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

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.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

2 responses to “4 School Security Basics Your K-12 Campus Should Implement Now”

  1. Edna Cabrera says:

    Mass notification is first of all security, all other things can be delivered even with old-fashioned speakers. Even modern tech solutions are uncapable of detecting suspicios personalities so human involvement is still required.

  2. Chuck Hibbert says:

    While I agree classroom doors must be lockable from the inside, with or without a key, it is imperative that classroom doors have a key way on the exterior of the door. Perhaps this is a concept the authors’ agree with as well, but space prevented that statement from being made? We have a tendency to only think of the active shooter situation as the only reason for door hardware and how the door may be locked. Every classroom door MUST be able to be unlocked from the hallway or exterior as well. If not, someone, generally a student(s) could lock the classroom door and cause harm to others or themselves in the classroom and help would be delayed. So when discussing door upgrades keep in mind other events can and have happened in classrooms where the door was locked and response was delayed because no one had a key at hand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo