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.

an empty school hallway

A Single Solution to School Security?

In the midst of an ongoing conversation about school safety, some schools have implemented innovative and, at times, extreme security measures. NBC reported on a high school in Michigan reconstructed their building with curved hallways and other physical features to impede the efforts of a shooter. The LA Times wrote about schools and other institutions utilizing Artificial Intelligence to identify suspicious individuals and behaviors on their security cameras. The Washington Post detailed an Ohio school district that decided to arm teachers.  

Innovative ideas can help to drive progress in school security, but readers should be wary of a catch-all solution. Rather, schools should think of school security as a quilt that will not be complete until the different pieces are tightly sewed together. Safety and security are best achieved when you have a number of strategies, all integrated to support and complement one another. 

Key pieces of the overarching plan should include physical building features, comprehensive policies, training for teachers, staff and students, leadership to enforce plans and policies, and a culture that values safety & security. 

An expensive camera and lock system lose value if staff aren’t properly trained and motivated to vet visitors at the door. A system that encourages community members to anonymously report suspicious behavior is only effective if there is a system in place for responding to reports. Even the most well-planned lockdown procedures are worthless if schools don’t host drills to help students feel comfortable and confident with the process.   

No piece of the “quilt,” or process, is too small to be overlooked. By enacting an integrated security plan, your school will be all the stronger. And perhaps it is possible to avoid some of the more extreme “single” solutions when you have all of the pieces working together to create one strong security system. 

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.

The Door Knob Dilemma

Do your classroom door handles have locks on them? Are classroom door locks permitted by the fire marshal in your area? The answer to both of these questions is far from straightforward and the answer varies from school to school and fire district to fire district. Classroom door handle inspection is a standard part of SEC’s site security assessment and we always recommend that doors do have locks that can be easily engaged by staff members from the inside of the classroom.  In our experience, many of the schools and child care centers we visit have not been allowed to place locks on their classroom doors.  When asked “why”, the most common response we receive is that their local fire marshal does not permit them.  When it comes to locks on classroom door handle, security and fire-safety ideas can clash. We advise our clients to be aware of the potential clash and advocate for a solution that fits both security and fire-safety criteria.

Choosing a door handle can seem simple enough, so how can it create so much trouble? The type of handle and lock you choose has many implications for fire-safety and security. Let’s start by looking at the implications of a lock from both perspectives:

Security Implications:

From strictly a security perspective, being able to lock a classroom door is critical to secure staff and students in an efficient and effective manner.

  • Teachers should be able to lock their classroom door from the inside, to keep their class safe from intruders. Sometimes evacuation is not an option, or not the safest option. Recently, a school shooter was stopped in his tracks and because frustrated because the teachers locked the doors so he could not access classrooms. In classrooms with small children where evacuation is much more challenging, this is especially important.
  • Teachers can lock the door from the outside, to secure the classroom during the night.
  • Teachers should be able to unlock the door from the outside so that students cannot accidentally, or purposefully lock teachers out of the classroom or get stuck in the room alone.

Fire Implications:

“Egress” is a critical element of all fire safety protocols — being able to evacuate a building as quickly and efficiently as possible. Door handles should not hinder egress in any way. Locks that you have to manually twist or unlock with a key can hinder egress by delaying your exit out of the building. All outer building doors must have locks, but some fire marshals do not allow any internal classroom door handles to have locks because it has the potential to hinder an efficient evacuation of the classroom.

Can you find a lock that satisfies the ability to evacuate the building without interference, but also has the safety features that allow you to lock the door when necessary? Yes, but it may require additional research and advocacy on your behalf.

The Solution

All schools are required to consult with a fire marshal, and SEC always advises schools to adhere to all fire codes. There currently is no national protocol on locked doors, and different fire marshals have different regulations. We have encountered schools where fire marshals have instructed that no locks are permitted on classroom doors. We recently worked with two schools in the same state in fairly close proximity who had each been given different instructions by their respective fire marshal on this issue.

We believe that there is a solution for all schools, that should satisfy the requirements of all fire marshals and adhere to all security standards. We recommend door handles with a lock button in the middle that automatically unlocks when you twist the door to leave. You twist this door handle in the same motion whether it is locked or not, so the lock does not act as a hindrance to evacuation. In our experience, some fire marshals that originally did not allow door handles with locks ended up accepting these push and twist door handles as a safe and effective option.

Oftentimes in life two “good” causes can seem to be competing. How can you choose just one? When you work to satisfy both causes – in this case, safety and fire criteria—the best results occur. Be informed of your options and advocate for yourself and your security needs when working with a fire marshal. Bring the knowledge that other schools have successfully found a solution, and share all of your priorities and concerns with fire marshals. If you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to SEC. By working together and sharing the knowledge we can create safer schools.

 

Handling Holiday Season Guests

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations with family, friends, and schoolmates. Is your school planning any parties or plays or concerts this season? No matter how you are celebrating, your school will likely be welcoming a higher than usual number or guests. How can you keep your school secure during the chaos while maintaining the holiday cheer? Let’s break down security protocol based on the event.

Holiday guest preparation can largely be broken down into two categories – classroom events like class parties, and full school events like school concerts.

 

Class Parties

If your school invites parents to join in on class parties, there may be an influx of parents that arrive during the same time. With a little preparation, you can welcome all of these parents without compromising your entryway protocol. All parents should still enter through the main, locked door and check-in before heading to the classroom. Assigning extra staff to man the entry can keep parents moving quickly and avoid a build-up in the lobby. You might also consider asking parents in advance to indicate whether they plan to attend the party so you can prepare name tags or badges to streamline the process. It is also always helpful to remind parents of entry protocol before the event so they can arrive informed and with ample time to sign-in.

 

School-Wide Events         

Many schools will host concerts, plays, and performances after school hours. School-wide events draw more guests than class parties and it would be largely impractical to enforce your standard daytime entryway protocol. Still, there are many ways to maintain security for all those in attendance.

You can deploy permanent staff members or volunteers to man the entrances. These staff members can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and block off certain areas of the school that don’t need to be used for the event. Teachers should make sure their classroom doors are locked prior to the event.

It may useful to involve emergency personnel. If you have a Security Resource Officer at your school, consider inviting them to attend. You can call your local police station to make them aware of the event – they might send a cruiser to scan the parking lot.

At the beginning of the performance, take the time to provide a quick security briefing. Just like at the movies, identify the nearest exits and any other relevant response protocol tips.

 

All Events

The more people at a school (or any event), the higher the chance of an emergency. Ensure you have medical equipment like an AED handy. Consider that Grandparents attend many school events, and can pose health risks. If an emergency does occur, emergency response teams will need to respond, so it is essential all emergency parking areas are clear. When more people than usual are parking at the school it can be tempting to park in the emergency zones; consider having a volunteer monitor the parking lot to avoid this problem.

 

A little preparation can go a long way. Sharing your expectations with teachers, staff, and visitors will make for more secure events. If you need assistance planning for your holiday guests, we’d love to help. Best of luck to all planning and attending celebrations at schools this season. We at SEC are wishing you all a joyful holiday season!

Social Media and Emergency Management

In the event of an emergency, how do you get the word out? How do you alert key stakeholders (parents, caregivers, the community etc.) and provide timely updates? Many schools alert the news, utilize robo-call systems and send emails. Government agencies, police forces, and companies have taken to social media as an official means of communication. Can schools also benefit from using social media as an additional emergency management tool? Absolutely, provided they approach it strategically.

As social media grows, so does the opportunity for mass communication. In the California wildfires, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection notified residents of evacuations and sent updates when they contained sections of the fire. After the terror attack in Lower Manhattan in October, the city’s official emergency management account, @NYPDNews, alerted citizens of the incident, road closures, and resources for families of victims.  Social media can be an effective tool because it disseminates information directly from the source to an unlimited number of people. Succinct, factual and timely posts can be the key to useful pages.

Today, many schools have a social media presence. Some are already using it as a tool to inform stakeholders about emergency events like lockdowns or shelter-in-place. As the social-media generation becomes parents, the prominence and usefulness of social media at schools will grow. If your school chooses to use social media as an emergency management tool, quality is essential. Poorly executed social media can lead to chaos and exacerbate the impact of emergencies.

 

Guidelines for Using Social Media in an Emergency

It is useful to turn to the Department of Homeland Security as a resource. They provide useful guidelines, which can translate to the school setting. Murch Elementary School in Washington DC posted recently used social media during a shelter-in-place event. Some of their posts are used as examples below.

Develop a Strategic Plan:

  • What social medium platforms will you use? Twitter is most common for quick updates, but Facebook can be effective as well. Check with parents to see which platforms they use most often, if at all.
  • Who will post the updates? When? Does the poster need to get approval from anyone before they post?
  • What constitutes as an emergency worthy of sharing on social media?
  • How will this compliment the other emergency notification plans you have in place?

Establish a social media presence 

If you want your posts to spread news, people must know your page exists, and it must be clear your page is legitimate.

The first part is easy – let parents, teachers and members of the community know that you have a social media page and it may be used to share updates in the event of an emergency. Share your social media plan in your newsletter, and cover social media when you are discussing other emergency preparedness topics.

Making it clear that your page is legitimate is important for more distant stakeholders who may not access your page as frequently (local news, community members etc.). To lend credibility to your page, post a link to your website in your bio, and link to your social media page on your school website, and apply to become “certified.”

Distribute timely and frequent updates 

During the emergency, post updates as often as possible. It is okay to send an update saying, “We don’t have any new information at this time.” News straight from the source (you) can prevent false news from spreading. Manage expectations for posts by being clear from the onset of an emergency as to how often you will be posting. Something like, “We will send updates every half hour, or as developments occur,” can calm nerves and reduce speculation.

 Actively monitor social media content 

One wonderful thing about social media is immediate feedback. One of the biggest drawbacks about social media is the opportunity for false news to spread and cause alarm. Avoid this by monitoring any replies you get to your messages and conducting basic searches for posts relating to your emergency. You can squash any rumors that may appear, but also learn helpful information that you may be able to re-post to share with your audience. Parents, emergency management, or the news may post useful information.

Murch Elementary posted 12 updates in the span of 1 hour and 40 minutes during a recent shelter-in-place event associated with a bomb threat at a nearby facility. Their posts were clear, timely, and took into account parent feedback.

Maintaining a social media presence is a big responsibility. For those that are up to the challenge, it can, though, create an invaluable communication tool between you and key stakeholders during an emergency.

 

 

Where would you go to protect yourself if there was an intruder at your school?

Where would you go to protect yourself if there was an intruder at your school? Childcare providers and schools must ask that question for themselves and for the students in their care. It is much harder to hide an entire class of students than a single person, which is why we turn to SEC’s overarching message: Be Prepared. Schools can prepare for intruders by identifying areas, prior to an incident, where students, teachers and visitors can easily and effectively seek cover and/or concealment.

What is the difference between cover and concealment?

Concealment is simply hiding yourself in a way that makes it difficult for an intruder to identify your location. You can effectively conceal yourself and your students by covering interior and exterior windows with shades or blinds, turning off the lights and positioning yourself in an area of the room that prevents you from being seen by someone on the outside.

Finding cover means positioning yourself behind an object made of a substantial material that would not only allow you not to be seen, but would also minimize the intruder’s ability to harm you. Concrete or brick walls, thick trees, dense furniture and vehicles are just some examples of things that can provide effective cover.

During many of SEC’s Critical Incident Training sessions, we often see staff members respond to a violent intruder scenario by freezing or simply getting low to the ground. This leaves them both exposed and unprotected. We recommend that schools identify all the areas of the facility that provide effective cover or concealment and conduct drills for staff and students to practice responding to those areas.

Just as schools post floor plans that identify evacuation routes, SEC also recommends posting similar floor plans that highlight where the areas in the school that provide the best cover and concealment are. These visible “tactical” floor plans can serve not only as reminders to staff and students but can also be an accessible reference for visitors such as parents and substitutes.

Understanding the difference between cover and concealment, identifying the areas of the school that provide them and conducting drills in which staff and students respond to those areas are all practices that facilitate effective responses during violent intruder incidents.

Not sure if your cover and concealment plans are up to par? Reach out to SEC for feedback.

SEC on WZZM after Las Vegas Massacre

SEC’s Jason Russell recently conducted active shooter training with schools in the Mandalay Bay Area. Russell spoke with WZZM in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings.

Read and watch the full story here:

http://www.wzzm13.com/news/nation/former-secret-service-agent-breaks-down-vegas-mass-shooting/480455911

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.