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Study Finds Major Gaps in School Safety and Security

The entire nation can learn from Idaho, where thorough safety and security assessments completed last fall show that a significant portion of the state’s K-12 campuses are still vulnerable.

The Idaho State Department of Education released its findings on Feb. 12 that summarize assessments done on approximately 10% of its schools. What was discovered is disturbing and most likely applies to K-12 schools across the country. Areas of particular concern include access control, visitor management, key control, communications, emergency operations plans, backup power, teacher and staff training, as well as student and/or parent involvement in safety planning, among many other things.

Rather than use these results to bash Idaho, I’d like to applaud its officials for embarking on such thorough safety and security assessments of its school buildings. Not only that, they should be praised for having the dedication to transparency to make the findings public. Those of us in the campus protection field know we can’t address our campus safety and security weaknesses until we know what they are. Studies like the ones done in Idaho that shed light on strengths and weaknesses are the first step.

The Idaho assessments showed that the average amount of time an assessor was inside each school before being contacted and asked to report to the office was just under 10 minutes. In 19 of the 74 schools that were visited, the assessment team member was not contacted at all and self-reported to the office. Additionally, only 29 of the 74 schools had classroom doors that can be locked from the inside with hardware meeting fire code.

In 62 schools, communications were sufficient for daily operations; however, in most cases a power outage would render the systems non-operational. Additionally, the general lack of a comprehensive communications plan at both the school and district levels assures that communications will be a major impediment to effective emergency operations.

The assessment also found that only five schools include parents and/or students in safety planning and/or policy development. Only five out of the 74 schools that were assessed have some type of anonymous reporting system. When it comes to training, only 11 schools have key staff trained in NIMS/ICS procedures.

There is no way to sugarcoat these findings. To put it gently, they are cause for significant concern. To put it bluntly, they are downright scary

That being said, I know the problems found in this study aren’t limited to the state of Idaho.  I challenge other states to take the bull by the horns and conduct similar studies of their K-12 campuses. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they discover very similar and disturbing protection gaps. Only then will we truly be able to address our school safety and security challenges.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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