3 Overlooked Elements of an Effective School Crisis Plan

Education backed by a safe environment is at the top of every school’s priority list. Here are three often-overlooked elements of effective crisis plans for today’s schools.

3 Overlooked Elements of an Effective School Crisis Plan

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Schools set a grim record in 2023, with school shootings setting another record high, a horrendous trend that shows no signs of abating.

On January 4, the first day of the new semester at Perry High School in Iowa, the country registered its first deadly school shooting of the new year, killing two innocent people and scarring another community.

Education backed by a safe environment is at the top of every school’s priority list, and districts nationwide are investing in human and technological resources to improve school security. An effective crisis plan can help schools maximize all their resources, more effectively prevent violence in schools, and respond to crises when they occur.

Here are three often-overlooked elements of effective crisis plans for today’s schools.

1. Account for Social Media

As anyone who spends time with teenagers will understand, they are on social media – a lot.

According to a recent Gallup survey, more than half of U.S. teenagers spend at least four hours on social media daily. For high school-aged students, the number is even higher, approaching six hours per day on social platforms.

The Pew Research Center found that a significant number of teens, up to 20% for some platform users, reported using social media “almost constantly.”

These spaces offer more than just mindless videos and connections with their friends. Social media is often where students learn about the world around them. Unfortunately, these platforms often present students with misinformation, disinformation, inflammatory speech, and other unhelpful content.

Social media already plays a prominent role in stoking conflict within student bodies, and with wars in Europe and the Middle East sparking new controversies on campuses, and an impending, divisive election year up ahead, school personnel must be especially mindful of the role that social media plays in stoking conflict.

As a result, an effective crisis plan will account for this influence of information effectively and implement policies around phone use in schools and classrooms. These policies will necessarily look different across school settings and communities.

For instance, while some schools are banning cell phones entirely, others are taking a more nuanced approach, providing opportunities for students to use their phones during breaks or passing periods while prohibiting their use during class time. Without clear, research-based evidence to support any single solution, decision-makers should collaborate with teachers, parents, and students to determine the policies and procedures that will maximize safety at their schools.

2. Choose School-Optimized Security Tech Solutions

The education security market is surging as schools turn to tech solutions to augment their existing security protocols.

According to one analysis, the school and campus security market is valued at $1.8 billion, a number that’s expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.3 annually through 2029.

Today, school security cameras are ubiquitous, with one analysis finding that 100% of schools use at least one security camera. Many are also looking to expand these initiatives, adding more and better security technologies to help keep students safe.

However, schools aren’t fortresses. They must strategically choose solutions appropriate for the school environment. Unlike access control systems at other venues like concerts or sports stadiums, schools must prioritize student safety over convenience or speed of entry.

Specifically, schools need solutions that can identify people entering campuses with guns and knives.

According to The Washington Post, more than 1,150 guns were discovered on K-12 campuses during the 2022-2023 school year, likely a fraction of the actual total.

It’s a problem that affects students in every state, of every socio-economic status, and of every background. Collectively, the Post estimates that one in 47 school-aged children “attended a school where at least one gun was found and reported on by the media in the 2022-2023 school year.”

Knives are also making their way into schools with devastating consequences when conflicts inevitably break out in the school environment.

Simply put, the goal is to keep students safe and respect their privacy by using comprehensive weapon detection and prevention strategies.

3. Practice Effective Communication Processes

Clear communication is critical to preventing security incidents or responding to a crisis.

These plans are multifaceted and address various target audiences, including students, staff, parents, and emergency services. An effective communication process will account for each of these audiences with clear protocols for the critical information to be shared and the timing of the communication.

Schools want to ensure that all stakeholders are informed appropriately and in a timely manner in every scenario, especially in emergencies.

At the same time, schools should consider investing in a holistic approach to communication, including pathways for students or community members to report potential instances of violence.

For example, a Secret Service analysis of averted school shootings notes that “in every case, tragedy was averted by members of the community coming forward when they observed behavior that elicited concern.”

Students are best positioned to identify and report this behavior, making it essential that they know how to safely and privately share this information with administrators or security personnel.

This might include tip lines, phone numbers, online incident forms, email addresses, smartphone apps, and text messaging systems.

Student Safety is a Chosen Priority

By integrating these often-overlooked components, schools can enhance their preparedness and foster an environment where safety is interwoven with the educational experience.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, making now the right time to assess our existing crisis plans and make modifications to elevate school security and provide a safe learning environment for every student. It’s an opportunity they deserve, and it’s one that we must prioritize now.

Joshua Douglas, SVP of Product & Engineering, Xtract One Technologies, is a recognized expert in the fields of behavioral analytics, cybersecurity and physical security working within schools, healthcare, government, critical infrastructure and commercial business.

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.

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