In the ongoing conversation about campus safety, it’s very important to be honest and realistic about our expectations. One of the most common misconceptions revolves around “prevention.” Barbed wire, posted guards, and strict security provide an arduous entry but aren’t really realistic for schools. Not only are these answers not fiscally prudent, they would make our schools feel more like prisons, which isn’t good for business. This reality leads many districts to turn to technologies like surveillance equipment (which is typically more forensic than preventative) and access control. We’re not remotely suggesting the discontinuation of these technologies, but the reality remains: If someone decides their agenda is more important than human lives, unfortunately, it may not be possible to prevent the situation from occurring. We think it’s time to put equal (if not more) effort into determining the best way to minimize the damage should a catastrophic event unfold. Past tragedies have taught us important lessons about mitigating danger, and we must learn from them.
Here are the three keys to reducing the impact of an active threat:
Get everyone to safety as quickly as possible.
It seems obvious that this is important, but many districts’ campus safety plans may not have a comprehensive strategy to get people to safety as quickly as possible while considering all of the potential variables. It’s worth mentioning that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. The solution is a combination of several key factors like location, student age, time of day, and available technology (to name a few). The ways we “get people to safety” are clearly impacted by these variables. Do we just lock the campus down? What do we do with displaced students? Do we handle the situation differently before school starts or during our after-school activities? These are all good questions that we need to consider and establish consensus on.
Coordinate with first responders.
Unfortunately, there are recent tragedies to learn from, but we would be foolish to ignore the lessons. In nearly every situation, injuries and fatalities stopped when an effective first response was initiated. If we accept this as true, then our campus safety strategies must consider how we can effectively coordinate with first responders. How do we communicate directly with them before and after they arrive on site? How do we grant dispatch access to our security systems and access controls? How do we ensure that the right doors are unlocked to permit entry exactly when we need to? Just as before, the answers aren’t the same for every district, but we should make every effort to have the real and effective capacities and procedures for each of our schools. It’s likely also a bad idea to expect our first responders to have different procedures and capabilities from school to school within a single district, so our strategies must address this as well.
Communicate with the community and parents.
When and how we communicate with our community and parents is extremely important, but this too is likely different based on the variables mentioned above. This answer isn’t one-size-fits-all either. When do we let the surrounding community know? When do we let parents know, and what instructions do we provide? Do we have the technology to effectively communicate on a massive scale? Can we poll in real time? Our strategies and subsequent procedures must consider the answers to these questions in order to be successful.
Bringing it all together.
If we make a concerted effort to consider these three points independently, we still need to create a comprehensive plan that ties them all together. The unfortunate reality is that nearly every school that has experienced tragedy has had existing policies and technologies in place. For example, without exception, there has been surveillance at every site, but in each instance, it did little more than memorialize each event. Many have also had CROs and access control. So how do we operationalize a more effective strategy for ourselves?
The answer isn’t simple, but it is achievable through collaborative efforts to establish consensus on what success looks like. Can the district afford to implement state of the art technologies that all work together to automate safety? No, not realistically and certainly not sustainably. Can we implement technologies that are simple to use in duress that can be centralized and standardized? Yes. Can we establish protocol that leverages on-demand Security Operation Centers (SOCs) that are manned by trained staff when we need them? Yes, we can.
It’s glib to think we could possibly offer a definitive answer to this highly complex and critical issue in a few paragraphs, but we are here to help your district look at all of the variables in order to collaboratively establish a solution you are confident in.
Hear a few more commonly overlooked aspects of campus safety here: