Effective school planning begins with a commitment to make safety/security a top priority, and integrate security programs and systems into the school infrastructure. Although an undeniable need exists to add or upgrade security in schools, such actions demand a significant change in attitudes and an investment in labor and technology.
Schools are no longer safe from the crime and violence that occurs in the community. As the school-age population continues to escalate, school safety planning and operations must be comprehensive. Plans should provide security but minimize a negative perception by incorporating it in a subtle way-soft but visible security. Administrators and security managers, however, are faced with some challenges in the educational environment, including a high turnover in the community, staff and students; severe or changing budget constraints; small, active and vocal groups who resist or oppose security initiatives and visibility; and school board members who take different stands on security issues.
Paying attention to basics Security measures do not need to break the budget. By concentrating more on the integration of security basics, accountability, and some security technology, there will be noticeable and timely results in providing reasonably safe learning environments.
Integrating security systems, measures and programs into the school infrastructure is simple in theory, but more difficult in practice and reality. Automated security technologies usually can survive the scrutiny of almost any objective cost-benefits analysis when integrated with human factors and efficient use of technology and personnel. Increases in school security are gaining some ground because of technology, partnerships, pressure from parents and the community to establish safe learning environments, and efforts of administrators and security-management professionals to implement creative, well-established and effective security programs.
Creating a security program Security and crime-prevention programs and measures that have proven effective revolve around traditional security efforts, such as professional security or police personnel patrolling the interior and exterior; crime- and loss-prevention programs; closed-circuit television; central monitoring; metal detectors; intrusion detection systems; access-control systems; central management of security personnel and operations; school employee security education and awareness training; procurement and maintenance of security equipment; and a focus on the necessary principles of continuous quality security improvement.
Total systems integration can combine an alarm system with other elements of electronic security, fire alarms, elevator control, energy management and communications into one seamless system, allowing the performance of preprogrammed or selected functions or activities from one central station. Schools also can use systems integration or interfacing to monitor a number of school sites. Whether a school can benefit from or see a real cost-effective return on investment depends on how serious the district is about dedicating people and resources to security.
It can be a challenge to find space for security personnel, equipment, and a control center or office. In addition, since the majority of school districts are relatively small and mid-size, budgets and resources often are lacking. Some districts have contracted with private security companies for alarm monitoring or security patrols. Others utilize non-security professionals, attendance officers, or other such employees available in the school or through maintenance to patrol and monitor hallways and student movement. Others have no security, while some have trained proprietary security officers or proprietary personnel who may have limited training and no professional supervision. Some districts have school police or public-safety departments led by a security or law-enforcement professional with a focus on school-oriented policing.
Implementing the plan A variety of means are used in implementation and monitoring of security systems. Total systems integration/interface is where all alarms-fire, energy management, etc.-are managed at a central location by proprietary personnel or at a remote site by a contract security company. Other options include monitoring security alarms/systems by proprietary personnel during school hours; and security alarms/systems recorded on site and/or monitored in different administrative locations.
When addressing any security issue, one of the most important considerations is that plans, policies, procedures and measures be in writing. It is important that these reflect what can and is being done. Policies must reflect a school district's particular circumstances, strengths and weaknesses; and they must be working documents that are reviewed on an ongoing basis and modified to keep up with changing threats and vulnerabilities. Also, regular evaluations must take place to determine if the problems have stopped, decreased or shifted to other areas.
Security plays an increasingly important role in an institution's overall agenda. The keys to successful planning, integration and implementation of security programs are: *Understanding the interests and concerns of community members. *Openly acknowledging and dealing with issues and problems. *Getting professional security consultation or leadership. *Developing a comprehensive, written master plan. *Working the plans, policies, procedures and security initiatives in a manner that is consistent in interpretation, non-discriminatory in application, and professional in implementation and operation.
When those in an educational environment know what to expect, what is expected from each one individually and as a group, and the consequences for not being responsible and accountable, then the integration of a pathway to a safer place to work and learn will be possible.