Safety & Security
Six Important Considerations
- By Michael Dorn
- February 1st, 2015
Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, our center has been flooded with inquiries about school safety technology solutions. As in the wake of the Columbine attack, there has been a veritable explosion of new products and technology solutions for school safety. These new options have ranged from the truly bizarre to some of the most intelligent and practical technology innovations I have seen in 34 years in the campus safety field.
On the bizarre side, vendors have offered bullet resistant white boards, pepper spray canisters mounted in breakable glass cases for classrooms and engineering services to make classrooms and office areas bullet proof (at a cost of only a few million dollars per elementary school). Fortunately, there have also been a host of other more viable school safety solutions that have come to market. These include more robust visitor management systems, improved emergency communications systems and a number of improved duress button systems, to name just a few.
How do schools determine which new school safety technology solutions are the most feasible for their situation and finite budgets? Here are a few considerations our analysts feel are important when evaluating the practicality of new offerings.
1. Solutions focused only on active shooter incidents are of far less value than those that cover an array of threats. A careful evaluation of data reveals that there has not been a significant increase in active shooter incidents in K-12 schools. While the FBI’s recent report, using a different definition for active shooter incidents, does show an increase in settings overall, it does not show a significant increase in K-12 schools. While media coverage of these events has intensified, the reality is that the vast majority of school homicides over the past 15 years do not involve active shooter incidents. While active shooter incidents are a significant concern, and can occur in any public or nonpublic K-12 school, they are still extremely rare events. It is very dangerous to use limited resources to address only rare events if other far more likely types of events that result in more deaths are not also properly addressed.
2. Technologies that have been thoroughly tested in your type of K-12 schools are more likely to work well. For example, it is a good idea for independent schools to check references with other independent schools before selecting a school safety technology. The same is true for charter and parochial schools, as well as rural, suburban and urban public school systems.
3. Regional environmental factors, such as extreme cold, heat, bright sunlight, humidity and dust should also be considered. School safety technology that works extremely well in one setting may sometimes not be as effective for schools with different situations.
4. Sustainability is extremely important. I have seen numerous schools and districts that have expensive and sophisticated school safety technology solutions that are now inoperable. Most typically, these were implemented during periods of heightened concern after a highly publicized school shooting, but funding to sustain the system was cut in later years.
5. It’s important to select school safety technologies that work well with other systems and approaches. We often see situations where a variety of school safety technologies have been implemented in a piecemeal fashion. This is also a situation that is more prone to occur when school officials react to terrifying but rare events such as the Sandy Hook tragedy. A qualified integrator can be invaluable in preventing this type of situation.
6. Major changes in school safety technology should be based on a comprehensive school safety assessment process. An appropriate process is one that is conducted by personnel who are properly trained, vendor-neutral and who use the all-hazards approach. Assessments that are focused primarily on major incidents of violence result in far less effective strategies and can cause increased exposure to civil liability. Whether assessments are conducted by in-house personnel, government agency personnel or private vendors, is not as important as the approach that is utilized. Typically, a properly conducted external assessment is more than cost effective if major upgrades are anticipated.
I have seen many instances where school officials have saved millions of dollars because they conducted a proper assessment. Conversely, I have seen numerous tragic situations where lives have been lost, school officials have been successfully litigated and/or millions of dollars have been frittered away on poorly implemented safety technology approaches. A thoughtful approach that balances statistical risks with a proper evaluation process is a viable success strategy.
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.
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.