Security Special Section

Mind The Gap

Student going through security screening

PHOTO © MONKEY BUSINESS IMAGES

Visitors to London are familiar with the iconic phrase “mind the gap”. This caution is repeated at every stop on The Tube, London’s famous subway system. Passengers are advised to pay particular attention to the gap between the platform and the exit doorway of the train. Stepping into this gap can prove disastrous. Similarly, a failure to notice the gap between perceived school security measures and actual school security practices can also provide an entrance to disaster.

INACCURATE PERCEPTIONS CAN KILL

During a school security assessment for one of the largest public school systems in America, our analysts found that students had been getting weapons into district middle and high schools. These incidents were occurring in spite of a thorough weapons-screening process at the entrance of the district’s secondary schools. The problem was not the weapons-screening approach, but rather stemmed from poor access-control practices. Teachers and support-staff members in some schools had developed bad habits, such as propping exit doors open. Students had quickly figured out that they could simply bypass the weapons screening checkpoints to bring guns, knives and other weapons into these schools.

Of additional concern was the unrealistic mindset of many staff members who assumed that because students were being thoroughly screened at the checkpoints, weapons could not be brought into the schools. While running school employees through a variety of video and audio school crisis scenarios, our analysts noticed a pronounced tendency for many staff to respond to scenarios involving individuals who were depicted as brandishing weapons by replying that the incidents being simulated were not possible at their school. When told to assume that the incidents depicted had occurred in spite of the weapons screening program, a number of staff were unable to describe any action steps for the events. Our experience indicates that at least part of the problem was that staff had not thought about the possibility of these types of events taking place, even though there had been problems with weapons in the schools they worked in.

IDENTIFY AND CORRECT GAPS

This type of situation is just one example of how dangerous unidentified gaps in school security can be. School leaders should continually seek to identify and correct gaps between what is really in place and what students and staff assume is in place. There are a number of ways to actively seek out and identify school security gaps. School security assessments performed by experienced external school security experts are often one of the most reliable ways to identify gaps that can be easily overlooked by internal personnel. There are also a variety of internal approaches to help identify and correct these types of gaps before someone gets hurt.

Law enforcement canine

PHOTO © SARI ONEAL

CREATE A CULTURE OF SCHOOL SAFETY TO PREVENT GAPS

School security technologies, security hardware, policies, practices and procedures can help reduce the risk that school security incidents will occur. However, each of these approaches can break down if staff and in some cases, students do not understand the importance of properly implementing or supporting them. School security personnel often describe challenges they face in getting other school employees to follow proper school security practices. Interesting, actionable and factually accurate staff development efforts and effective communications can help to address these concerns. Perhaps most importantly, building administrators must demonstrate that these efforts are a real priority. One of the common denominators of safe schools is strong, clear and consistent leadership which demonstrates to staff that school security is a real priority.

PERFECTION IS NOT REQUIRED

We sometimes encounter situations where school officials are reluctant to implement particular security measures because they are not 100 percent reliable. While approaches that do not provide a viable return on the time, energy and/or funding required to implement them should be avoided, it can be a mistake not to implement reasonable steps to enhance security just because the approach will not be foolproof. Many safety incidents are likely prevented by the repeated warnings to “mind the gap”. While no school safety measures are foolproof, reducing the gap between perceived and actual levels of school security can also reduce the likelihood that security events will take place. Taking care to mind the gap can help avert tragedy in our school.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

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.

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