At a conference for school leadership. I asked a head of school, “What kind of security program do you have?” He chuckled and said: “We don’t have a security program. We take pride in the fact that we don’t even lock our doors at night.”
A bit shocked, I responded: “Really? What kind of plan do you have in place if there is some kind of incident?” He responded: “Oh, we have a very good relationship with the police. We’ll call them and they will take care of it.”
In other words, this school has no security plan—except to hope for the best.
Did you know that according to most studies, the average police response time in the United States ranges from 10 to 12 minutes? Did you know that the typical violent incident ends many minutes before the police arrive? If your security plan consists simply of waiting for the police to arrive, you may be in for a rude awakening.
Your security should be built according to a professional standard, and this standard should be based upon a results-based methodology.
Principles of a Professional Methodology
If you work in a school, keeping students safe is your primary responsibility. If you believe “it will never happen here,” you shouldn’t be in education.
If something happens on your campus, you must be the “first responder” because you are the first one on the scene. You will have to take action long before police, fire, and emergency medical teams arrive.
Your security program must first focus on controlling risk. This happens by understanding the chronology of emergencies and being capable of operating within each category.
Before the emergency
School leaders may wish they never stray from this category. This is a state of life in which it may appear that there is no risk. However, leaders must be aware that this is an illusion maintained through luck or preventative measures.
Preventative measures help control a school environment. A campus should have good protocols and equipment to know who is at the school and who has left the campus.
For example, one school put into place a high-quality visitor management system that checked every visitor against the national database of sex offenders. Within the first month, the school turned away three persons. They were registered sex offenders who were accustomed to entering the school grounds as vendors or contractors.
Schools also should have a way to keep out intruders who try to force their way in. One tool is security film for glass. It helps keep the integrity of the window, even if the glass breaks. In other words, if someone breaks a window, it stays in place and becomes a kind of screen that is difficult to breach, even for someone wielding a sledgehammer or a baseball bat.
If a building has secure doors and locks, the next place a person with suspicious intent will try to gain entrance is through windows. This is how the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School entered the building. When he could not open the door, he shot out the window next to the door and walked in.
During the emergency
It is unrealistic to believe that schools can prevent all crises. At some point, someone will get hurt and administrators need to know how to respond. Response to an emergency comes in two forms:
- Defensive response. Get people away from the threat or keep the threat from getting to people. This means conducting drills focused on how to evacuate and where to go, when not to evacuate and shelter instead, and how to shelter properly.
- Offensive response. In an offensive response, responders move toward the threat to stop it. In the United States, this is typically left to first responders. In contrast, most institutions in Israel have internal offensive response capabilities in order to shorten response times and end a threat more quickly. Having this security asset in place enables potential victims to gain distance from a threat and escape, and the community itself maintains control of its environment.
After the emergency
After a threat is no longer viable, damage still may occur, and that can be in the form of injured people. Many school personnel are trained in basic first aid and CPR. That is a good thing, however, how many staff members know how to put on a tourniquet? Far more kids die every year from heavy bleeding than from a heart attack, yet typical training does not reflect the statistics.
A security program for schools should be developed in the same way as other school programs: professionally. When an education institution develops a good system continually enhances it with well-placed professional equipment, protocols, and training, the damage that a threat is able to inflict will be greatly minimized.
Siegelman is founder of Draco Group and consultant to Energy Products Distribution, a supplier of 3Msecurity window film products.