Assessing the Situation
One public high school where I performed a security assessment is loaded with high-quality security and access control technology. Students must swipe an ID card to be able to unlock a turnstile to enter the school. They then have to walk through metal detectors. Visitors need to present a photo ID card that is swiped, so a computer can check the visitor against databases of sexual predators, individuals banned from campus and against names appearing on court orders received by the school. Besides eight hall monitors and a school resource officer, the school has a security officer to watch a bank of monitors tied to the school numerous security cameras. They also have alarms to protect exterior doors that sound when the doors are opened without authorization.
However, I was easily able to beat this entire security system by gaining access to the building interior, not just once, but three days in a row, proving to school officials that a non-custodial parent, a dangerous intruder or a student could not only slip into the school undetected, but could also easily bring a full-length shotgun or rifle into the school. Fortunately, I was there to test the school’s security system because school officials had realized the extensive investment in security technology was not providing the anticipated results.
Security experts who understand how K-12 schools work can usually prevent deadly gaps upfront and, as seen in this case, often help correct misapplication of security technology. The acquisition of new security technology should be based on a formal assessment process.
A review of various state departments of education websites will reveal recommendations on how to conduct school safety assessments. Several departments of education advise and promote a comprehensive review and evaluation of safety efforts as a regularly scheduled or state-mandated activity. School safety assessment is one tool that can provide a snapshot of the school’s safety and identify areas needing improvement.
The assessment should consist of multiple indicators that apply to the total school environment. The minimum areas addressed as part of the assessment process should be the following:
- criminal risk in the neighborhood and broader community;
- physical review of buildings;
- review of existing policies and practices for student, staff and visitor admissions;
- review of discipline-infraction reporting, and the data collection method used;
- review of security personnel or SRO; and
- level of staff development related to school safety.
There should be some discussion as to whether the school safety assessment will be conducted by the school district using the state or local mandated assessment tool, and/or by an outside firm or expert. Regardless, the individual(s) should have a broad knowledge in the area of best practices for school safety and security. If school personnel conduct the assessment, they should receive training provided by persons with work experience in the assessment process.
The assessment team should be a multidisciplinary team that conducts a thorough assessment and evaluation of the multiple indicators mentioned earlier. A typical team might include members from the school administration, facilities personnel, law enforcement, fire services, custodial personnel, school nurse, emergency management and students.
How often should school safety assessments be made? Many experts recommend at least once every year, but some consideration must be given to state guidelines.
I would advise any administrator or school district personnel considering new security technology not to invest any amount of resources before conducting a school safety assessment. This proactive process will provide the much-needed insight to guide the decision makers in their efforts to make their school(s) safer.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.