- By Michael Dorn
- May 1st, 2002
As a young child I sometimes held onto the excuse that I did not have time to complete the many chores and tasks my mother handed down, however, upon hearing my eager exclamations her stock reply would always be —make time. She used this phrase on many occasions from my youth through adulthood in order to prod me to do the things that mothers often tell their children must be done. And while I dreaded those words —make time, I have found many occasions over the years where circumstances made this response the only option. Today’ s educational employees are tasked with many burdens. Ever tighter budgets, a plethora of social issues, government regulations, labor considerations, constant requirements to meet standards and heightened concerns over student safety all place great demands on you and your organization.
And each month, this column urges you to do even more than you have already done to prevent and prepare for critical incidents. You probably do not have the time to implement many of the concepts that you read in this and other publications, even when you feel they are particularly appropriate to your situation. As with many other areas, school officials must identify safety needs and prioritize responses that will likely provide the greatest return for the time and resources invested. Proper management of time and money expended to address safety issues is a critical part in any school safety strategy.
By stepping back from the daily routine and asking tough questions, it is possible to remain focused on the most urgent safety issues before moving to other important but less critical concerns. The time spent will also provide an important opportunity to take stock of the improvements that have been achieved. Many people find that they have achieved remarkable results that help to offset the feeling that much remains to be done.
Interestingly enough, a school superintendent asked me if he had been correct in resisting board pressure to build an emergency helicopter-landing pad at a school just in case helicopters ever needed to respond to an emergency. He correctly felt that there were far more pressing issues to address than the unlikely event that a helicopter would need a dedicated paved landing site. Furthermore, helicopters routinely land without landing pads, therefore, a dedicated pad might not be in the best location at a school for a particular type of emergency, adding a pad would cost a lot and accomplish little. Especially, since his district had limited funds. Now, the same superintendent h as recently taken the helm of another school system and is methodically tackling numerous difficult challenges with school safety heading the list. Just as he was successful in averting the helicopter landing pad fiasco, he is succeeding in affecting meaningful and significant changes in his present situation due to his ability to prioritize and focus his team on the real safety issues.
Many practitioners find it to be beneficial to periodically set aside some of that precious time to conduct a needs assessment and make sure those efforts to improve safety are in line with what actual priorities should be. We can all find ourselves focusing our available time and resources on issues that are not our real priorities. While formal school safety task force approaches are the most effective means to address the many issues relating to campus safety, there is still room for periodic contemplation on an individual level. Making sure that energies are directed towards the most pressing issues can help to make a tough job a little easier and increase the amount of improvement achieved for the effort expended.
An important consideration is the likelihood that a particular problem will arise or the frequency with which it is occurring. There have been many instances where efforts have been geared heavily on a potential risk that has not yet occurred in an organization while a chronic problem is left unattended. For example, if truancy is a minor problem, but fights occur more frequently, physical altercations might need to be the priority topic. At the same time, it is important to remember that some situations, which might be statistically unlikely should also rate high on the to do list. For example, if a school is located 75 miles from a nuclear facility, the chances that the school will be affected by a nuclear disaster are slight, but the consequences of failure to prepare for such a possibility are enormous. One simple yet helpful technique is to develop a list of safety concerns for your situation. After the list is compiled, assign priority rankings based on frequency/likelihood of occurrence. A second rating is then applied that addresses the gravity of each item. You may find this approach to be helpful in focusing your energies in the most efficient manner.
We do not live in an ideal world, and we must be realistic in our efforts to provide the highest level of service in all areas of our responsibility. While my mother urges you to make time to make the children and staff under your care as safe as possible, I encourage you to focus as well on the effective use of time and resources.
Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.