Planning security for special events at schools can seem daunting. However, a balanced approach to a security program can help the event come off smoothly. All forms of security planning involve three aspects:
• Natural. Using basic crime prevention through environmental design techniques.
• Organization. Training and preparing the security staff and instructing the participants.
• Mechanical. Using security equipment to assist the security program.
When schools plan security programs using only one of these aspects, the result is that the school does not get the best bang for its security buck, and the event may encounter problems. But a serious attempt at addressing all three can prove successful.
In looking at the natural aspect of security, one basic premise is to reduce isolation and distance. The participants in an event should not feel as if they are alone in an isolated, unsafe place. This feeling of isolation often comes from participants who must walk alone to parking areas, to mass-transit pickup points or restrooms. After hours, this feeling of isolation can be amplified if an individual is walking in a poorly lighted area. People often lose confidence when they have to walk alone in a dark area and cannot see potential danger at a distance.
This planning is done by having a good estimate of how many participants you are expecting at the event, as well as taking into consideration how these participants are going to get to and from your event. Using previous event head counts often is a good basis for making these estimates.
To reduce isolation and distance, make sure that you provide adequate parking for your event so that the participants do not end up parking in non-patrolled areas. Also, make sure that you have sufficient restroom facilities at the event, so that participants don’t have to wander into a remote area of the school. Confirm that all the possible illumination is available after hours in parking areas, paths to mass-transit pickup locations and restrooms. Also, look for areas where someone might be able to hide along paths leading to and from the event.
Work with the school engineering/maintenance department to determine what time outdoor lights will be extinguished. Most outdoor systems are on automatic timers—nothing can be more disconcerting than to have your event end at 10:30 p.m. and find that all the outdoor lights automatically shut off at 10 p.m. Make sure the lights will stay on long after the event has ended so that not only participants, but also event organizers, can return to their vehicles or to mass-transit pickup points in the best illumination possible.
Other aspects of natural security include making an area where unsafe activity occurs less usable for that activity through natural surveillance or other techniques. Where is the normal "smoking area" or "hangout" area around your school event? Are there ways to make these areas less usable for unsafe activities? Could that be done with better illumination or the use of a security patrol presence?
For instance, one school had a problem with unauthorized individuals using a large lawn area behind a facility where there were infrequent patrols and poor natural surveillance. The school solved the problem by arranging for the lawn to be watered regularly with a sprinkler system for brief periods after hours. The wet lawn was uncomfortable, and people tended to move on when the sprinklers came on.
Combine natural security with organizational security. As an event planner, be aware of what problems have occurred at previous events that were held during the same timeframe. Have there been vehicle burglaries in the parking lot? Have there been assaults? This is called threat intelligence gathering. Contact the local police or sheriff’s department to determine if any problems have been reported recently near your school. Some officials can be surprised to learn how some neighborhoods change dramatically after hours. Once you have collected this threat intelligence, make sure your staff members are aware of this information and the techniques to reduce the likelihood that problems will occur.
Most event planners focus their staff on the actual event itself and lose focus on the surrounding areas. Make sure you have sufficient monitors at a dance, game or concert. These can be school security personnel, off-duty police or volunteers (teachers, administrative personnel, maintenance staff, parents, students). The normal focus of this security staff is to keep unsafe persons out of the event. Remember that your event extends beyond the gymnasium or stadium where the event is occurring to parking areas, restrooms and mass-transit pickup points.
Using the information you have gathered about previous events and the information from the local law enforcement about the neighborhood, plan to have your security/police staff regularly patrol these outlying potential problem areas. Often, it is recommended to have members of the security team assigned to conduct these patrols throughout the event and not just once every hour or so.
Make sure the security patrol is visiting all areas where event participants may go. Also, confirm that the security patrol does not follow a pattern so that somebody watching can easily tell when the patrol will return to a location. Police and school security tend to wear easily identifiable uniforms. In the case of volunteer security staff, make sure they are wearing some emblem, such as colorful jackets, hats or shirts, that identifies them. In the case of volunteer security, have people work in pairs.
Make sure that your security staff is trained properly and has adequate equipment, such as flashlights and radios. If you are using volunteer security staff, it might be helpful to schedule a training session before the event in which an experienced security officer can discuss how to deal with certain unexpected situations. The use of role playing in these training sessions helps volunteers understand how to deal with an unsafe situation.
In general, volunteer security should act only as the eyes and ears of regular security or law enforcement. Tell volunteers that their role is to observe unsafe activity and report it to the proper authorities. Make sure volunteers are trained on how to describe a vehicle or an individual so that they can give an adequate description to responding law enforcement. The last thing you want is to put volunteers in harm’s way because they got in over their heads in an unsafe situation. Make sure volunteers understand where the school property ends. They are not responsible for enforcing rules off school grounds.
Training your security staff also should include the handling of emergency situations such as evacuations. If a fire alarm or other situation caused you to suddenly order an evacuation, where will you plan to send the participants after they leave the facility? If you consider this ahead of time, you can have your staff trained in where and how to direct the crowd so that the evacuation is carried out smoothly and quickly. Will the evacuation staging area be well-lighted? Make sure your staff members know their assignments in such situations. Some staff should be pre-assigned to make sure everyone is out of the facility, while the other staff members should be assigned the responsibility for moving the crowd to the staging area. If your event is happening during bad weather, having a nearby covered staging area may be desired.
The most important piece of mechanical security at a school event is the portable radio. Make sure staff members are communicating with each other. That is especially important if you have security patrols in the parking lots or other outlying areas. When you are organizing dances or concerts, remember that these functions are loud, and equipping your radios with earphones makes them far more functional. Also, make sure one individual is assigned as the coordinator on your radio frequency to make the decisions in the event of an emergency.
Another possible mechanical security tool would be to equip your roving security team with a small camcorder equipped with infrared night vision. These cameras can be used to document disturbances and threats. The video recording can deter troublemakers. Rowdy students do not want to be caught in the act, and the normal zoom lens on one of these devices will allow volunteer security staff to document from a safe distance.
Maurer is a senior director in the Security Services Group of Kroll Inc., a risk-consulting company based in New York City. He has more than 30 years of experience as a law-enforcement and security manager. He also is the chairman of the ASIS International Physical Security Council.