Tech Talk: To the Table

The year 2007 was a tumultuous one for school shootings. In looking back on this year, I believe that any technological improvements that schools and universities can make to their existing security systems and policies are well worth the investment.

Students are put into a school's care for many hours each week. College students work late hours in studios with little or no supervision. It is the responsibility of education institutions to do everything possible to ensure the safety of these children and young adults.

With the evolution of IP technology in camera and security systems, institution-wide systems now are possible and easier than ever to manage. Education institutions are collaborating with police departments to have officers patrol in many school buildings. Police departments are even offering to monitor camera systems off-site.

Administrators must become more proactive. They should consider conducting tabletop exercises to discuss simulated crises with emergency-management organizations and school personnel in a non-threatening environment. These exercises can test the viability of a school's emergency response plan.

The purpose of a tabletop exercise is to encourage discussion on the overall response, decisionmaking and coordination with the various agencies that should be involved. These exercises are intended to focus on communication, coordination, problem identification and resolution. The tabletop exercise should be designed to familiarize personnel with their roles and responsibilities in the emergency response plan and the overall emergency-management system.

Tabletop exercises allow participants to examine the roles, responsibilities, tasks and overall logistics associated with managing a similar real-life emergency situation and adjust their crisis plans as needed. In-short, tabletop exercises test how school personnel, students and community agencies work together in an emergency.

Full-scale drills can be very illuminating, but they typically are labor- and time-intensive. Tabletop exercises can provide a more time-effective method of assessing and improving a school's emergency planning. They provide the benefits of face-to-face simulation with school and emergency agency personnel, and provide heightened awareness.

Each school district or college, and each school within a district must develop its own crisis-preparedness plan and emergency plan guidelines. A “cut-and-paste” approach using other schools' emergency plans typically will not lead to full ownership and effective crisis planning within a school. In fact, it could lead to increased liability for school officials.

Tabletop exercises really are about planning and putting capabilities in place. Although no one expects a tragedy to happen in an education institution, it is essential that everyone in a school organization take the opportunity to be in a ready position if an emergency occurs.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected]. www.kbdplanning.com

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