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Spending Wisely on School Safety

As a leader in education, you know what is needed to keep your students safe. In the last several years, schools have spent millions and millions of dollars on safety improvements like cameras, reinforced doors, emergency notification systems, and access control. You know what you need to do, but do you know how to do it? Who do you rely on for safety and security advice? Security technology vendors? Local police departments?

If you are looking at new construction or remodeling in your district, utilizing the services of an independent security consultant can save significant money in both the short and long run. A security consultant who specializes in school safety can make recommendations based on the unique learning environment and industry best practices.

Furthermore, a review of school safety policy & procedure can lead to evidence and research-based recommendations that offer greater protection for students, staff, and visitors – often for less money than reactive measures like bullet-resistant glass.

Security vendors are experts in the products sold by their company, but they also have a vested interest in selling schools as much as they can. According to RAND Institute policy researcher Heather Schwartz, districts need an independent third party to “wade through the marketing from the different [security] companies.” Unfortunately, some companies are also taking advantage of the genuine and understandable fear and emotions surrounding school safety. After all, can we put a price on the safety of our children?

We can’t and shouldn’t put a price on safety, but we have a responsibility to ensure we are spending limited resources allocated for security in a way that best protects our students. Perhaps you don’t need as many cameras as a vendor recommends. Maybe your current access control system works just fine but could be reconfigured. An independent security consultant can review RFPs and bids, potentially saving your districts considerable money for reinvestment into other safety initiatives.

Understandably, schools often turn to their police department for safety advice. While police undoubtedly have the safety and wellbeing of students forefront in their minds, they usually lack the expertise necessary to make recommendations that fit in a school environment.

Schools should always include police and fire department personnel in any discussion related to safety and security, but also need to consider that, by nature, emergency first responders have an entire community to protect, and they often come to the table with that perspective. It is not safe to assume that someone who is an expert in response is also an expert in prevention.

Whether you are merely updating an aging security system or are about to design and build a new high school, investing a relatively small amount in an expert assessment of your safety and security needs can not only save you a significant amount of money but can also make your school safer.

Active Shooters: Take a Holistic Approach to School Safety

Mass shootings first entered the national conscience on April 20, 1999, when two teens* killed 13 people and wounded 24 others at Columbine High School in Colorado. National school safety debates ensued about gun control, bullying, violence in video games, and mental health to stop active shooters. Following Columbine, many schools instituted airport-like screening procedures at entrances and “zero-tolerance” policies to violence. However, school safety did not improve, and most of those schools rolled back some of the more extreme measures they had put in place.

Safety on College Campuses

On April 16, 2007, a gunman* opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus, killing 33 and injuring 23. It was the most violent mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The national debates were the same, but the response of higher education was very different. After the Virginia Tech shooting, and the mass shooting that followed less than a year later at Northern Illinois University, college campus administrators responded swiftly by:

  • creating multidisciplinary teams to address the breakdowns that had occurred in communication
  • forming threat assessment teams and providing training to faculty and staff in an attempt to identify people who might be on a path to violence
  • ensuring campus and local police had the training and capability to respond to a shooting in progress
  • putting mostly sensible physical security and mass notification systems in place

In short, higher education took a decidedly holistic approach to prevent campus violence.

Arguably, the advantage higher ed had over K-12 was, despite the internal silos existing on college campuses, all the people necessary to the safety conversation were all still part of the same institution – part of the same team. Most colleges and universities have dedicated security or police and dedicated counseling services. Faculty or professional staff of some sort are involved in nearly every aspect of an undergraduate student’s time on campus. Getting representatives from these areas together was instrumental in creating a safer environment.

K-12 School Safety

To address school safety, K-12 district administrators need to take a similar approach. But this can be challenging when the people who need to be at the table are not all from the same institution. School districts primarily rely on local law enforcement for safety and security on their campus. While some larger school districts might have security staff, it is the police who respond to active shooters. Police have an entire community to serve, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to adopt the culture of a particular school district on their own. Instead, school districts need to work with an expert who understands both cultures.

Where Do Districts Start?

When addressing safety, the first thing a school needs to do is get an overall assessment from an independent professional. This evaluation would examine:

  • physical security (cameras, alarms, access control, etc.)
  • policy and procedure (building access, emergency response, threat assessment & management)
  • training protocols for faculty and staff

Receiving an unbiased, independent review from someone who not only specializes in school safety but who also is not selling any of the products or services the district might need to buy, gives a district superintendent the proper foundation for producing an effective safety and security “master plan.”

As a former police chief at a major university in Milwaukee, I understand both viewpoints – that of the police and that of the academic institution. Speaking the language of both cultures, I serve as an intermediary between law enforcement and school administration, helping both parties understand what the other one brings to the table, as well as the unique challenges each face in responding to security threats. Together, we can develop a unified approach to help keep students and staff safe.

* More often than not, perpetrators of mass violence are seeking notoriety. Thus, commentary on school shootings in this blog will never refer to a shooter by name.

Putting Limited Resources to Best Use

Availability of resources is an issue for most organizations – especially school districts. Schools can maximize their resources and plan for the future by having a security master plan in place. A master plan developed with the help of an independent security consultant will ensure you spend your money wisely and the technology you put in place will allow for future growth and integration.

The following article from Security Management explains their best practices in developing master security plans to help you make better decisions.

 


STARTING FROM THE END: CREATING A MASTER SECURITY PLAN

​My grandfather once told me, “If you build a levee six feet high but the water rises to seven, you’ve wasted 100 percent of your investment. But if you build that levee to eight feet, and the water rises to seven, no one will care about the over-investment.”

A good master security plan helps you spec and budget for that seven-foot flood with an eight-foot levee. And ultimately, a good plan leads to a good security system.

That’s what one of our clients, a large private university in the Puget Sound region of Washington State, discovered when we went through the planning process for its access control and video surveillance system. In developing the master security plan, we realized that just expanding the existing systems would not meet the school’s future needs, and updating the systems as an interim step would ultimately be more expensive than putting in new systems. 

So how should a security manager develop an effective plan? Here are my suggestions for best practices in creating a master security plan, based on 30 years’ experience in the facility vulnerability sector.

Start at the End

Where do you want to be in five, 10, or 15 years? Once that is established, work backwards from there. If you have a vision for your security plan, you can build in enough flexibility to get there without having to rip and replace every few years, and you can identify long-term cost savings and operational efficiencies along the way.

For example, what if, someday, your access control system could interact with the IT system to enhance network logins? Or if the video surveillance system could automatically release the car gate when the correct license plate is read?

Looking at the ultimate goals of our university client, we discovered that what managers really wanted was an integrated video and access control system, with higher-resolution security cameras. While that decision meant delaying implementation of some access points and cameras, choosing flexibility was a better long-term decision to meet the organization’s security goals.

Keep Going Broader

Once you have your video surveillance and access control needs handled, look for additional opportunities and vulnerabilities.  For example, look at how you can leverage existing video data for business goals, such as reducing inventory waste or worker productivity. Look for ways to integrate systems to reduce security headcount. Integrate physical security with cybersecurity systems to reduce human-created security vulnerabilities. Think big so you can do more than protect; you also help your business thrive.

In our example, the college wanted to ultimately create a single card that would act as a student ID, a food service card, a library card, and an access control card. While this integration would save money down the line, we needed to bring several different departments together to make sure that their interests would align. We ended up selecting a slightly more expensive card than it had been using—but the selected card had a proximity chip, a chip for financial information, and a bar code for library information. Everyone got what they wanted, and the cost was lower than purchasing four separate cards.

​Ask the Hard Questions

These are the questions that are hard to consider because the answers may be embarrassing, or they require negotiations between groups, or they require more resources. Some examples follow.

    • Are there hidden security flaws in our facility? How do we find them?
    • What are the known issues and what capacity for the unknowns should we build in?
    • What have we learned from past crises? ​
    • Where do we think emerging threats will come from?
    • How do we navigate between competing agendas?

College administrators had to consider choices such as spending on beautiful landscaping versus creating a safe environment. Other hard questions arose. For example, one department wanted a single-use card, but others preferred a multi-use card.

​Focus on the Future

Make sure your plan will help you grow. That means searching for products that can be integrated, that are scalable, and that can segment data and reports. It may also mean installing a larger conduit than you currently need or choosing the vendor that has a scalable architecture. And it requires investing more today to save on ongoing maintenance and configuration costs tomorrow.

In the college’s case, its existing video surveillance system was entirely centralized and was not capable of communicating with the access control system. It couldn’t record high enough quality images to meet the ultimate surveillance goals.  The access control system also had issues. It was at the end of its lifecycle and would not be supported within a few years, and its software was antiquated and incapable of integration with other systems. 

For the college, the least expensive decision today would have meant a lot more investment in the future. Thus, we oversized the new server to handle additional video surveillance needs in the future. In addition, as the college added new buildings, we made sure they were integrating a higher wire volume than current needs, as well as building in access control during construction. This last element can reduce access control costs dramatically.

When you apply these best practices in developing master security plans, you make better decisions.

Erick Slabaugh has more than 30 years of experience in the specialty contracting industry and is a serial entrepreneur.  He is CEO and majority stockholder of Absco Solutions and founder and CEO of FCP Insight, a SaaS business solution for specialty contractors.

Create a Culture That Encourages the Reporting of Concerning Behavior

When taking a holistic approach to safety and security, school leadership must ensure they are addressing threat assessment and threat management. Just having a threat assessment team and plan is not enough.

Schools need to develop programs and cultures that encourage reporting of concerning behavior, not only out of the concern for the safety of the community but out of care for the individual exhibiting the concerning behavior, as well. It is impossible to predict violent behavior with certainty, but we can identify actions that might indicate someone is on a path to violence. Programs like those offered by Sandy Hook Promise address the genuine issue of bullying in schools and can help in early identification and intervention of students exhibiting concerning behaviors.

The following press release can be found on their website: www.sandyhookpromise.org 

SANDY HOOK PROMISE TO PARTNER WITH BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO TRAIN STUDENTS HOW TO IDENTIFY WARNING SIGNS OF AT-RISK INDIVIDUALS BEFORE VIOLENCE HAPPENS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Sandy Hook Promise to Partner with Broward County Public Schools to Train Students

How to Identify Warning Signs of At-Risk Individuals Before Violence Happens

 

Newtown, CT – As the community of Broward County continues to heal from the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, school officials are taking steps to ensure that its students are safe as they head back to school in the fall. One measure the school district is taking is to train students how to identify, intervene, and get help for someone exhibiting at-risk behaviors, as well as how to create a more connected and inclusive community through its partnership with Sandy Hook Promise (SHP).

“As a mom who has also experienced devastating loss from a school shooting, I understand that safety is a top priority for every parent in Broward County, and across the country, as students head back to school. Sandy Hook Promise is honored to partner with this resilient community to train its students how to be ‘upstanders’ in their community,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and the mother of 6-year-old Dylan who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

Broward County Public Schools plan to roll out two of SHP’s proven programs to its students, Say Something and Start With Hello.

The Say Something program teaches youth and adults the signs of at-risk behaviors and how to properly intervene before that person harms themselves or others. In 4 out of 5 school shootings, the attacker told someone of his/her plans prior to the attack and 70% of people who complete suicide told someone of their intention or gave some type of warning. To date, trained students have helped avert multiple school violence plots, teen suicides, and other acts of violence and self-harm.

SHP’s Start With Hello program empowers students to create an inclusive and connected community by reaching out to those who may be chronically isolated, marginalized, or rejected to let them know that they are valued. Social isolation, which is a growing epidemic across the country and in our schools, is the overwhelming feeling of being left out, lonely, or treated like you are invisible. Excessive feelings of isolation can be associated with violence and suicidal behavior. Young people who are isolated can become victims of bullying, violence and/or depression, and as a result, many pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development, and may choose to hurt themselves or others. Schools that have rolled out this program have reported a decrease in bullying and how students have created a culture of looking out for one another.

For more information, go to www.sandyhookpromise.org or email programs@sandyhookpromise.org.

Since its inception, Sandy Hook Promise has educated over 3.5 million youths and adults in all 50 states with its Know The Signs Programs on mental health & wellness, identification of at-risk behaviors and how to take action and get help before a situation escalates. Those trained are now able to spread SHP’s vital messages and help prevent gun violence BEFORE it happens.

About Sandy Hook Promise: Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. SHP is led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. SHP’s mission is to prevent gun violence (and other forms of violence and victimization) BEFORE it happens by educating and mobilizing youth and adults to identify, intervene and get help for at-risk individuals. SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible program and policy solutions that address the “human-side” of gun violence by preventing individuals from ever getting to the point of picking up a firearm to hurt themselves or others. Our words, actions and impact nationwide are intended to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. For more information, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org or call 203-304-9780.

 

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Media Contact:

Dini von Mueffing Communications

Stephanie Morris stephanie@dvmcpr.com

646-650-5005

SAFETY CONSULTANTS WHO GET WHERE YOU’RE COMING FROM

First dates. Big games. And planning for life after college. These used to be the biggest concerns of the typical American student. But in recent years that’s changed, with increasing violence making basic safety their number one concern. At Clearwall, we’re working hard to change that, putting effective school safety plans in place to help end the nightmare. And once again make our schools a safe place to dream.

READING, WRITING AND REALLY GOOD SECURITY

Clearwall was founded by Paul Mascari, a school security expert and former university police chief whose decisions impacted thousands of students. For 14 years, he was at the nexus of difficult choices as school administrators worked to create a secure learning environment where students thrive. As a seasoned law enforcement professional, he understands how those on the frontlines deal with threats like an active shooter, making him uniquely qualified to create singular solutions that work.