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.

 

Back to School Security Checklist

If September is for fresh starts and new school years, August is for planning. A lot can change in a year. Schools hire new teachers, teachers and students move to new classrooms, school buildings undergo construction. Before the new school year begins, teachers, administrators and parents should review old emergency plans and make updates accordingly. Share the below lists with the people in your community to make this upcoming school year one of the safest and most secure years yet!

Administrators

  • Ensure emergency protocols are in place and posted in each classroom.
  • Go over basic emergency protocols with teachers and staff (i.e.: Evacuation, Shelter in Place, Lockout and Lockdown.) Answer questions when possible.
  • Review key plan elements such as alert capability, relocation sites, and transportation elements to ensure they are in place.
  • Develop a drill-schedule for early and mid-year that practices the main protocols.
  • If buses are used, schedule times for evacuation practice. Ensure evacuation is practiced from the buses at least 2 times per year.
  • Make contact with local emergency services to request they attend a drill that would elicit their response. (Fire for Evacuation and Police for Lockdown.)

Teachers

  • Review basic emergency procedures to include Evacuation, Shelter in Place, Lockout and Lockdown. Ensure you are aware of the role you must play in each situation. Ask for clarification when plans are ambiguous.
  • Check emergency supplies and ensure they are available and operating properly.
  • Ensure you have access to any mass alert capability such as PA system or any emergency response APPs used.
  • Plan a time, as early in the year as possible, to review basic emergency responses with children. Be sure to do this in an age appropriate manner.

Parents

  • When age appropriate, ensure children know parents contact information to include phone numbers, home address etc.
  • Consider a backpack emergency card with relevant phone numbers, medical allergies, and other information that could be used to help in an emergency.
  • Ask the school about their plan to deal with emergencies and make sure they have a reunification plan in place.
  • Update all emergency contacts. Consider authorizing a non-parent to pick up your child(ren) in case of emergency, and you are unable to be there.
  • Have an age appropriate conversation with the child about maintaining safety and about age appropriate situational awareness.

The Dangers on the Edge of Security Perimeters

On January 6, 2017, a shooter at the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood Airport killed five people and injured six more, inciting mass panic at the airport. The shooting took place near baggage claim – a vulnerable location because large groups of people congregate in the space and it is just outside of the secured portion of the airport. On a recent trip to this same Fort Lauderdale airport, an SEC consultant observed the behavior of the public in the area of the attack.  As is typical in baggage claim areas, our consultant noted individuals clustered around the baggage carousel, immersed in conversations with family and friends, or scrolling through their cell phones.  Although it is a testament to the American spirit that we do not live in constant fear, it is important for people to recognize that certain locations are susceptible to threats. Security perimeters are established to protect people and buildings, but we must accept that the areas just outside of these perimeters have been the site of attacks, and unfortunately, will likely be targets for attacks in the future.

On May 22, 2017, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured dozens more leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Like the Fort Lauderdale shooting, the bombing occurred right outside of the security perimeter for the concert. It was strategically timed at the end of the concert for when large numbers of audience members would be streaming out of the secured entryway. Manchester and Fort Lauderdale are only two examples of attacks that have occurred on the perimeter of secured areas.  As part of the coordinated November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, three suicide bombers detonated outside the Stade de France stadium during a soccer match between France and Germany. On June 28, 2016, attacks at an airport in Istanbul killed 41 and injured 230. Three bombs exploded in different spots around the airport, but all three were outside of the security perimeter. A similar attack occurred on March 22, 2016, at the Brussels airport. Two bombs exploded at the check-in areas on different sides of the airport, killing 32 people.

Certain venues, especially ones that attract large crowds and/or have cultural significance, have a greater likelihood of being attacked. Domestic and international law enforcement and security professionals have attempted mitigate the risk by deploying comprehensive security measures at likely targets such as airports, concert halls, museums, sporting events, theme parks, festivals and historic landmarks. Security officials continue to enhance and evolve the tools and tactics they utilize to protect these areas, but the problem remains – there will always be vulnerabilities associated with the spaces that are just outskirts of these perimeters. Ultimately, the security perimeter has to stop somewhere.

In recent years, security and law enforcement officials have recognized this threat and have taken a variety of actions to help mitigate the danger. One example is the practice of deploying canine units that can detect the compounds commonly found in explosive devices.  The Secret Service, for example, uses this type of unit in areas where the public gather outside the White House fence line. Many agencies and organizations with protective responsibilities have enhanced their capabilities by employing integrated technologies like smart surveillance cameras, license plate readers, radiological detectors and gunshot detector systems.

Another tactic commonly used by law enforcement entities is the injection of plain-clothed surveillance teams on the lookout for suspicious behavior. Conversely, in some cities, uniformed law enforcement officers do random surges to specific areas of their jurisdiction. The New York Police Department, for instance, has an elite counterterrorism team called the “Hercules Team,” that, on a regular basis, floods different parts of the city at unannounced times.

While law enforcements’ efforts have enhanced security in the areas beyond security perimeters, the cameras, canines, and officers cannot be everywhere at once. There are, though, concrete things everyday citizens can do to enhance their safety in these types of environments. Situational awareness is key. People must always have a strong understanding of where they are, what is going on around them, and what their evacuation options are should they need to escape. Here are a few concrete things to consider:

  • Position yourself strategically in the crowd: Don’t be like the people at the Fort Lauderdale baggage claim, crowded together looking at their phones exhibiting little or no situational awareness. Consider your position in relation to other people, to areas that could provide cover or concealment, and most importantly, to avenues of escape. Are you exposed to vulnerable glass that could become shrapnel during an explosion?  Are you in an area where you could be exposed to a vehicle assault from a high-speed avenue of approach?  Many times, just making a small difference in your position can mitigate or neutralize your vulnerability to a variety of threats.
  • Know your evacuation routes: Always think to yourself, “If I need to, how can I get out?” Understand all of your options. In emergency situations, people often reflexively try to exit the way they came entered, even though there are often better options. When people are panicked, stampedes and exit blockages can occur as it did in the 2003 Stadium nightclub fire in East Warwick, RI when 100 people tragically perished. By understanding all of your evacuation options and not just following the crowd, you can greatly enhance your ability to safely escape from an emergency situation.
  • Find cover and concealment: To find “cover” means to hide behind something that could protect you, like a brick wall. Finding “concealment” would be hiding behind something like a curtain, that shields you from view, but would not physically protect you. Doing a quick survey of your environment to identify spaces in close proximity that would provide you greater protection in the event of an attack, will facilitate getting to you to that space quicker if you need to.
  • What can you use as a weapon? In the event you come into contact with the attacker, as a last resort use whatever is around to protect yourself and others. In the recent London Bridge attacks, there were reports of restaurant patrons throwing glass, silverware, and crates when the terrorists came into the restaurant.

As we head into the summer travel season, many of us will find ourselves with friends and family at locations that have robust security perimeters.  This purpose of this post is not to try to deter people from attending sporting events and concerts, or from visiting theme parks and museums.  Our unwillingness to bend to terrorists who want to have us cowering in fear is an important part of the fabric of our country. Additionally, our intelligence, law enforcement and other security professionals do a remarkable job not only by securing these locations and events, but also disrupting plots before attacks can even occur.

As aware citizens, we can recognize that vulnerabilities exist, especially in the areas beyond the established security perimeters.  By exhibiting some situational awareness and considering response options prior to an incident, people can significantly increase the likelihood of successfully navigating an emergency situation.

 

SEC on the Congressional Baseball Practice Shooting

SEC CEO Jason Russell spoke with WOOD TV 8 about Wednesday’s shooting at the congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, VA.

““I can promise you they’re going to re-evaluate, especially when they have large numbers of congressmen or congressional members in an area at an event….” Russell, a former Secret Service agent commented.

Ceck out the article, and all of Russell’s insights here: Will shooting change security for congressmen? 

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/)

Improving School Safety Through Construction

SEC is thrilled to be working with Rockford Construction to pioneer the future of security-integrated construction. Together, we can to build educational centers that are designed with security and emergency preparedness in mind.

Our CEO Jason Russell participated in this blog with Rockford Construction. Check it out to learn more about the motivation behind our partnership: Improving School Safety Through Construction