4 Solutions to Incident Management Challenges at Schools
Here’s what consultants look for when examining a school’s security posture and incident management plan.
As schools and colleges increasingly become targets for threats and attacks, they face the security challenge of maintaining a welcoming and open environment while ensuring the comprehensive safety of the students, teachers and staff. Recent high-profile school tragedies, such as those in Sandy Hook and San Bernardino, have only emphasized the need for educational facilities to maintain an effective and thorough security system and a coordinated incident management plan.
One of the first steps a school can take to work toward achieving this goal involves receiving a safety assessment from a security consultant. This process will often analyze two factors: the methods a school is using to actively protect and secure the campus, and the incident and communication plan a school has in place.
Through this assessment, educational facilities are able to determine what areas of their existing physical security systems are functioning properly and what pieces could use improvement.
Each technology component of a school’s security system, such as surveillance cameras, access control devices and emergency communication methods, are reviewed.
During the initial assessment, there are four main points of contact for a security consultant when examining a school or college campus:
- The IT director. It’s critical to examine a school’s technology setup and network infrastructure to determine how they function before assessing its security posture. Knowing this information can help a consultant make recommendations on best practices for using existing technology or ideas for other technology investments that can be integrated and layered on.
- The administration. The superintendent, assistants and principals play an important role in a security consultation. These personnel are often part of the immediate response during an emergency and can explain the school’s existing response protocol.
- Teachers and educators. It’s necessary to discuss emergency response with the people who will more than likely be involved immediately around an incident as it happens.
- First responders. Although the last point of contact, first responders are one of the most important pieces for the safety of a school. Law enforcement and medical, fire and emergency responders must understand and be aligned with a school’s security system and emergency management protocol.
Consultants often conduct a physical, practical assessment to determine how a school’s perimeter can be hardened.
The overall safety goal for school security officials is protection of the entire environment that students are learning in.
Below I address four common school safety issues and give an appropriate solution should an emergency occur.
Problem 1: Incomplete Visitor Management
One key security problem facing schools is creating safe visitor management systems by bridging the gap between freely allowing parents and visitors into a school while properly monitoring unknown guests.
There’s a false sense of security in most schools today because existing visitor management protocols at most campuses only run a visitor’s name against a sex offender database in that state.
This may be the only type of security a school is concerned about, and therefore no other information is obtained about the visitor, but validation must extend beyond this basic assessment.
Additionally, some schools don’t have check-ins at all entrances, allowing visitors to walk directly to where students and educators are located without being identified first. Most schools also do not require a check-out policy, allowing visitors to stay on campus unaccounted for.
Security in the education environment must lean toward setting up geofences around campus. These virtual geographic boundaries can be integrated with other access control technology to allow security officials and administrators to use mobile devices to easily identify individuals entering and exiting the perimeter.
Geofences can also immediately create alerts when a known inappropriate individual, such as a sex offender, has entered the predetermined area.
Problem 2: Unorganized Incident Response
While schools and colleges may have an emergency management plan ready, it is almost always in hard copy format and therefore not utilized, oftentimes causing the actual response to be chaotic and uncoordinated.
There are many moving pieces involved in responding to an emergency, and they can easily become scattered. First responders, for example, often arrive on the scene without being properly briefed on the situation or knowing where exactly on campus the incident is occurring.
If certain areas need to be blocked off or parents are arriving to pick up their children, orderly communication is necessary to avoid taking away from valuable response time.
Solution: Real-time Communication System
The message that goes out to students, parents and first responders during an emergency, and the way first responders receive critical information, must be immediate and informative.
Real-time location system (RTLS) technology allows first responders to see into an event as it unfolds and gives educators and administrators the ability to communicate to first responders with real-time information.
Existing emergency protocols in schools and colleges can and must be made to work immediately, and communication methods must be chosen carefully: a public address (PA) system may cause heightened concern, and walkie-talkies are outdated and prohibit broadcasting.
SMS and chatting via smart devices is the best and most effective mechanism of communication during an emergency.
Problem 3: Lack of Security Technology and Consolidation
As mentioned above, a school’s IT director is a security consultant’s first point of contact, and for a good reason: If a school possesses security technology (and not all do), it tends to be scattered throughout the premises, with each piece operating as a separate entity in a siloed approach (and that’s assuming that all the technology is fully functional).
An educational facility may claim to own numerous video surveillance cameras, but not all may be working or placed in optimal locations. In the aftermath of an emergency incident, recorded video may need to be accessed by law enforcement, but schools typically lack sufficient video management software or video analytic capabilities.
Solution: Integrated Technology System
Although it’s a general rule that each type of security technology has its own intellectual property and isn’t necessarily made to connect with one another, it can and should be done through a single integrated solution.
Nowadays, collaboration is key when it comes to ensuring comprehensive protection and, in an educational environment, all devices must be pulled into a unified dashboard in an effort to regulate security and properly manage emergencies.
High resolution, strategically placed surveillance cameras, video management technology, access control features and all other security systems need to be layered into the same network to be used conjunctively at all times.
Problem 4: Inadequate Technology and Incident Management Training
Simply putting the above three solutions in place won’t help a school’s security unless the teachers, administrators and staff know exactly how to use them.
Because emergencies naturally cause fear and stress, unfamiliarity with the proper processes will only make the situation worse. Time is of the essence during occasions like these, and it cannot be spent searching for a physical safety manual or asking others what to do.
A school may have created an outstanding emergency management plan to be coupled with their robust security technology, but these components are only valuable in knowledgeable hands.
Solution: Practice and Uniform Comprehension
All employees of a school or university must work together and put in the time and effort to properly understand the school’s security measures and emergency processes.
Each staff member should first be briefed on the school’s visitor management policy and geofence usage, and then practice makes perfect. Tabletop exercises, those that simulate a real-life event with stressors that can be replicated, must be performed internally twice a year, and external tabletop exercises involving law enforcement and first responders should be practiced once a year.
Additionally, communication during training is critical. Every individual should fully recognize the chain of command, who’s responsible for what and how different types of emergencies will be handled.
By obtaining a security assessment and combating frequent campus safety concerns, K-12 schools and colleges can strike a balance between an inviting atmosphere and a secure, prepared educational facility.
Incorporating geofences into an existing security system to create a strict visitor management structure can save lives, and facilitating real-time communication within an incident management plan can help mitigate risks and streamline response operations.
Combine these solutions with updated, integrated security technology and the only thing left to do is practice.
Through a clear designation of tasks and processes, teachers and staff should be fully prepared to effectively react should an emergency occur.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Campus Safety’s stance.
Chris Mashburn is the chief operating officer of VuTeur.
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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!