Is Your School Addressing These Safety and Security Basics?

It’s surprisingly easy for a school to overlook these safety and security fundamentals. Don’t let your campus be one of them.

Is Your School Addressing These Safety and Security Basics?

Photo via Adobe, by Onidji

Nearly a decade ago a colleague of mine, Brian Armes, and I wrote School Security: A Framework for Collaboration  for Campus Safety, detailing what we saw as the basic elements for effective school safety and security efforts and the elements necessary for common understanding. In light of recent events, I felt compelled to review it for current applicability.

I stand behind everything we wrote in 2013. Ten more years of experience and hundreds of school site assessments has only deepened my belief in two critical concepts. First: the basics matter! Absent a strong foundation, school security efforts are much more likely to fail.  And second: the requirement for everyone involved in school security efforts to be on the same page, a common understanding. The lack of common understanding could have different entities working at cross purposes with the outcome a less secure school environment.

School Safety and Security Threats vs. Vulnerabilities

One of the basics from that 2013 article is the natures of and relationship between threats and vulnerabilities. In brief and for most cases, the best a school can do is identify the threats they face. Once the threats are identified, the school can make changes that will decrease their vulnerability. The key here is to identify the threats and then assess the school’s vulnerability to the identified threats. Once this is accomplished, appropriate mitigation steps can be identified and applied to lessen the exposure to the identified vulnerability.

Understanding the operational context of school security efforts is also a basic requirement. Schools are complex entities. Your local high school is a not only an instructional facility. It is a community center, workout gym, preforming arts theater, art studio, manufacturing plant, sports venue, chemical laboratory, warehouse, transportation hub, banquet hall, day care center, and, four times a year, a polling place.

Many large high schools have more residents than small towns. Add to that, every hour a bell rings and the whole population moves to a different task, area, and context. All this activity takes place every weekday, every week for nine months out of the year. Complex may be an understatement. Any school security effort must consider this campus operational context with the acknowledgement that security and convenance can be and often are polar opposites.

K-12 Schools Consist of 3 Elements

As we wrote then, schools consist of three distinct, yet deeply interconnected, elements. The facility, the school community, and the operational platform. These three elements must interact harmoniously to provide a safe and secure educational environment.

The facilities element with the physical security systems and devices, while important, is often over emphasized, sometimes to the determent of the operational and school community elements. The “hard parts;” doors, locks fences, video and access control systems and the myriad of other security devices; are only as effective as the operational processes for their use and the school community’s cultural acceptance and consistent implementation. Here we need to remember that it is people that keep people safe!

The “hard parts” are tools, and the school’s procedures define their use, but it is the cultural acceptance by the campus community that provides effective implementation and long-term sustainability for any school security measure. This is another area where recognition of school context is a necessity.

The 5 Ds: Deter, Detect, Delay, Deny, and Defend

In that 2013 article we discussed another fundamental security concept: the 5 D’s. The Ds are Deter, Detect, Delay, Deny, and Defend. This concept can improve understanding of layered security and serve educators and practitioners as a rubric for both assessment and planning.

school safety and security

The five Ds (Deter, Detect, Delay, Deny, and Defend) concept can improve understanding of layered security and serve educators and practitioners as a rubric for both assessment and planning.

Each of the Ds are obviously associated with a specific type of security activity, but they can and should be considered geographically as well.  Consider the Ds as five concentric circles with the classroom at the center and the rings radiating outward into the community. Effective communication is the stick that the 5Ds lollypop rests on.

Deter is the largest circle and deterrence activities begin at the classroom and extend past the campus boundaries and well into the community. Deterrence can be difficult to quantify. Effective deterrence is marked by a lack of incidents.

Detect is the second circle. Though not penetrating as deeply into the community, efforts here are designed to allow identification of and notification to a school of potential or developing threats as far out in time and space as possible. Early detection vastly increases a school’s response options.

 Delay is the next circle. This one begins at the classroom and extends to the boundary of the campus. The obvious intent of activities and processes in this ring is simply slowing down the speed with which a threat can develop. This delay allows more time for a response and more time equals more options.

Deny is still closer to the classroom. The intent here is simply to not allow access for a threat to reach staff or students. This is the principle in the “Lockdown” protocol used in many schools.

Defend is the last ring and closest to the classroom and your students. This is the option of last resort and will likely take place at the classroom door. For school staff, both affirmative permission and active planning for this possibility should be a consideration.

The 5 Ds are not independent, and improvements in school security will likely affect more than one D.

Communications Are Critical in Campus Safety and Security

The one notable omission in our 2013 article was the failure to acknowledge and address the absolutely critical role of effective communications in all your school security efforts. Nearly every After-Action Report from a school incident will call out needed communications improvements. If the issues here are foundational for effective school security, then solid communication is the ground the foundation rests on.

Recent events have again focused everyone’s attention on school security. As educators, first responders, and parents strive to provide a secure school environment, a common understanding and focused efforts are essential for success. This framework: the relationship between threat and vulnerability, the acknowledgement of the opposing natures of security and convenience, the understanding of the three elements of schools, the essential role of communications, and the rubric of the five Ds for school security assessment and planning offer a powerful tool for collaboration and improvement.

About the Author

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Guy Bliesner began his career in education in 1994 as a high school teacher and coach. Moving into administration in 2006 as the Safety and Security Coordinator for the Bonneville School District. While serving in that position he was named to the Idaho’s Governor’s School Safety Task Force. Also, during his Bonneville tenure, he was named a finalist for the 2011 Campus Safety Magazine’s national Campus Safety Director of the Year Award. In 2013 he left the district to form, with a partner, the private School Safety, Security, Risk Management consulting firm of Educators Eyes. This firm developed and implemented Idaho’s first statewide school safety and security condition assessment.

In 2016 he dissolved the firm to join, as a founding member, the newly created Idaho Office of School Safety and Security. He currently serves as the School Safety and Security Analyst assigned to schools in Southeast Idaho. His mission is to support the public and charter schools of southeast Idaho to bolster school safety through assessment, training, and planning assistance.

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