Op-Ed: Building Safety Standards Must Take on Same Significance as Fire Codes

Just this month, we have again watched the disturbing images of innocent people dealing with the trauma of an active shooter situation.

The terrible events in Orlando remind us once again of the current realities in our society. And another shooting incident earlier this month on the UCLA campus reminded me, as a law enforcement and security expert, how much more progress we need to make to properly prepare for these situations.

In the UCLA incident, students and staff members used any objects they could find – desks, chairs, belts – in makeshift attempts to barricade themselves in rooms with doors that do not lock.

It is distressing that those trying to get out of harm’s way were left to try to jury-rig barricades in an active shooter situation. That is not reflective of the world we live in given what happened at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and now Orlando.

I believe strongly that we need to adjust our thinking on security planning so that we are addressing a 21st Century problem with 21st Century know-how and safety features. The time has come to establish building safety standards, backed up by law enforcement inspections, much in the same way we now mandate fire codes and inspections.

The UCLA situation points to a fundamental problem with many emergency plans at schools and other public buildings and institutions – the procedures often do not fit the building’s features.

We regularly see security preparations that call for a lockdown in the event of an active shooter. But the daycare, school or office is often filled with doors that do not lock – just as we saw in those UCLA classrooms. During a threat, it does you no good to have a plan that calls for locking doors when those features do not exist. A threat is not the time to find out the safety plan and safety features do not match.

Security plans must take into account how a building is configured. For instance, if doors don’t lock and open out – some of which we saw at UCLA – then experts need to devise a plan that takes those features into account. Security experts can work around the nuances of a building but the situation needs an honest assessment.

We also increasingly find that considerations for fire prevention and safety are often at odds with considerations for security. In the simplest terms, during a fire, officials want people to get out. During a threat, though, those in law enforcement often want you to stay in place.

Make no mistake, our fellow public safety colleagues in fire departments have done a superb job instituting safety features into public buildings and imprinting fire safety onto our collective psyches. If you’re in a building the fire prevention features are apparent everywhere – fire extinguishers, illuminated “exit signs” and sprinkler systems are just a few examples.

But the time has come for us to put as much thought and practice into security measures for an active shooter as we have for fire risks. We need to address an issue that is part of our lives today and statistically presents more of a risk than other threats, including fires.

If you think about it, fire codes have evolved through the decades to address changing times and safety needs to the point where we have the effectiveness we see today. Security plans are lagging and need to follow suit to catch up with the times. We must find a way to ensure fire codes can co-exist with modern-day security needs.

That starts with adjusting our thinking on active shooter preparations to ensure we aren’t thwarted by the very mechanisms that are supposed to protect us. We need strong standards and good law enforcement oversight for safe buildings. In 2016, we can’t have traumatized people trying to come up with barricades on the fly because they can’t protect themselves from a shooter.

We owe it to our children and to ourselves to make sure proper security measures and a plan are as prevalent as fire extinguishers.

About Jason Russell: Jason Russell is the founder, president and CEO for Secure Education Consultants, a Michigan-based firm that specializes in security plans for schools, child care facilities and businesses across the country. Russell is a former special agent for the U.S. Secret Service, where he worked on protective and investigative assignments, as well as protecting the current president and vice president and former presidents. He leads a team of former Secret Service agents who help clients with security assessments and emergency plans. He can be reached at jason.russell@secureed.com.

Orlando Shooting

Jason Russell, president and founder of Secure Education Consultants, joins WZZM 13 to discuss the mass shooting in Orlando.  Watch the interview on wzzm.com

Field Trip Safety: Take Your Emergency Plans on the Road

For child care centers, summer is a busy time of year for field trips. Most days there are off-site activities planned, whether it’s a trip to a park, petting zoo or nature center.

When you are taking children off site, it’s important to remember that you need a plan to minimize risks and hazards that addresses the circumstances you are facing outside the school environment.

Think of it as a portable emergency plan.

While there are a number of considerations to ensuring your charges are safe, much of the preparedness comes in three areas: Response to emergencies, being ready for children’s needs and keeping track of everyone.

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Response to emergencies:

 A key part of any facility plan is having in place strategies in case of inclement weather. But what will you do if there is a threat of bad weather – or worse, a storm hits while you are at the park or zoo?

You can’t create a response on the fly, particularly since you are outside your environment and often have a number of children for whom you must account. Before you take a field trip, study where you are going and then find suitable evacuation locations – just in case. We recommend finding a nearby fire station, police station or emergency rooms.

It’s not enough to have an idea of where you might go. Determine the navigation ahead of time and have it ready in case you need to evacuate. And don’t forget to have cell phone chargers on hand so that phones are available for quickly retrieving information and calling supervisors or parents as necessary.

Also, be sure to check the weather forecast before venturing out. If storms or other extreme weather are likely, it makes sense to modify plans rather than risk a potentially scary situation for your group.

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Being ready for children’s needs

Some needs are universal for children: Ensure sunscreen and insect repellant are available. Take extra clothes along in case they are needed – such as if there is a sudden turn in weather or kids’ clothes get wet or soiled, as well as water and snacks.

Also, be sure emergency supplies are on hand, which applies to staff members and the vehicle. And ensure emergency medical authorizations are available for students and emergency contacts for parents are updated and with you.

While these are general precautions, some children have specific needs and you must account for them. Ensure that you have every child’s medication, be it insulin or an EpiPen. The latter is especially important in the summer with more outdoor activities and an increased chance of bee stings and the like. Be sure to have a way to keep those medications cool and secure so that kids are safe.

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Keeping track of everyone

This is as daunting as it is crucial when on a field trip.

Take a headcount at the beginning of the trip and share with staff members. Once there, count again. And again. And again. You need to count continuously throughout the trip and then do a double count at departure so you don’t leave anyone behind. It doesn’t take much of an online search to find news stories about children left behind on field trips – and very angry parents waiting for them to return.

Also, be sure you aren’t just counting heads but that you are actually matching up names and faces (and have digital photos of each child). Kids wander, and you could have the wrong kid wander into your group while one of yours is elsewhere.

Use the “buddy system” to assign kids in pairings of two to maintain accountability. Consider using tags or common-colored shirts to help keep the group together – but don’t use names. Have staff members in front of and in back of the group while it’s moving.

Select an easily identifiable meeting spot in case a student or staff members gets lost. If possible, point out to children what a worker at a location is wearing and who is a safe person to approach.

Above all else, make sure everyone is clearly communicating on these trips. Supervisors need to know itineraries. If there are chaperones, communicate expectations clearly with them and make sure you have a way to reach them at all times in case one goes rogue and wanders off with kids – which happens more than you think.

And lastly, be sure to talk ahead of time to the children about expectations, rules and the importance of safety. In the end, adhering to all of these practices ensures you can provide what these are meant to provide: fun, education and great memories.