Better Safety: Millions Less
- By Michael Dorn
- October 1st, 2005
Clarissa Snapp was deeply concerned when an Indiana school superintendent told her a school safety consultant quoted a fee of $45,000 to conduct safety audits at three small schools. That seemed like a lot of money for the required work. Work that she thought could probably be done as well, if not better, by properly trained school officials. Snapp serves as the director for the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy run by the Indiana Department of Education.
Following the events in Beslan, Russia, she received numerous calls from schools wanting safety audits. Snapp set up a program to train Indiana school officials to coordinate their own tactical site surveys. For about what the consultant wanted to charge for safety audits at just three schools, she will train more than 300 school officials from across the state to coordinate the work themselves. While school safety consultants who charge $2,000 to $15,000 per school to conduct safety and security audits would like people to believe otherwise, the majority of them have little or no unique and advanced skill in performing what are relatively simple safety evaluations of schools.
Snapp is also addressing concerns of schools paying high fees for ineffective school safety plans written by consultants. The academy also began distributing comprehensive safety planning templates to public and private schools throughout Indiana. The templates help schools address concerns ranging from bullying to terrorism using the all-hazards approach recommended by the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Homeland Security. The templates require close collaboration between school officials and community emergency responders to develop customized plans tailored to local conditions and area public safety capabilities.
The planning system includes a comprehensive emergency exercise program with more than 30 different crisis scenarios ranging from medical emergencies to mass casualty incidents allowing school and public safety officials to test their plans and practice together, as recommended by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Education. Indiana officials anticipate their schools will save millions of dollars each year while dramatically improving the level of safety and emergency preparedness.
Snapp knows school systems have paid consultants up to $1 million to write school safety plans even though the U.S. Department of Education, FEMA and most of the nation’s school safety centers advise against this approach. In Practical Information on Crisis Planning — a Guide for Schools and Communities, the Department of Education urges schools to involve local emergency response agency personnel, like police, fire service, emergency management and public health officials, to help develop customized plans to meet local risks with available resources. The Indiana approach also provides an effective and positive cultural change of safety in schools that does not take place when consultants perform the work for school officials.
While Snapp feels qualified consultants can provide many valuable services to schools, she is determined to help her schools avoid wasting funds on services her state can provide at minimal cost. The Indiana initiative has proven to be extremely popular with school officials who signed up for all available training slots for the first session within three days of the announcement. The training has been so popular, Snapp has scheduled two additional sessions to train an extra 200 attendees.
When state agencies like the Indiana Department of Education and federal agencies like the United States Department of Education develop free resources for our schools, precious funds are freed up for use on other safety measures further enhancing safety.
My regular urgings for readers to carefully consider the qualifications of consultants and the best way to use their services have been met with hostility by several consultants. As we say in the South, the hit dog hollers. I applaud the efforts of our nation’s state and federal agencies to bring free high-quality services to our schools. As I have for the past six years in this column, I urge readers to avail themselves of quality free 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.