-rated doors are preferred. Building perimeter doors should be secured with visitor access through a monitored entrance. Campus perimeters should be fenced, secured and supervised while students are present.  Access to remote instructional spaces should be within secured routes.

2. Building and Campus Communications

Effective communication is a requirement for school operations. All schools should have a public address system audible in all interior and exterior occupied areas. The ability to initiate campus-wide notification from multiple locations throughout the building is preferred. Schools need an intercom system with two-way capability in all instructional spaces. A one-to-many radio system for all key personnel is critical for response. While cell phones are convenient, the limitations of the cellular technology make them ineffective in dynamic situations.

3. Common Classroom Response Protocol

Simple, predictable and trainable classroom actions are the core of an effective school response plan. Complex responses at the classroom level are difficult to train and sustain with staff turnover, student mobility and rotating substitute teachers. A training program limited to essential responses will be much more effective in an emergency. It will also be easier to coordinate with response agencies.  The IOSSS recommends a platform called the Four Command Responses: Evacuation, Reverse Evacuation, Hall Check and Lock Down.

4. Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management

The Secret Service’s Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model report notes that effective behavioral threat assessment and management processes are a key factor in interdicting potential school shooters. Research confirms that the overwhelming majority of school shooters are students.  School personnel are uniquely positioned to observe and report pre-attack behaviors once given appropriate training. The current standard of care includes research-based investigation, analysis and management by a well-trained, multidisciplinary team.

Creating securable space and assuring effective communications will likely require infrastructure improvements or modification. These vulnerabilities lend themselves well to one-time use monies and if necessary, a phased implementation. Classroom response and behavioral threat management are primarily operational modifications and must be addressed through establishing clearly articulated objectives, purposeful staff training and implementation with fidelity, as well a plan for sustainability.

A more robust security platform will naturally evolve from these four elemental principles. These core considerations are the basis of a secure school environment. Additionally, once in place, they tend to drive attention to other vulnerabilities.  School security improvement is an ongoing process. A strong foundation is not a guarantee of a secure facility, but neglecting the fundamentals is always costly and can be a catastrophic misstep.

Guy Bliesner and Mike Munger are with the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security.

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Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!

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