As a “retired” school principal and lead analyst of NewDawn Security, I have visited at least 200 schools ranging from Pre-K to college, public and private, have read more than 2,000 articles, briefs and research reports related to current/past safety and security events in schools, attended over 100 security/safety training seminars and exercises, and either authored and/or presented more than 35 lectures or seminars. I provide that as reference to the following claim:
Expecting schools to educate children and keep them safe is no longer a combination that only school personnel should be responsible for.
The point of this article is that without the strong intervention of security professionals in the day-to-day safety and security operations of both private and public schools, we will see not only school shootings happen again, but we will see the continuation of schools being unprepared to handle the multitude of crises they are bound to face.
An example can be found in Chardon, Ohio. The tragedy that befell Chardon also provided a good barometer of the current state of safety and security in education. Superintendent Bergent was on CNN in a timely manner detailing the tragedy as best as possible; his staff said nothing to the press, which is the way it should be; and he stated that the Geauga County Sheriff's office responded in a short amount of time, just the way the training exercises had dictated. The response was there, it was correct, and it was effective. (Not to discount the heroics of Coach Frank Hall, who chased T.J. Lane from the building.)
The problem, and what proactive security personnel can help prevent, is that a student who did not attend Chardon High rode a Chardon School District bus to his alternative school, but got off at the Chardon High stop, walked into Chardon High with a loaded weapon, made his way to the school cafeteria and then began his rampage.
Using this tragedy, or any other, as an example is by NO MEANS a criticism of any school district or staff, or an armchair-quarterback example. The students and staff at Chardon High did the best they could with the tools they had. My point is they needed more tools and the people who know how to use them.
Expecting that schools will be able to progress towards prevention with their current situation of security funding, grants (the Safe School Grant program provided $32.8 million to 18 states in 2009; it provided $0 in 2011), training, and staff levels being drastically cut is almost preposterous. Add in the fact that schools are having to be more and more accountable for student learning, which obviously is a good thing, by overhauling and adding additional duties without new positions or financial support is enough to make it completely preposterous.
Let me clarify:
1) Schools do not have the training or time to correctly identify risk factors in their buildings and/or operations. Expecting them to find the time, or be trained in a field that is so much more detailed and foreign vs. current post secondary education (K-12) curriculum is an expectation that the general public should no longer possess.
2) What training school staffs are provided usually happens at a rushed meeting prior to the start of the school year, when all the staff is still preoccupied with getting rooms ready, analyzing class lists, and preparing lessons. Very rarely are their follow-up meetings devoted solely to improving safety and security techniques—unless, of course, an unexpected negative event demands it takes place.
3) Schools are now doing a better job of meeting monthly with “Safe School Teams," but to expect that the information and even the training that takes place gets to the entire faculty as an embedded action is not likely—again, unless a tragedy occurs.
4) Here is the most important point: Since the Columbine High School shooting took place on April 20, 1999, what we expect from teachers and school administrators in terms of providing an increased level of safety and security has grown beyond what is possible. If we want these people to be able to succeed at their core mission, which is to provide the best learning environment possible for every student, they need the support and services of security professionals.
With the above information, and the school shooting at Chardon High as a guide, the following is just a LIMITED example of how an embedded safety and security professional team can make a difference:
1) Any good security professional knows how to not only administer risk and threat assessments, but they also know how to analyze the data produced by such assessments. Specific risks at schools exist when there are entrances/exits that are common, but not manned by adult personnel that greet each student, and identify persons who do not belong at the school. Same standard for bus drivers allowing students to enter and exit at irregular stops.
2) Security professionals know that all schools are at risk for school shootings. It may be miniscule, but it is still a risk. There is no proven profile of a school shooter, but there are observable patterns: School shooters have always been boys; more than 75% have felt bullied, persecuted, or injured, and suffer from some sort of actual or perceived loss. (Sources: Eric Madfis' dissertation on school shootings [March 20, 2012; Northeastern Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology] and the Safe School Initiative, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service.) Having this pattern in the forefront would allow for better analysis of: A) Incident Reporting System data B) Crisis Hotline Anonymous information C) Teacher/Counselor concern reports. This analysis should be done by a security professional due to the training and time it takes to compile. The goal of these reports would be to compile the data from all three reporting systems, and identify students who stand out so that support services and heightened supervision can be prescribed.
There are many more benefits a school would receive with active participation of security professionals, especially since Active Shooter Response and Prevention is just one of the 26 Safe School Standards security professionals can analyze and improve. However, that doesn't mean school administrators and teachers should be expected to have their schools at the necessary level of prevention and preparedness without outside help. We should expect our school professionals to educate to the highest level possible, and allow security professionals to secure their schools to the highest level possible. One doesn’t happen without the other.
Sean Spellecy is the CEO of NewDawn Security.
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