The Importance of Sensing Danger

SEC’s experts believe that every person follows a specific path when responding to critical incidents or emergencies:

  1. Sense Danger
  2. Evaluate Response Options
  3. Commit to action

Step One, “sensing danger” seems straightforward – you can only respond to an emergency if you know that it exists. However, when it comes down to it, there are many roadblocks that can prevent people from sensing danger as quickly as might be possible. The faster people are aware that an emergency exists, the faster they can go through the rest of the response process and find their way to safety.

The five senses can be major roadblocks in sensing danger. How many times have we heard of someone confusing gunfire for “fireworks?” Historically, people have relied on their senses to alert them to danger – the sound of a gunshot, the smell of fire, the sight of a dangerous person. However, human brains are naturally predisposed to attribute sounds and other sensory observations to things more typical of daily life. This confusion can drastically slow down your response process.

Inability to share information can be another roadblock to sensing danger. Once one person identifies that an emergency exists, they can help other people by quickly sharing that information. If someone sees a gunman but has no way to share that information with the other people in their building, everyone else is at a disadvantage because they cannot begin to execute an emergency response.

The solution to effectively sensing danger is comprehensive alert systems. Unlike relying on your senses, an alert system makes it clear that danger is present. Alert systems can also disseminate information to many people at the same time. Institutions across all industries have set up alert systems. Think about severe weather alerts, alerts to suspicious activity on our bank accounts, or engine alerts on your car.

Schools have almost perfected their fire-alert systems. Schools have fire alarms that alert building occupants of a fire and automatically alert local fire departments of the emergency. All staff and students are trained to understand the alert, so when they hear it, they immediately sense the danger and can begin to respond in carefully crafted ways. It has been years since a child has died from a fire in a school building. Fire safety in school is proof that comprehensive alert systems do work.

While schools are increasingly well prepared for violent incidents including active shooter, fire preparation is generations ahead of where we are for violent attacks. We can take many lessons from the “fire-preparation” movement to apply to active shooter situations. Efficient alerts are one key concept.

In an active-violence situation, an effective alert will clearly and quickly inform others of the violence. Schools should utilize “plain-language” alerts (i.e. “Alert – there is a shooter in the building,”) or conduct drills to train students and teachers to immediately recognize alerts sounds. When the alert goes out quickly, people can begin to respond to the danger before they are physically confronted by it.

What specific alerts do we recommend? There are some great high-tech systems on the market, but many are not widely used or available. Your alert system does not need to be too elaborate or expensive. Phone PA systems, email, or text, are common alert systems, but keep in mind that these have their limitations. Many PA systems are not accessible by all, the speakers are not loud enough, and people don’t have the immediate enough access to phones and email to make those methods useful. Organizations can take lower cost steps by utilizing tools like boat air horns, coast guard whistles, or plain language voice alerts that can quickly be spread around a facility.

The key to a good emergency alert system is having a plan that is easily accessible and understood by all. How does your school plan to alert people in the event of an active shooter situation, or other emergencies? Develop a plan and share it will all stakeholders. If you need assistance developing a strong alert system, reach out to SEC.

 

Child Care Summer Safety

As summer rapidly approaches, many of our child care clients will be welcoming the warmer weather with outdoor activities and field trips. These outdoor and remote learning opportunities are valuable learning experiences, but they can bring a new set of risks and issues. To combat such risks, SEC encourages planning and consideration of key summer issues to increase the safety of all summer activities:

Field Trip Safety:

Centers and schools should take some basic precautions when taking children on field trips. Accountability is crucial and staff should ensure they take continued accountability of the children while offsite. Staff should ensure they maintain visibility of all children they are responsible for and immediately report to a group leader any lapse in accountability. The center should prepare for potential evacuation from a field trip site by identifying potential relocation sites in the area. Additionally, staff should ensure they have phone numbers for school administrators, other staff on the trip, chaperones, and local emergency services, and anyone else they might find relevant. Staff should be sure that they have easy access to important forms for the day, including medical and transportation authorizations, as well as any necessary emergency medications such as allergy medicines. Staff should carry an emergency kit with them during a field trip that contains some basic medical supplies, water, a phone charger etc.

Severe Weather:

The weather risks associated with outdoor activities dramatically increase in the spring and summer. These risks include lightning strikes, severe storms, tornados, and wildfire events. It is crucial for centers and schools to understand the risks in their area and have the ability to monitor weather situations in real time. Monitoring via a NOAA weather radio or via local TV is crucial and should occur on a continuing basis when severe weather is possible. When conditions exist for severe weather, centers and schools should limit outside activities and minimize any vehicular transportation. When planning a field trip centers should check the weather at their intended location, as it might be different than the centers’ weather.  Centers and schools should consider obtaining and training staff on the use of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) equipped with both adult and child sized pads. If lightning is seen teachers and administrators should discontinue outside activities and move everyone inside until 30 minutes pass without any lightning. There are several applications that schools and centers can use to detect lightning and severe weather in their area. WeatherBug is a lightning detection application and Dark Sky is a highly rated weather application that provides detailed local forecasting.

If a group finds themselves out in the open during severe weather, they should seek shelter. Prior to departure for a field trip, the center or school should establish a plan for a temporary shelter near the location and possibly along the route (depending on the distance). Suitable shelters could be fire stations, police stations, hospitals or possibly churches. If the weather is lightning related, a bus is a suitable location for the shelter. If a church or school should find themselves outside or on a bus and in the direct line of a tornado, they should take shelter in a ditch or low area. The children should lay flat on the ground and cover their heads.

Heat:

Many of the medical related emergencies that occur during the summer months are heat related. Children are particularly susceptible to heat-related emergencies and all schools and centers should be equipped to recognize the warning signs and take proactive steps to prevent a heat-related emergency. There are several heat-related medical emergencies that can affect children. These can range from heat cramps, which can be minor, to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition. Since children may not be able to clearly describe their symptoms, caregivers must rely on prevention methods to ensure children remain safe in the heat. First, children must hydrate regularly as this is the best prevention method. Second, during peak heat hours outside activities should be limited to brief periods of activity followed by rest and cooling. Staff should monitor children for signs of heat-related emergencies. These include headaches, red-flushed skin, dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea, and lack of perspiration in hot weather. Staff should take immediate action when they suspect a child is experiencing a heat emergency by gradually cooling the child and providing water if they are conscious. If the child loses consciousness or if the symptoms are severe, emergency services should be contacted immediately.

No schools expect to be involved in an emergency or critical incident, but all schools should be prepared. Consistent preparation is necessary to ensure that in the unfortunate event that an emergency should occur, schools are equipped with the information and supplies necessary to promptly and properly respond.

For more information on preparation and planning contact Secure Education Consultants at (616) 528-4071 or via email at Info@SecureEd.com.

Is Your Secure Entryway Really Secure?

During the several hundred site assessments Secure Education Consultants (SEC) has conducted throughout the country, we typically find schools and childcare centers employing tools to secure their entry. Unfortunately, we also find that said tools are not being supported by appropriate protocols or being used by people who are sufficiently trained. We find security lapses like doors being opened for visitors without any sort of vetting, cameras that do not provide an effective view of the entryway, doors propped open for convenience, and doors held open for more than one visitor. These lapses diminish the benefits that physical security systems can provide. At SEC, we believe that unless you align the physical and technical security measures with effective protocols and appropriate staff training, your secure entry system may just end up being an expensive doorbell.

 

Install Physical and Technical Security Systems

At SEC, we believe that minimally, a secure entryway must have the following components: locked doors, a clear view of the entryway (either via a window or camera), and a way to verbally communicate with visitors prior to allowing entry (such as through an intercom or phone system).

Additional components of secure entryways could include elements like glass supported with safety and security window film, ballistic glass, biometric readers, uniquely coded pin pads, and an additional locked door placed prior to entry into the main facility.

Installing security features can be overwhelming for school administrators and childcare center owners. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Physical and technical security features need to be tailored to the individual location. Is the camera in an acceptable place in the entryway? Is the camera monitor in a location that can be effectively viewed by staff? What type of glass or film should be installed on the windows? Where is the appropriate location to place the remote release button for the front door? Schools and childcare centers can consult with SEC to discuss and physical or technical security features. We have found that our customized, proven training techniques enable schools to get the most out of their physical and technical security features. We have also found that allowing us to partner with architects and builders from the onset of construction or renovation projects allows schools to effectively maximize the fiscal resources they are dedicating to security features.

Establish Entry Protocol

Once you have the physical and technical elements in place, schools and childcare centers need a formal policy that dictates what staff should do when a visitor arrives. This protocol should include:

  • Entryways that are monitored by a person or a camera at all times.
  • Clear signage should be posted to direct visitors and advise them on appropriate entry procedures.
  • Staff members should have a clear understanding of who is allowed entry into the school.
  • Visitors should be vetted by staff members prior to entry using a combination of visual and audio tools.
  • Once visitors are allowed entry, front office personnel should do additional vetting including obtaining additional information regarding the purpose of the visit, asking for identification and requiring visitors to sign in prior to allowing access to the main facility.
  • Staff members should not allow entry unless they feel confident about both the person and the purpose of the visit.
  • Staff should be well-versed on people who may not be allowed to enter the building. Custody battles and domestic disputes have the potential to turn someone who was once a safe visitor into a potential threat. In our most recent blog, When Problems at Home Create Danger at School, we reviewed the April 2017 San Bernardino school shooting. The school staff allowed the shooter to enter the school without question because they were unaware that the shooter’s relationship with the teacher at the school had become estranged.
  • Staff members should have the capacity to call for assistance from either other staff members or first responders in an efficient manner.

 

Train the Staff

Schools must provide comprehensive training to all staff members responsible for monitoring entryways. Staff must be comfortable utilizing the physical and technical design features and be fluent on the proper entry protocol. The staff must also be able to effectively vet visitors and to identify suspicious or potentially dangerous behaviors. People who are about to commit a violent act are likely to present observable signs. Such people may be dressed inappropriately for the weather. A big coat on a hot day could be a way to conceal a gun. The suspicious visitor may be sweating or shaking. These are just a few examples of what staff should be trained to look for. When the staff is able to recognize these signs, they are able to question suspicious-looking visitors more thoroughly.

In training, one of the most important concepts to reinforce is to not be afraid of inconveniencing people. In our culture, we are often uncomfortable making a visitor wait outside for any period of time. We also don’t want to seem impolite, which is why we hold the door for others, even though they may be unknown individuals. When our SEC staff arrives at a new schools or childcare center, we are often allowed entry without any questioning. It is important to train staff to give them the confidence to take the time they need to do the appropriate vetting. Staff should ask as many questions as necessary until they feel comfortable.

When a trained and empowered staff follows well-established protocols in a school with well-designed and employed physical and technical security features, the building becomes a safer place for everyone. The integration of these three elements is what makes a secure entryway truly secure.