Do You Have a Plan For Safety?
- By Michael S. Dorn
- February 1st, 2003
Most schools now have some form of written plan for emergency situations, but only a small percentage of schools around the country have a written plan for prevention of accidents and acts of violence. As every school district and private school has a written budget plan and most have a well defined plan for the achievement of other important long term operational goals, it makes sense to use the same approach to guide district personnel in providing a safe and secure learning environment.
What is a school safety plan?
A school safety plan is a comprehensive written strategy for the prevention of accidents, crime, violence, and the reduction of the impact of natural disasters in the school setting. Though it is often confused with a school emergency operations plan (EOP), the school safety plan is focused on prevention, while the emergency operations plan is designed to guide the response to a crisis that takes place. An emergency operations plan provides a set of detailed steps that should be followed in the event of a crisis. A comprehensive EOP is often comprised of the following components: master protocols, site-specific procedures, flip charts, event tracking software program, and CD-ROM pre-incident planning system or PIPS. The school safety plan is designed to prevent the emergency operations plan from being needed. The EOP is required for those instances where the safety plan fails to prevent a crisis from developing. As no school is immune to occurrences such as earthquakes and acts of violence, every school should have both types of plans.
Most school safety experts insist that only a comprehensive approach to school safety will create a reasonably safe and peaceful learning environment. Trying to ensure that all potential risks have been covered by appropriate prevention measures can be a daunting task if not approached in an organized fashion. The process of developing a school safety plan can bring order and efficiency to what can otherwise be a haphazard approach to prevention.
What can the school safety plan be used for?
A properly developed school safety plan can help to demonstrate to students, parents, school staff and the media that school safety issues have been addressed in an orderly and thorough manner. A good plan can enhance the chances of obtaining grant funding, reduce civil liability and make it easer to defend the organization and individual school employees in the event of safety- related litigation.
Focusing on the process rather than the particulars
Using the approach detailed in the only book on the subject — School Safety Essentials: Developing School Safety Plans (available at 1-800-341-7874 ext. 275 or online at www.lrp.com/store), the process can be streamlined with the outline provided. By approaching areas of concern categorically, a working group or task force can evaluate a wide range of specific strategies to select those that are best suited for the budget, risks, political climate and available resources in the local community. As with emergency operations plans, a canned plan will not be effective, but a sample format can go a long way to get things started without re-creating the wheel.
Topical areas that should be included in the plan
While each school system or private institution is unique, there are certain basic topical areas that should be covered in the plan. These often include:
€ Policies affecting students, staff and visitors.
€ Information and educational prevention efforts such as staff development and crime prevention programs aimed at students.
€ Emotional security initiatives such as bullying prevention programs, school resource officer programs and counseling services.
€ Environmental security efforts such as school safety zone initiatives and the use of crime prevention through environmental design concepts in building construction.
€ Fire and accident prevention measures such as annual safety inspections and the use of a daily safety sweep procedure by school staff.
€ Pupil transportation safety efforts such as the installation of security cameras and radios in buses and school bus safety inspections.
€ Truancy and drop out reduction programs such as the creation of a return to school officer program and mentoring programs.
€ Employee and volunteer screening procedures such as the use of standard background checks and verification of references.
€ Incident reporting, tracking and analysis such as the use of standard reporting procedures and software systems to track and analyze incidents.
€ Emergency preparedness measures such as proper training of staff on the use of the emergency operations plan and the use of drills and exercises to test plans and familiarize staff with the plans.
€ Documentation of safety related efforts in the district to reduce liability.
School safety should be enough of a priority in every community to prompt anyone who has an interest in the education of our nation’s children to take the time to map out and record a comprehensive school safety strategy. A school safety plan is the best way to achieve that worthy goal.
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.