It’s 10 p.m. on a quiet evening in the foothills of southeastern Tennessee, and Ron Orchid wants to check the outdoor lighting of the Baylor School as part of his security audit.
So, instead of watching the final half of the first game of his San Antonio Spurs playing the Utah Jazz in the first game of the NBA Western Conference finals, the Global Systems Solution’s (GSS) vice president drove out to the private school to check the quality of the lighting for a security system upgrade.
“It’s just as I expected,” he said, as he and I drive through this private school, noting the lower wattage of the lights in the student dormitory parking lot. “The lights are perfect for the ambiance of the school, but they won’t work with some security systems.”
Orchid then proceeds to check the lighting of the pathways and stairs near the school’s dorms. “Those are very well lit and you can easily see the steps,” he noted.
Until recently, Orchid has focused most of his security expertise on other industries. The GSS program manager has designed security programs for major airports, off-site oil platforms and other manufacturing facilities as a consultant. Just like the Baylor School, Orchid has done a lot of late night visits within those industries to check even the smallest of detail.
CAMPUS UNIQUENESSNow, Orchid focuses on a new industry – educational institutions.
“Ten years ago, educators didn’t place as high of a focus on their security, but first Columbine and now the Virginia Tech tragedy have created a greater sense of urgency,” said Jack Walser of Stratis Authority, and a founder of the Learn Safe program.
At the request of Stratis Authority, Orchid and his GSS team visited Baylor to help it look at processes that will improve the security for the private school. Stratis Authority, GSS, Nortel Communications and American Systems deployed an eight-member team to survey the needs of the 670-acre school.
Kathy Hanson, the Baylor School’s vice president of advancement and external affairs, said parents and students are now asking her about her school’s security program.
“One of the first questions we get from prospective students is about our security program,” said Hanson. The Baylor School executive added she has seen recent research from the Association of Boarding Schools among prospective ninth grade students showing an increased focus on safety and security. In a similar survey conducted a decade ago, Hanson noted few students selected safety and security among their reasons for picking a school like the Baylor School. Now, along with placement in colleges and the quality of the sports programs, security is ranked among the top ten deciding factors for prospective students among private schools.
While private school students evaluate their institutions based on security, public school students face increased security threats in their classrooms. In a recent U.S. Department of Education (DOE) report, 1.3 million students reported they were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property during a 12-month period. In that same report, 27 percent of high schools surveyed reported serious violent crimes such as rape, sexual battery and physical attack with a weapon or robbery with or without a weapon. The DOE report added 74 percent of primary schools, 94 percent of middle schools and 96 percent of high schools experienced violent crime at schools nearly four years ago.
FOLLOW THROUGH ON PROCESSES“To address these types of crimes, a lot of security consultants will design a sophisticated security system and never work with a school after that on its processes,” said James Vandevere of Stratis Authority. “Our program is different in our approach. Our consultants will provide working security audits with educational administrators on an ongoing basis to help them evaluate problems and to correct the processes and add equipment as needed.”
During a three-day visit, Orchid and his staff visited every building and walked the grounds of the Baylor School. The Stratis-GSS-Nortel team crawled through attics and looked at every door to evaluate how to add access control systems.
The team also evaluated traffic patterns and the school’s first responder policies. “Some things are simple fixes that need to be added to a policy book, while others will cost some money,” said Orchid. “The costs for changing the lighting in the student dorm parking lots will truly impact their budget.”
Unlike most security solution providers, Stratis Authority assists private and public school systems with funding channels that don’t impact endowment funds or tax money. To pay for security upgrades, the initiative provides administrators or school boards with several alternatives. Walser said one option is to allow Stratis Authority to create relationships with the school that minimize, or in some case eliminate altogether, the cost of the Learn Safe program on their campuses.
“Through our relationships with government agencies and human resources outsourcing providers, Learn Safe identifies ways to reduce the costs of the security programs and increase the savings to the schools’ operating budgets. If a school needs other items like updated school books, they shouldn’t have to sacrifice them to pay for the safety equipment to keep their students safe,” the Stratis executive said.
Programs such as Learn Safe can also establish a public/private sponsorship. Walser said his organization has contacted local businesses to get funding to cover some of the costs for these programs. The organization has already had meetings with major retailers, soft drink distributors and other businesses to request funding for school security programs.
PRICE OF GOOD WILL“Many of these businesses want to generate good will with the school board, the students and their parents,” said Walser. “We have discussed with one major retailer how students could use their access card to get discounts on purchases.”
Another alternative is to amortize the costs for the upgrades. Walser said this allows schools to find federal or private grants to fund the security programs. “Our program is structured such that the cost metric of implementation will be about what a person would pay for a tank of gas per student, per year over the course of the four year program,” the Stratis executive said.
“School districts that aggressively update their security programs will see their business and community leaders support them by sending their children to their schools,” Vandevere said. “When schools don’t address these security issues, it will force the businesses to evaluate relocation to communities that can provide safer schools or it can cause parents to consider charter or private schools as a viable alternative.”
SIDEBAR: It Takes an Experts’ VillageWhen Jim Vandevere and Jack Walser of Stratis Authority worked on the launch of Learn Safe, they wanted to build a cadre of experts and resources to help schools improve their safety program.
Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI supervisor at the Quanitco, Va., Behavioral Sciences Unit; Dave Grossman, director of the Killology Research Group; Peter Blauvelt, president of the National Alliance for Safe Schools; Rick Harvell, executive director of the National Association for Safe Schools, and other senior educational and security executives serve on the advisory board. With their input, Stratis has built an educational resource base that could help to not only provide a better solution but also consult on the funding options. From an educational security administrator’s viewpoint, the scope of service available to help mitigate the risks faced by school today include:
Ongoing training solutions: With educational security changing every day, Learn Safe updates its continuing education programs for school districts. Quarterly it provides new curriculum for districts to train their staff.
Behavioral consulting: Can educators spot the school bully or their victim, or the quiet shy student who brings his father’s gun to school to deal with his or her tormentor? Working with the SBS Group out of College Station, Texas, Learn Safe has developed programs that will help further training of everyone who comes into contact with students.
Local police and fire coordination: The program administrators consult school districts on working with local law enforcement agencies to coordinate best practices and to continuously work with local police to coordinate everything from the flow of traffic to drop off children to emergency response processes.
Background checks: While most school districts provide background checks on new employees, Learn Safe offers an extensive screening process to include a national background check, Social Security number, motor vehicle report, drug screening and a credit report.