Free Federal Resources to Strengthen Campus Physical Security and Prevent School Violence
Here are some actionable and tailorable school safety resources, tools, and programs from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Each day, 56 million primary and secondary school students head to classrooms to learn, engage with peers, and develop lifelong skills as they grow into adults. Keeping these students – and the educators and staff members who support them – safe is a critical yet complex priority for K-12 schools. In today’s environment, K-12 school communities face an evolving and unique set of threats, hazards, and security challenges ranging from targeted violence to bombing threats to cyberattacks. School violence remains a persistent problem across the United States, with tragedies spanning decades, states, and communities and impacting the health and well-being of our nation’s youth.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) established the School Safety Task Force (SSTF) to support the federal government’s efforts in strengthening the safety and security of K-12 schools across the country. CISA SSTF’s mission is rooted in building the capacity of K-12 schools and districts to protect against and mitigate security threats and risks.
CISA recognizes that each school is unique and contends with an individual set of needs, considerations, priorities, and challenges when it comes to creating and maintaining safe and secure learning environments for students and staff. CISA supports schools in this pursuit by developing and deploying actionable and tailorable guidance, resources, and tools, and by educating K-12 communities on school safety issues, threats, and hazards to build awareness and promote vigilance.
K-12 School Security Guide Suite
CISA’s K-12 School Security Guide Suite is designed to help schools and school districts across the United States adopt a systems-based approach to school physical security planning and implementation. The development process of the Guide occurred over a multi-month effort that included an in-depth examination of current research, literature, and leading practices for school security across federal, state, and non-governmental partners.
The Guide aims to help the school community enhance their understanding of a systems-based approach to layered physical security, understand the various elements of a comprehensive school security system, and describe common challenges schools face in planning or making improvements to physical security. The Guide demonstrates how taking a systems-based approach to layered physical security can help schools create safe and secure learning environments without asking staff members to become security experts or compromising the broader educational mission.
A systems-based approach to school physical security means ensuring that various security measures across a school campus work together in an integrated way and that planning also incorporates the relevant policies and training programs that must be in place for the entire system to function effectively. This approach can help schools address their unique circumstances and ensure that protection and mitigation measures complement measures to prevent violence and respond to and recover from violent incidents. A layered approach to physical security ensures that the system works in an integrated way to detect, delay, and respond to threats.
The Guide is designed for local education agencies to employ in conjunction with the K-12 School Security Assessment Tool (SSAT), a web-based assessment that walks users through a tailorable vulnerability analysis and provides results and recommendations that schools and districts can integrate into their safety and security plans. The SSAT allows for a customizable and scalable approach that incorporates the unique needs of each individual school. To support the use of the SSAT, CISA also provides a User Guide for general use and a Technical Appendix for users to understand more about the assessment and methodology of the tool.
Exercise Starter Kits
CISA also distributes Exercise Starter Kits (ESKs), self-conducted tabletop exercises tailored for the academic community. Each kit includes a set of scalable tools aimed to test existing emergency plans, protocols, and procedures, while also strengthening preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities. Each ESK offers customizable templates, including a situational manual to provide background information and scenario content for the tabletop exercise, a guide for assisting facilitators in delivering the tabletop exercise, and an after-action report template for summarizing key strengths and areas for improvement following the tabletop exercise. ESKs specific to the K-12 community focus on active shooter incidents and can be requested online.
Protective Security Advisors
Protective Security Advisors (PSAs) are resiliency subject matter experts who engage with Federal, State, Local, Tribal, and territorial government partners, and members of the private sector stakeholder community to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. CISA has more than 120 PSAs throughout the country.
PSAs provide several services to schools, including assisting with security vulnerability assessments and cybersecurity assessments; facilitating active shooter, improvised explosive device (IED), and other security training; and coordinating tabletop exercises and practical exercises.
A host of information can also be found on SchoolSafety.gov, a one-stop resource for a variety of school safety topics. The site is administered by CISA on behalf of the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse – a collaborative, interagency effort comprised of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice – to gather and disseminate school safety resources from across the federal government for the K-12 community. SchoolSafety.gov houses actionable resources, tools, guidance, events, and funding opportunities related to a range of school safety issues, including targeted violence, cybersecurity, mental health, and emergency planning.
In addition to serving as a comprehensive repository of school safety resources, the site offers unique and innovative tools designed specifically for K-12 schools and districts. These include the Grants Finder Tool, which features a variety of federally available school safety-specific grants users can navigate based on school safety topic, award amount, application level of effort, and more; the State Search Tool that enables schools and districts to access state-specific resources, guidance, and contacts in their area; and the Safety Readiness Tool that assists users in evaluating their respective school’s safety posture.
School Safety Communications
In support of SchoolSafety.gov, CISA operates a variety of communications and outreach campaigns designed to educate and equip the K-12 school safety community with actionable leading practices. Members of the community can engage with the program by following @SchoolSafetygov on Twitter, signing up to receive regular email newsletters, registering for the program’s webinars, and staying up to date on conferences and community engagement events.
While there is not a universal safety plan for every school, implementing the appropriate measures can help schools prepare for, protect against, and respond to threats on K-12 campuses, as well as reduce the amount of harm inflicted if incidents do occur. CISA, along with our partners throughout government, remains committed to supporting the K-12 academic community against these threats so that all of our nation’s students can learn, thrive, and grow at school.
For more information on CISA’s school safety activities and resources, visit https://www.cisa.gov/school-safety-and-security.
Kaitlin Seale is the acting associate director for school safety for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).