Back to School Safety and Security in 6 Steps

As schools and childcare centers across the country embark upon the new school year, it is important for owners and administrators to take a fresh look at safety and security. In the midst of a busy school year, some of these checklist items can be put on the back-burner. Schools can use the summer months to refocus and consider: What should owners and administrators review each year to make sure their facilities are safe and secure? 

  1. Revisit safety and security policies

All good safety and security starts with robust emergency plans and policy. And while most schools have something in place, rarely is it dusted off and refreshed. The summers months, without the usual day-to-day distractions, is an ideal time to review these procedures. 

High-quality safety and security policies focus on both the goals of the security plan as well as the feasibility of implementation. By starting with what needs to be accomplished — whether that’s protecting students during the day, creating a safe space for after-hours extracurriculars or making the site ready to evacuate in case of a tornado — the policies will be built to fit a purpose. This exercise also often exposed important gaps in the security posture that might require urgent fixes. For example, has summer-time construction changed evacuation plans? Do new front desk personnel have the materials they need to be successful in access control? Do new classroom configuration demand updates to teacher training and awareness?

From a feasibility perspective, policies should be honest about what is achievable. There’s no point installing hundreds of security cameras if there’s no budget to hire a security officer to monitor them. There are ways of stretching your dollar and prioritizing if budget is an issue, but don’t let your eyes be bigger than your wallet. Invest as much as you can, but be smart with how that money is allocated. In cases where money is tight, be wary of fancy new technology. Training and preventative measures will get you further than installing new security equipment. 

Successful policies are also preventative rather than reactive. They focus on addressing issues before they occur, not after. To this end, focus your policies around things like access control and staff training and certification (including how to spot issues and dangerous behavior early, while interventions are still possible). That’s not to say you can neglect the rest. Policies should address all of the major primary response protocols: lock out, lock down, shelter-in-place and evacuate. Policies should go even further and should address how parents are informed of procedures, reunification after an event and the cadence of school-wide trainings. 

The list could go on forever and will vary school to school. The key takeaway is that your policies likely need a refresh, and if you keep them comprehensive, prevention-focused and with an emphasis on training, your school will be set up for success in the coming year. 

  1. Revisit safety and security equipment

Equipment, which possibly hasn’t been used since your last drill, ought to be tested before school starts. This includes alarms, locks, cameras, and any other technology that will need to work flawlessly during an actual emergency. While we strongly emphasize policies’ importance over physical hardware, hardware is foundational in a robust physical security posture. Imagine if there’s no one trained to watch your fancy security cameras, your panic button isn’t operational or your access control mechanism doesn’t have a speaker system (you’ve just paid for a very expensive doorbell, nothing more). The physical hardware must be tested over the summer, so it’s functioning on day 1. Moreover, this is a great time to replace broken hardware or add new infrastructure to patch any gaps. 

  1. Put safety and security at the heart of staff professional development

Summer is a time for professional development for many schools, giving teachers and staff an opportunity to improve their craft. By making safety and security a core component, schools empower their staff to act during an emergency in accordance with the school’s policies. This is especially true for new staff or staff who hasn’t gone through training in a while; it should be done annually at least. Consider getting your entire staff security certified over the summer. As the Navy SEAL adage goes, “under pressure, we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to our training.”

  1. Confirm relevant emergency information and contacts

People and roles change outside of your organization as well. Make sure you have the most up to date contact information for local first responders as well as offsite locations such as reunification sites or other security contractors. Have their hours changes? Are they still aware of your relationship if roles have changed? Are they up to date on your policies?

  1. Set a plan & schedule for drills and trainings

Schools are expected — often regulated — to conduct emergency drills throughout the year. Too often, these are squeezed in at the end of the school year to check a box. But these drills serve a critical function in ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible during an actual emergency. Students and staff must be up to date and regularly practice these drill for them to be effective. By scheduling these before the school year starts, administrators guarantee their people are prepared at any point during the year. Be sure to front-load the first several weeks of school with at least one of each of the main drills — evacuations, shelter in place, and lockdown. 

  1. Communicate changes to parents

Parents have the right and the duty to know what to expect in terms of school safety and security. This included how to access the buildings, what types of drills or trainings their child might receive, how schools communicate during an emergency and what to expect with regard to the reunification plan in case of an evacuation. This ought to be provided to the parents near the beginning of the school year. It will save time answering questions in the long run. 

Don’t wait until you’re underwater

Safety and security has never been more important, and a well secure school helps parents, staff, and students rest easy, as well as even being a competitive value add to your business. During the summer, administrators finally have the headspace to address such critical issues that otherwise get brushes aside during the year. Don’t wait until you’re underwater. Act now. 

For more information about how SEC can help your school get prepared before school starts, visit secureed.com.

Emergency Lockdown Drills – Should All Ages Participate?

Preparing kids for an emergency is like walking a fine line. Practice makes perfect, but many parents fear drills meant to prepare students for emergency lockdowns will introduce new fears to children and leave them feeling unsafe at school. So, should you conduct lockdown drills with students – especially younger students? The answer is a resounding yes. All schools should conduct drills to emergency lockdown drills and adapt them to meet the emotional and intellectual needs of their student body.

 

Elements of a Successful Lockdown Drill

Lockdown drills don’t have to be scary. For any age, a successful drill includes:

  1. A plain language alert that all staff, students, and visitors can hear and understand
  2. Participants making their way to a secure area of the building
    • Seek shelter behind a door that can be locked, barricaded and/or tethered
  3. Participants seeking cover and concealment within their safe space
  4. Participants silencing cell phones, closing blinds and shutting off lights
  5. Protocol to ensure everyone is accounted for

Lockdown drills should be conducted with regularity and variety.

  • Regularity – We recommend at least two times per year, or as required by local regulations
  • Variety – Conduct the drills at different times of day. Try to initiate drills when children are in different areas of the building;

Note that an explanation of the “why”—the reasons behind the drill is not critical to a successful drill.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Young Students (Childcare, Preschool, Elementary School) – It’s All About Protocol

Practicing for lockdown scenario with young children is all about enforcing proper movements and protocol, without going into details about the reasons for the drill. There is no need to introduce the idea of intruders or violence. Teachers can explain the drills as ways to practice being safe. Teachers should use plain language to explain what is happening and what the children can expect. For a fire drill a teacher might say, “Sometimes, in order to be safe, we have to leave the building quickly and quietly.” Teachers can use the same strategy for a lockdown drill and say “Sometimes, in order to be safe, we have to turn off the lights and sit in this corner of the room. Today we are going to practice.”

Teachers should clearly and calmly explain: what noise will indicate the start of the drill, where students should go, how they should behave during the drill, and what else will happen in the area (the teacher will turn off the lights, close the shades, lock the door etc.). With practice, students will become familiar with the protocol.

Teachers benefit immensely from practicing with students as they get the opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their emergency plan and can adapt to better prepared to keep the students safe (Did all of the students fit into the closet like as planned? Did any students stand out/present themselves as needing special assistance in future drills?) When emergency drills are conducted regularly and without a sense of danger or panic, they become routine.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Older Students (Middle School, High School) – Add the “Why”

Many of the same basic principles apply when conducting lockdown drills with older students – teachers should use clear language to explain what is happening and what is expected of the students. With older students, it can be beneficial and appropriate to introduce the “why” element to the drills and make the drills more realistic. Match your explanation of the “why” to the students’ emotional maturity.

Giving context to the drills can instill a sense of importance, and encourage students to take the drill more seriously.  Making a lockdown drill slightly more realistic can train students to react and follow protocol even when there is a sense of danger.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Staff Only – Add an Element of Realism

During teacher training sessions, it is useful to conduct drills without the students. Schools can simulate emergency situations in much more realistic detail, giving teachers the opportunity to understand how they naturally react under pressure, and how they can improve. Teachers and staff will be the leaders during any real-life emergency situation and they should be trained to feel fully confident in their ability to react in a lockdown scenario.

 

Always remember – a plan is only as good as the people implementing it. In the event of a real lockdown, teachers and students will be accountable for carrying out the plan. Age appropriate training for all is critical to a successful response.

SEC ON WOOD TV 8: “Have a Plan if Something Goes Wrong”

In the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas, SEC’s CEO Jason Russell spoke to Wood TV8 in Michigan about being prepared.

“It’s about having a plan if something goes wrong. We tell people in a situation where you’re being shot at, you need to look for two things: cover or concealment.”

Read and watch the full interview here: http://woodtv.com/2017/10/02/ex-federal-agent-have-a-plan-if-something-goes-wrong/

Talking to Kids About Violence

Processing events such as the attack Las Vegas that killed over 50 and injured hundreds more including many child victims is hard enough for adults.

It is even more challenging for children, who are often absorbing the same information as the adults in their lives but don’t have the context on how to react.

The key for children in any of these situations is reassuring them about the safety and protection they do have in the world while acknowledging their very understandable feelings.

Keep in mind that they are picking up information through the media and other sources, not just family. Children who become fearful of what could happen to them or their parents tend to internalize those feelings.

Here are some approaches you can take when addressing your child’s fear, anxiety or questions:
• Be careful not to invalidate your kids’ feelings by ignoring them or playing down what they are saying. Listen to them.
• Reassure them that there are many people protecting them, including their parents and police officers, to make sure bad things don’t happen to them.
• Consider limiting as much as possible your children’s exposure to media reports.

Also, you cannot discount how your reaction as an adult to tragedies such as these affects your child.

Adults feeling anxiety over attacks – especially in this case, an apparent ambush – can tend to make overarching statements such as, “you can’t go out in public” or “you can’t go anywhere.”

Those statements often can solidify your children’s own fears, so it pays to be careful about how you characterize your fears in front of the kids.

In many ways, what it comes down to is that kids will take their cues from their parents and caregivers. Remember that your words carry weight with children, so reassuring statements will have impact. And remind yourself that our children are watching, and that how we act can affect their reaction.

Is Your School Ready to Shelter-In-Place?

Officials in Baltimore, Maryland launched into emergency response mode after a chemical leak occurred in the area. Local news reported that Chlorosulfonic acid was released into the air during an incident at a chemical plant, causing immediate danger for the everyone in the area. The city responded by issuing a shelter-in-place advisory for residents within a one-mile radius of the spill.

Shelter-in-place describes the response to a non-human related threat and is distinctly different from “lockdowns” or “lockouts” which are issued when a dangerous person is in the area. Severe weather and airborne hazards spark shelter-in-place situations. Weather is the most common factor of shelter-in-place scenarios. Many schools routinely conduct shelter in place drills for weather related emergencies by having staff and students respond to the most structurally sound portion of the facility away from exterior windows and doors.

As was the case in Baltimore, schools may be required to shelter in place due to airborne hazard which are often the result of tanker truck and commercial railway spills, or accidents at factories or plants. Because the reason you may be asked to shelter in place may be very different, your school’s response needs to be tailored to each specific threat.

After the spill in Baltimore, city officials responded by quickly advising people in the surrounding areas to shelter-in-place. They activated social media accounts and the phone emergency alert systems to advise people of the danger. The alerts were effective because they were timely, concise and provided specific direction. One tweet read, “Due to @BaltimoreFire activity, residents in 21060 21225 & 21226 are being asked to shelter-in-place, close windows & limit time outside.” These alerts were crucial as they sparked emergency responses throughout the affected area.


If you learn your school is under a shelter-in-place advisory due to a hazardous release, would you be prepared? Schools should have specific shelter-in-place response protocols, customized to their building. Some general guidelines are:

Designate a location or locations with few windows that can fit staff, students and visitors.
Close all windows and doors.
Seal all cracks and vents using plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Have additional supplies including nonperishable food, water, first aid kits, battery powered radios and telephones in order to be able to communicate with concerned parents.
Shut off HVAC systems.
• Communicate to ensure everyone knows when the shelter-in-place begins and ends.

Releases of hazardous material spills can happen anywhere, so have a plan that you can efficiently execute to minimize exposure to staff and students. FEMA provides a comprehensive list that schools can reference for specific guidance. The California Department of Public Health, Know When and How to Shelter-in-Place for Schools is another good resource for schools.

Luckily, the shelter-in-place in Baltimore only lasted for an hour and there were no reported hospitalizations due to this accident. Still, it serve as a reminder that emergency situations of any type can happen at any time and school administrators and staff need to be prepared beforehand. Stay safe and have a plan. 

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.

When Problems at Home Create Danger At School

Problems at home have a certain way of spilling over into the school space. We refer to this issue as domestic spillover. Domestic spillover can occur in many forms. As an education professional, you may be forced into the middle of a dispute over which parent can pick the children up from school. You may encounter a parent in the middle of a custody battle who becomes a potential kidnapping threat. An estranged husband of a teacher may visit the school looking to confront his wife. Any instance of domestic spillover poses a great threat to the individuals involved and the safety of the school as a whole. To combat domestic spillover, clear and open communication on behalf of all parties is key.

Why are schools a prime location for domestic spillover? Schools are a constant in the lives of teachers and students. An estranged husband may not know where his family is living, but he knows where his children go to school, or where his wife teaches, and he knows what times they will be in the building. The consistency makes school a prime target. Both teachers and students are susceptible to bringing domestic spillover into the school. Below we will discuss the reasons behind and ways to combat domestic spillover from both teachers and students.

Domestic Spillover Surrounding the Child

Who is allowed to pick up the child from school? Are there any adults in a child’s life who could pose a danger? These are questions often made more complicated by issues like parent separation, divorce or custody battles.

At the beginning of the year, parents will fill out forms authorizing certain people to pick up their children but, as the year goes on, circumstances may change. It is essential that the front office stays aware of any. To keep all children at your school safe in the event of a domestic disruption, the parent and the school each have unique roles to uphold:

Parents are responsible for keeping the school informed of any and all changes that affect the people authorized to pick-up and see their children.

Schools must be aware of changes to enforce them.

Parents are responsible for sharing all legal documents.

If there is a restraining order or another legal document that will impact the child, parents must present the school with a physical copy. At SEC, we get calls from clients when parents verbally share the details of a restraining order. Schools can not and should not enforce a restraining order until they receive a physical copy.

Schools are responsible for enforcing all legal documents:

If a parent has presented the school with a restraining order, the school must enforce it. If the parent does not present the legal document, schools must follow whatever plan is currently in place for the child.

This seems simple enough, but we often run into trouble with parents who are reconciling. Imagine Dad has a restraining order against Mom and he has presented it to the school, preventing Mom from picking up their children. The school must enforce the order, no matter what. Even if Dad calls and reports that he and Mom have worked things out, and requests for Mom to be able to pick the children up again, the school cannot allow this. The school can only allow Mom to pick up the child again if Dad presents the school with legal proof that the restraining order has been lifted. This protocol helps keep children safe and helps the school avoid being put in the middle.

Schools must ensure all appropriate staff is aware of new arrangements.

“Appropriate staff” to be made aware depends on the unique situation. If there is a parent who is considered especially dangerous, it may be important to let the entire staff know to be on the lookout. Failing to keep the staff informed could cause problems, especially if a parent who is familiar to the school staff is no longer allowed entry.

Consider a family with parents going through a divorce. Mom typically picks the kids up from school, but Dad picks them up a few times per month. Teachers are familiar with this arrangement and know both Mom and Dad. During the divorce process, Mom takes out a restraining order on Dad and he is no longer allowed to pick the children up from school. It is critical in this scenario that all teachers be made aware of the change so they would know there was a change to the routine.

Schools are responsible for making these responsibilities policy.

If it is not already included, schools should update their policy booklets to include the protocol surrounding domestic disputes. The school should clearly communicate the policy to all new families and to any parents who share safety or custody struggles with you.

When in doubt, call for backup.

Separation, divorce and custody battles are stressful times for families and situations can seem less than black and white. Our clients are welcome to contact us for guidance. The police are also a great resource. If you have any questions about documents, your responsibility, or feel a child is in immediate danger, you should consult the authorities.

Domestic Spillover Surrounding the Teacher

On April 10, 2017, a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in San Bernardino, California, killing one student and one teacher before taking his own life. This was not a random attack –  it was a tragic instance of domestic spillover involving a teacher. The shooter, Cedric Anderson was in an estranged relationship with the victim, special needs teacher Karen Elaine Smith. Anderson likely did not know where Smith was living, but he did know where and when she was teaching. A school is a known and consistent location in the lives of teachers and students.

How could this tragedy have been prevented?  The shooter did not even have to force himself into the building. According to San Bernardino Police Captain, the shooter signed in normally at the front desk, as he was familiar with the front office staff. Had the front office staff known about the estranged relationship between Anderson and Smith, they might have turned the gunman away at the front desk. While parents may be more likely to bring security concerns surrounding their children to the school’s attention, it is equally important for teachers to raise concerns about their own safety.

Encouraging teachers to share domestic concerns is a delicate task. There is a fine line between asking teachers to share critical safety information and forcing them to reveal personal details about their lives. Schools must work to create an environment where teachers feel safe sharing if there is someone that might put them and the school in danger. Even minimal details can be lifesaving – a teacher could provide a name, vehicle type or license plate model to look out for. We have found it is effective to be clear with teachers about the reason you are asking them to share personal safety concerns. No one wants to be the person to bring danger to the school.

 

Knowledge is power and, by sticking to clear policies and creating environments of trust, you can create a safer school for everyone in your building.

A Generation Changed: School Security Post-Columbine

Do you remember where you were on April 20th, 1999?  Chances are you won’t if you’re asked that question.  What if I asked the same question a different way?  Do you remember where you were when you heard about Columbine? Many people will likely answer “I’ll never forget.”

April 20, 2017 will mark the 18th anniversary of the Columbine School Massacre. Many kids graduating high school this year weren’t even born the day of the Columbine shooting.  They have grown up entirely in schools that have been preparing for, and trying to prevent, violent acts like Columbine from happening again.  Yet, in 2017, school shootings remain a threat to American institutions.  But at SEC, we believe the threat of school shootings and other modern day emergencies can be controlled and largely eliminated. We believe we can be pioneers in elimination of the threat of school violence.

As improbable as that may sound, schools have mastered a major safety transformation before. Fire safety is the perfect example. One hundred years ago, there was no fire preparedness at schools and fires were a huge threat. Over time, we have developed emergency preparedness strategies. First, fire brigades were implemented around the country. Today, we have fire codes, fire drills, and we teach kids “stop, drop and roll.” Thanks to fire preparedness planning, problem awareness and improved technology, the issue is largely eliminated in schools.

How can we begin the process of eradicating gun violence? Our founder, Jason Russell, spoke deeply about this in his article in Seen Magazine. Schools must embrace all forms of emergency preparedness in the same way they embrace fire preparedness. Preparedness occurs in three layers. The first layer is physical and technical security measures. The second is the development of policies and procedures to ensure those features are utilized as designed and intended. And the final and most important security layer is training. These layers are like the legs of a stool — you need all three to make a safety plan successful.

SEC can help any school address all three legs of the stool, and is looking to the future by partnering with construction firms. When SEC is involved in the construction of a school from the onset, they can ensure the highest levels of safety and security are seamlessly implemented into the design and build of the school. When architects and clients bring SEC in from the conception of planning we can offer insight into every safety and security decision. We can contribute to decisions like which glass to choose for windows, or which school-wide communication system to use.

There is no one-size-fits-all for security planning and decisions should be based on each school’s unique security threat. For example, at childcare centers threats are more likely to come from the outside. It might be appropriate to install thick glass windows or biometric scanners at entrances. Conversely, research has shown that threats at high schools are much more likely to come from the inside of the building. In a high school, more of an investment should be made on securing the inside of a school with investments in training staff and students to look for warning signs in their peers, and making an anonymous reporting system readily available. By considering the unique operation at each institution, we can assist schools and architects in choosing the safest, yet most cost effective featuresm for their unique building.

It is equally important to have security in mind during building renovations. Schools should consider implementing appropriate security features, but must also consider how any changes they make will affect existing emergency preparedness planning. Take, for instance, a school whose emergency communication plan involved a school PA system that was altered or removed during renovations. It is critical that the plan be updated during to match the school’s new reality.

Here are a few questions to consider during any new construction or renovation project:

  • Are there adequate exits?
  • How would a lockdown work at your school? Sometimes, doors don’t have locks because of fire codes. Or, a lock might be impractical to operate during an emergency situation (fine motor skills can be compromised during high-stress situations). Is there a way to lock doors from the inside? Or, can they be locked from a central location during an emergency?
  • Think about windows and window trims. Instead of one large window, install three smaller windows with shatter-resistant glass and film. Or, consider putting trim on glass doors to prevent intruders from breaking the glass to gain access to the handle.
  • Is your crisis plan updated? When school administrators update their physical floor plan, they often forget to update their crisis plan. If there was an emergency, authorities would be left to work off an old document. To avoid this problem, make sure all plans are updated simultaneously.

By integrating safety and security into the design and build of construction, we are confident we can pioneer a safer future for the children of America. If you are looking to build or renovate, we would love to help. Feel free to reach out to us on our website at any time.

 

Photo by Brent Johnson © (http://www.brentpix.com/Colorado/Columbine-Memorial/)