In the wake of the startling school shootings in 2018, state and federal governments are releasing millions of dollars in funding to beef up school security. That’s a great start, but most schools are in danger of misspending that funding and creating a false sense of student safety.
Many schools take a knee-jerk reaction towards the tragedies that dominate news media. They assume their biggest vulnerabilities are the emotional events that get the most press coverage. Today, that’s school shootings. Next year, it could be teen suicide or rampant substance abuse. That’s just the way our culture works. But if your school safety plan is determined by the biggest and scariest headlines, you’re sure to ignore the most relevant issues in your own particular school.
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Your students deserve a better response than a knee-jerk reaction to sensationalized events—as serious and tragic as they may be. Reactionary decisions won’t protect children and teachers from the real risks anymore than turning a blind eye will. Instead, you need to intelligently address real risks in ways that will provide real security.
Public schools have incredibly limited resources to improve student safety—even with the multi-million dollars in new funding. That money spends quickly and you can’t afford to misuse funding on solutions that aren’t right for your particular school.
So how do you make the most out of your funding for school security?
School Security Committee
A school security committee means you’ve got several minds with various backgrounds and areas of expertise to make smart decisions for your school’s security. The committee structure helps avoid knee-jerk reactions and arrive at a data-driven consensus—rather than making decisions based on one person’s opinion.
For example, many schools look for ways to barricade people in a classroom during an active shooter scenario, so that the shooter can’t get to the students. They install preventative measures to lock the doors, which can’t be unlocked or disabled from outside the room. That sounds great, but what if the intruder gets in before the room can be locked? Now you’re impeding law enforcement and you’ve got a hostage situation, because that compression bar can’t be disabled remotely. The key is to think of the scenarios that may happen, then develop a strategy that will decrease that particular risk, without increasing the risk of a different situation.
A security committee is better equipped than a single individual to consider all of the pros and cons of a security recommendation before it’s implemented. You’re more likely to avoid unanticipated consequences and find better solutions that fit your school’s facilities. You’re also more likely to focus on your particular school’s top priorities, rather than high-profile national headlines.
Who’s on Your Security Committee?
The success of your school’s security committee depends on its members. Aim for 7-10 people with a variety of relevant backgrounds. Must-have committee members include:
- School principal—chairperson of the committee
- School police officer—performs risk assessments and reports to the committee with observations and recommendations
- District superintendent—provides input and feedback from the district’s perspective
- Facilities and maintenance representative
- 1 or 2 active parents—possibly PTSO/PTO officers, or someone with security experience
Other priority members. Get as many of these people as possible:
- Emergency management—either a city or county emergency manager
- SWAT officer—provides a SWAT team’s perspective on your school and ensures SWAT knows your facilities
- Public health professional—to provide input on flu outbreaks and other health-related concerns
- Special needs representative—consider how committee decisions will impact special needs students
What Does a School Security Committee Do?
Your security committee’s first item of business is to conduct a physical risk and vulnerability assessment to determine your school’s top priorities. Too many schools make security decisions based on what other schools have done, or based on a decision-maker’s opinion. That’s like trying to order dinner at a restaurant with no menus, but much more dangerous. If you aren’t doing risk analysis, you can’t know what you truly need to protect your students and teachers.
Task your school’s police officer (or hire a security consultant) to conduct a data-driven risk analysis and provide corrective action recommendations in order of priority.
Meet monthly to discuss timely issues related to security and safety. Remember—student safety extends much farther than school shootings and fire drills. Review what’s been going on in the life of your school. Has there been an increase in fighting? How will you prepare for Homecoming Weekend? Are any parents in the midst of a contentious custody battle? What will you do about the loitering after school? There’s a flu epidemic—should we cancel classes? Your committee should discuss all these issues, and more.
Smart Decisions Make Schools Safer
School security is more critical than ever before, which means it’s more critical than ever to get it right. Don’t rely on one person’s best guess to improve the safety of your students and staff. Surround yourself with a trusted set of voices. Together, you can make the right decisions to keep all students and teachers safe.
Want more help with school security? Contact Circadian Risk to start a conversation.