Opinion: Our K-12 Schools Need Dedicated Safety Personnel Now More Than Ever

Building a staffing model that brings a part or full-time crisis planning position into the K-12 organizational structure will better protect schools.
Published: July 26, 2023

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

As schools across the country continue to struggle with increased threats of violence, we need to recalibrate our thinking about the time, resources, and specific skills required of those responsible for future school safety initiatives.

For far too long, schools have relied on principals, superintendents, facility managers, or other support staff to develop the plans, policies, and procedures designed to prepare a school and school district to respond to a critical incident. While many of these leaders have performed admirably with these additional job functions, many have also become overwhelmed with the weight of these responsibilities, resulting in many schools’ inability to keep up with new and emerging trends in school safety and security.

Effective Crisis Planning is Not a Light Lift

As technology changes, the threat environment evolves and our response actions adapt to these changes. We need to ensure those responsible for crisis response planning have the knowledge, skill, and abilities to perform these important planning tasks. School crisis planning and emergency preparedness has become its own profession requiring a specific set of skills that includes, but is not limited to: physical security technology (e.g. access control, visitor management, security cameras, locks, lights, keys, etc.), Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management, Incident Command, Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) development, crisis communication, collaboration with emergency first responders, training and exercise development, and, especially, leadership development.

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It’s unfair to think that those whose primary responsibility is educating our children already possess the required skills or have the time to educate themselves on all the tasks associated with school crisis planning and emergency preparedness. While I am not advocating for delegating this authority away from the senior leadership at a school or school district, I am advocating for building a staffing model that brings a part or full-time school crisis planning position into the organizational structure for a school or school district.

Dedicated Personnel Have the Capacity to Create High-quality Emergency Plans

When looking at the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) guidance on the six planning steps for Creating a High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plan, it highlights the substantial work required in developing what is just one part of an overall school safety strategy that includes:

  1. Forming a Collaborative Planning Team
  2. Understanding the Situation
  3. Determining Goals and Objectives
  4. Planning Development
  5. Plan Preparation/Review/Approval
  6. Implementation/Maintenance

Each phase of this planning process takes substantial focus and intentional effort that many schools have found challenging. Add this EOP planning process into the evolving landscape of school safety and security and one can see just how quickly these initiatives can require the appropriate level of part- or full-time school safety professionals to carry out this important work.

School Violence is Rising; the Bar for School Safety Should Too

Schools have been grappling with training-up school personnel to carry the work of emergency preparedness for many years, with varying degrees of success. Districts throughout the country have spent significant resources to bring in expertise, enroll in training programs, and partner with local emergency response agencies to create a systems response to preparedness. The focus on school safety has heightened with the statistical increase in school-related violence, and the pressure for local systems to respond to a new wave of threats has put many districts under significant stress.  

Schools are in a unique position in 2023. They are increasingly delivering more of the services that students and families need in their communities, from mental health to homelessness to food security. As these pressures increase, district and building administrators are tasked with broad responsibility, while the landscape for emergency preparedness continues to become more complex. This has been evident with the recent widespread swatting incidents that have plagued school districts across the country.

Considering the level of expertise necessary to both create and sustain emergency preparedness systems in schools, we have come to a time when districts need to start thinking differently about hiring internal staff, local/regional emergency preparedness officials, or the private sector to partner with and better prepare.

Emergency response managers are widely used by private organizations globally to fortify preparedness and establish consistency in both the hard and soft infrastructures they oversee. As schools respond to an ever-evolving preparedness reality, having internal expertise will significantly improve a school district’s ability to draw upon a dedicated employee who understands its systems, structures, culture, and people to improve all aspects of emergency preparedness and responsiveness.

Robert L. Evans is the Director of K-12 Services at COSECURE, an ancillary business of Cozen O’Connor, and specializes in safety, security, and emergency preparedness for public, private, and independent K-12 schools and school districts.

Peter Burrows is the incoming superintendent for Milton Public Schools in Milton, Massachusetts.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series