People are prone to worry. Sometimes there is good reason for concerns. Sometimes legitimate fears grow to irrational levels.
School administrators and school boards face significant obstacles in their efforts to provide safe learning environments. For example, limited funding always seems to present problems. At the same time, stakeholder pressure to address vulnerabilities often pushes schools to make decisions sooner than later. Now, add to that tension the presentation of plausible solutions by people with strong personalities, and... Mistakes can be made.
Consider the following three school security trends: 1) Introduction of new active shooter response procedures, 2) Affordable, after-market products designed to secure classroom doors, and 3) Installation of security systems that affect school operations. Each of these potential solutions is born of good intentions and innovation. Nevertheless, be careful to avoid related pitfalls.
Run, Hide, Fight
In 2012 the Department of Homeland Security introduced active shooter response procedures known as “Run, Hide, Fight.” Simply stated, these procedures direct people involved in an active shooter situation to attempt an escape. If escape is not a safe option, people should attempt to hide. If hiding does not work, people should attempt to attack the shooter. Run, Hide, Fight is ideally suited for 2012 incidents such as the Denver-area movie theatre shooting, the Milwaukee-area temple shooting and the Portland-area shopping mall shooting.
For schools, however, these procedures are ordered in the wrong sequence. Unlike movie theatres, houses of worship, and shopping malls, almost all schools have locks on every classroom and office door. Furthermore, students are not adults. They tend to follow their teachers, instead of making independent decisions.
The first option should not be to “run,” but to lockdown or “hide.” School lockdown procedures instruct teachers and staff to lock classroom doors, turn off lights, and move students to an area of the room where they cannot be seen. Obvious exceptions to standard lockdown procedures include situations where people find themselves in “kill zones” (immediate proximity to a shooter) and instances where a perpetrator breaches the door to a room secured for lockdown. In those cases, teachers and students should certainly flee or attempt to defend themselves.
If escape was the first option in the school setting, to what location(s) would students and staff run? How would the accountability of students effectively be accomplished? What kind of age-appropriate instruction would be provided? What about students with disabilities?
Many schools have recently adopted Run, Hide, Fight procedures solely on the recommendation of local law enforcement officials. But police officers tend to think more tactically than civilians. They cannot possibly take into account school issues, such as child behavior and special needs, with the same kind of insight as administrators.
Instead of immediately adopting these new emergency procedures, address the options collaboratively. Examine the pros and cons. Work toward achieving consensus.
After-Market Security Devices for Classroom Doors
Especially since the Sandy Hook tragedy, entrepreneurs have introduced a bevy of untested, after-market devices designed to secure classroom doors. Why? The vast majority of classroom doors open into hallways and have locking mechanisms that lock from the outside. In an attempt to protect teachers from potential exposure to hallway violence, well-intentioned vendors have invented products to eliminate that risk. Beware these magnets, boots and sleeves.
Magnets get placed over door frame strike plates to prevent door locks from latching. The classroom door is always locked without affecting operations because students and staff can freely come and go. In a violent emergency, teachers do not have to use a key to lock the door, they simply remove the magnet, and the door latches. Unfortunately, teachers can forget to remove the magnet in an actual emergency. If the door is closed, they must open the door to remove the magnet. In addition, a student or intruder can also remove the magnet when the teacher is out of the classroom. Because teachers who utilize door magnets tend not to carry keys, they can be locked out of their own room.
“The Boot” gets placed on the inside of classroom doors and drops two steel pegs into holes in the threshold to prevent the door from being opened. “The Sleeve” is a steel case that slides over the classroom door’s closer arm, securing the door from the inside. Numerous similar products join the mix of after-market devices designed to secure classroom doors at a fraction of what it would cost to replace existing door locks with mechanisms that lock from the inside (classroom security locks).
After-market products suppliers market the financial disparity between a $7.99 magnet and a $250 lock. If the average school has 50 classroom doors, the multiplier presents a convincing argument. Some vendors even market the hope that insurance providers will offer premium discounts to those that purchase such devices. Challenge these firms to provide a concrete example of a school that has indeed received a premium discount.
Once again, local law enforcement officials account for the stakeholder group most likely to endorse these inventions. But door hardware manufacturers would never endorse, let alone produce, these after-market solutions. Why? Because these products tend to violate National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) egress codes and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes. Most of these solutions require “prior knowledge” to activate. Products that are not attached to doors must be located and correctly deployed. Products that are attached to doors void door hardware warranties. Perpetrators can use these kinds of devices to keep authorized individuals out.
Buyer beware! Some schools have installed these inexpensive solutions only to find out that code violations require their removal. Involve fire marshals, door hardware manufacturers and insurance providers before investing in after-market solutions.
Surprise Installation of Security Systems
Summer break presents an ideal opportunity to install new security measures, such as video surveillance and electronic access systems. With teachers on break, these systems can be installed without disrupting operations. The idea may be sound, but schools often forget to deliver the most important system component – staff instruction.
Typically, teachers and staff receive cursory notifications of new systems. These front-line stakeholders rarely receive any real training. They are expected to adopt new practices, such as use of electronic access credentials, without adequate orientation. Lack of understanding may even produce an undercurrent of murmuring.
Consider the averted school shooting incident in Decatur, Georgia, in 2013. The intruder did not have an access control credential. He simply waited for an access card-carrying staff member to unlock a secured entry and, capitalizing on the five-to-seven seconds it takes for a door closer to pull the door shut, “piggy-backed” into the building. The school’s expensive access control system did not fail. Instead, the system was rendered worthless by the failure of a staff member to utilize it properly. Thankfully, a heroic administrative assistant persuaded the intruder to surrender without incident. Close call. Too close. What if the Decatur administrative assistant had not convinced the intruder to change his mind?
On the other hand, what if staff members had been trained to pause a few moments to ensure doors latched behind them before proceeding? What if they had been instructed in why the school had installed electronic access control systems and how they operated? What if staff had been asked to participate in a system training or role playing scenario to demonstrate best practices?
Maximize the value of security program investments by properly orienting staff. Knowledge empowers. It also eases anxiety. In fact, effective education confers ownership.
Where does your school stand in regards to these three trends? Well-intended and innovative solutions do not always produce effective protection. Sometimes they actually increase risk. Avoid these potential pitfalls.
Enquire about active shooter procedures. Recommend that decisions be made in the context of an Emergency Planning Team comprised of key internal stakeholders and emergency responders.
Question the use of after-market products designed to secure classroom doors. Challenge administrators to gain documented approval from fire marshals.
Ask whether or not sufficient time is regularly being devoted to security system awareness training. Insist that security measures be implemented with sufficient explanation and instruction.
All stakeholders understand the importance of providing a safe learning environment for students and staff. Alleviate unnecessary anxiety this year by addressing school security proactively. Make school security decisions based on collaboration and consensus. That formula is the best way to avoid regrets and potentially tragic mistakes.