Expert: Schools, 1st Responders Must Start Talking

Very often schools, first responders, county emergency management and cities don’t work together to maximize K-12 school security and emergency preparedness. The failure to communicate and properly train school officials, as well as police and fire department personnel can leave campuses unnecessarily vulnerable to active shooters, gang violence and other security incidents.

Campus Safety spoke with Randy Braverman, senior consultant with Chicago-based RETA Security, about solutions to some of the common mistakes school districts make with their emergency preparedness programs.

“Police don’t have maps of the schools, so they don’t know the locations of certain things in the buildings,” he says. “They don’t know where the shut off valves are, in case they have to shut off the gas, water or electricity.”

Braverman says it is important for law enforcement (and not just the fire department) to have this information in the event there is an active shooter incident.

“A lot of times, someone will pull the fire alarm, but the police don’t know how to shut it off,” he adds. “You can’t get [non-law enforcement personnel] in there because the school is on lockdown.”

Police and fire personnel should train with school officials so they know how to operate all of the equipment on campus, including public address systems. Additionally, law enforcement and fire should work with school personnel to determine where to put a command post during an incident. They should also have keys so they can enter each classroom during a lockdown.

In return, district officials and teachers can learn a lot from first responders. For example, during an incident, teachers might not be able to identify the police officers who aren’t in uniform. Law enforcement personnel responding to crime on campus could be wearing vests with street clothes. They also could be from several different law enforcement agencies. Teachers need to be trained how to identify who will be coming to their classroom doors (in a lockdown situation) and letting them out.

Police and fire can also help schools develop off-campus evacuation sites. “Where’s the safest place to go?” Braverman asks. “Are they far away enough from the building? The police and fire departments know the town, so they can help pick those sites.”

Some other helpful tips include:

  1. Invite police to do rapid deployment training at the school on the weekend so they are familiar with the campus
  2. Give photos of shut off valves to first responders, in addition to telling them where they are located
  3. Develop emergency kits for first responders that include campus photos (see No. 2), plans, keys, phone numbers of school personnel, photos of students and staff, etc. There should two kits (or more): one should be located on campus and one should be located off campus. Be sure the kits are updated with current information.
  4. Work with the health department. “A lot of times the health department will take over a gym [for something like H1N1) because it is a big location,” says Braverman. “If you plan with them ahead of time and document it, you’ll get money back from the county.” A school should document the space and human resources needed for a significant health event. That way, school officials will know how much money they should recoup.
  5. All of the schools in the entire community should be on the same plan. “Hopefully, if you have a whole town, you have the same plan and not 10 different plans for 10 different districts,” he adds. Otherwise, confusion ensues, and police and fire personnel have greater difficulty responding to an emergency.
  6. Don’t use codes. Use terms that are commonly understood, such as “evacuation” and “lockdown.”
  7. Train everyone, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers, on the part of the plan that is their responsibility.

For additional information on this topic, as well as training, Internet safety, gangs, bullying and terrorism, readers can attend the School Safety Conference, which will take place Sept. 8 in Hillside, Ill. This free event will be hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Archdiocese of the Chicago Office of Catholic Schools, RETA Security, the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and Proviso Area for Exceptional Children.

The conference is intended to help bridge the communication gap between first responders and school districts. District administrators, school administrators, police, fire, transportation directors and other parties responsible for campus security are encouraged to attend.

Individuals interested in attending should register by Sept. 1 at

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