The school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 26 victims were killed and two wounded is the worst elementary school shooting in United States history. In terms of numbers of deaths, it is the second-worst school shooting ever in the United States, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. In the wake of this heartbreaking act of violence at Sandy Hook elementary, parents, school administrators, teachers, and communities everywhere are left wondering how we can keep our children safe when they are at school, and how we can prevent future tragedies.
It is valuable to seek out answers to safer schools. Government and community leaders are looking at a variety of options that include armed guards, stronger gun control, regulation of the video game industry, and identifying better mental health initiatives, among others.
The Security magazine Blog sought out input from experts for this informative contribution: Kent C. Jurney, CPP, is Vice President of Client Services at ABM Security Services. Mr. Jurney has been developing and delivering security protocol and training to schools and private industry for over forty years. In his capacity as a law enforcement officer, college professor, security company owner, consultant to national, international firms, and work with government entities, he has developed and overseen a variety of different security programs. Mr. Jurney developed the security curriculum for community colleges which is still part of the academic program in many colleges in Florida.
Chief Steve Cader is branch manager for ABM Security Services in Northern California. He is in his 40th year as a California Peace Officer and is a retired Chief of Police for the town of Atherton, CA. Prior to that he spent 24 years with the Placer County, Calif., Sheriffs Department as a Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant and Deputy. In addition to his responsibilities with ABM, he also works part time as a police officer for the State of California, as well as an advisor to a homeland security contractor in bioterrorism and emergency notifications.
In January, President Obama took action and put gun control on the national agenda when he issued his Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions. Unfortunately, despite this spotlight and his executive orders, there is no simple or foolproof way to protect schools from violence. And, according to education security experts like Jurney and Cader, school shootings such as those at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine are destined to happen again and again.
While there is no way to predict or prevent school massacres, experts do agree there are best practices that schools can adopt to be more aware and prepared when these incidents occur. These protective measures can include procedures, personnel, and equipment designed to mitigate the effects of an attack. Best practice protective measures for schools should include:
Planning and Training
School shootings are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Preparedness is critical in any type of school incident, whether an active shooter, a bomb threat, or other terrorist activity. Typically it takes 10 to 15 minutes before law enforcement arrives on scene to stop the shooter and mitigate harm to victims. This means everyone on campus must be prepared mentally and physically to deal with such situations.
Prepare - While 84 percent of schools had a written response plan for a shooting in 2010, only 52 percent had drilled their students in the past year, according to the White House. This spring, a set of model plans will be made available, and $30 million in grants is proposed to help districts develop their own plans. Here are some ways schools and students can be more prepared:
One of Obama Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions includes a requirement for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education to develop model emergency response plans
Hire a security director or appoint an employee who will be responsible for creating and implementing these emergency response plans, and coordinating all security activities for the school
Establish a command and control center to mobilize, deploy, and report information regularly to local law enforcement and emergency responders
Designate individuals familiar with the campus to serve as liaisons with responding emergency personnel
Provide floor plans and schematics to emergency personnel beforehand, or have them available digitally for quick access when an emergency occurs
Post evacuation routes in conspicuous locations throughout a facility and ensure the facility has at least two main evacuation routes
Create and assemble crisis kits containing radios, floor plans, keys, staff roster and staff emergency contact numbers, first aid kits, and flashlights. Distribute them to appropriate staff and employees
Place removable floor plans near entrances and exits for emergency responders
Conduct security audits on a regular and continuing basis
Train – There is no better way to prepare for emergencies than training and education. Knowing what to do can save lives and reduce injury of staff and students. One of the Obama recent executive orders was to provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations. This should help raise awareness and funding for school emergency training and response programs. Education practices that should be followed include:
Train staff to know and follow standardized procedures in an emergency and incorporate security into employee training programs
Provide security information and training to all students
Conduct regular exercises for active shooters. For years children have been exposed to fire, earthquake, and even bomb drills. The most effective way to train your staff to respond to an active shooter situation is to conduct mock active shooter training
Include local law enforcement and first responders during your training exercises and encourage law enforcement and emergency responders to train for an active shooter scenario at your location
Large concentrations of students gathering inside and around school buildings on a regular schedule make schools vulnerable to child predators, as well as shooters and terrorists. So it is critical for schools today to conduct diligent and thorough background checks and fingerprinting of all school personnel. Other hiring best practices for schools include:
Vendors and service providers that have access to school grounds -- such as janitors, landscapers, and other maintenance workers -- should have the same stringent background checks and fingerprinting as every teacher and administrator
Cross-train every person who is employed on the campus – including vendors -- to develop safety and security awareness protocols that provide support to, and enhance, existing security programs
Look for vendors with safe campus programs. These vendors consult with administration and other school vendors to create a culture of safety awareness that includes every person on campus, and becomes part of the security/safety solution by increasing the number of people continually surveying the campus for potential suspicious activities and expanding the eyes and ears of campus security staff.
Improve School Facilities
Because schools are relatively open access, it can be difficult to control access to schools without new technology and improved facilities maintenance. While these protective measures can be expensive, President Obama has just earmarked $150 million for Comprehensive School Safety grants that will provide schools with funding for buying safety equipment, conducting threat assessments, and training crisis-intervention teams.
Ways to define and maintain access control and better protect students while on school grounds include:
Define the facility perimeter and areas within the facility that require access control. Maintain building access points to the minimum needed.
Issue photo IDs for all school employees and students
Provide visitors with school issued identification badges when on school grounds and require visitor check-in with the front office upon arrival and departure
Control vehicle access to school parking lots
Evaluate campus needs and design a video monitoring, surveillance, and inspection program Continuously monitor people entering and leaving the facility and establish protocols identifying suspicious behavior
Deploy personnel assigned to security duty to regularly inspect sensitive or critical areas
Vary security rounds and schedules to avoid predictability
Improve lighting across the campus and maintain the grounds
Make sure the school has enough utility service capacity to meet normal and emergency needs and provide adequate physical security
Make sure employees are familiar with how to shut off utility services, etc.
Good communication is critical in emergency situations to increase response times and reduce confusion, panic, misinformation, and possible injuries. All schools should have a communication plan in place. Here are some components of a good school communication program:
Establish a liaison and regular communication with local law enforcement and community leaders
Install systems that provide communication with all people at the school including employees, students, visitors, and emergency response teams
Establish protocol and systems – such as email -- that provide alerts and to communicate with parents in emergency situations
Develop a procedure for communicating with the public and the media regarding security issues
School Resource Officer Programs and Trained Security Officers
Whether the threat is vandalism, student violence, terrorist threats, or an active shooter, having a law enforcement officer or trained/armed security guard on campus can be a strong potential deterrent. Schools can work with local police to establish a school resource officer program. Or, schools can turn to private security companies to provide a trained and armed security guard to fulfill the role of school resource officer.
School Resource Officers - A school resource officer is a law enforcement officer assigned to a school. Their main goal is to prevent juvenile delinquency by promoting positive relations between youth and law enforcement. SROs are not just cops on campus; they become part of the staff. They educate students by teaching law related classes, and counsel students and parents as well. The SRO becomes involved in student lives as a trusted figure to students and faculty, and a positive role model. The intent is that the officer becomes part of the school community, making the students feel safer, and provide another trained set of eyes and ears among students to help identify potential issues and vulnerabilities, and reduce juvenile crime.
SRO programs are not new. Many schools have used them successfully in the past. However, the economic downturn slashed school budgets and stretched law enforcement resources extremely thin. With not enough officers to spare and schools not being able to afford them, most SRO programs have been cut. However, with one of the Obama new executive orders, he has provided incentives for schools to hire school resource officers once again.
Trained and Armed Security Guards – An economical and effective alternative to an SRO is a fully trained, armed security officer. Many security officers are former law enforcement officers who can be employed through a security company for almost half the cost of the sworn officer.
Facilitate Best Practices
The protective measures outlined in this article are just some of the things K-12 to higher education schools, both public and private, should implement today to decrease facility vulnerabilities, and help deter and minimize the effects of future school shootings.
Fortunately for cash and resource strapped schools, the issuance of the January 16 Gun Violence Executive Actions will help facilitate and fund these programs for schools nationwide. For the full list executive orders from the President, go to http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/politics/white-house-gun-violence-reduction-executive-actions/248/.
More Information is Available
There are many documents available from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that provide safety tips, program guidelines, and step by step instructions on actions that need to be taken in an active shooter situation. Contact them at www.dhs.gov for more information.
ABM Security Services provides clients with a wide range of custom, commercial and residential security services. These services include: uniformed, unarmed and plainclothes security services; background checks and investigative services; security consulting, system design, and security surveys; access control; patrol and alarm response; and special events coverage and crowd control. For more information about ABM Security Services go to http://www.abm.com/Services/security/Pages/Security-Education.aspx or call 888-687-9616.