By Jeff Floreno, Wren
School administrators generally approach security from a perspective of managing issues that present themselves during routine school activities. This approach seems to make sense, as it captures most of the issues at hand. However, a security professional would say that this approach captures only the low hanging fruit, while missing safety and security risks that may arise during special events.
In corporate America, businesses are typically prepared and have plans in place to deal with special events such as retails’ Black Friday, or a highly publicized new product release, or even a large shareholders’ meeting. Conversely, the same level of planning for special events in schools is not apparent. Part of the problem may be that if a school has a security plan, it probably only addresses daily activities and loses sight of special events.
Identifying a “Special Event”
The first step is identifying what might be considered a special event. Some triggers to get us thinking in the right direction would include the following;
Is space being used differently than it is typically used?
Is there an increase in population on campus?
Are there student activities off campus?
Off campus activities occurring in close proximity to the school?
This is not a complete list, but it provides a format for collecting information about special events. It is important to remember that special events bring larger than normal crowds, they are sometimes emotionally-charged, and don’t always involve just students and their parents. In all of these cases, providing adequate emergency response while protecting people, property and information requires additional planning and resources.
Planning for an Event
The first order of business is to review your emergency plans and ensure that they apply to the event at hand. If so, security personnel or administrators should notify the appropriate emergency responders of the scheduled event. This will enable them to provide routine assistance or respond more quickly to an emergency if the need arises. The trick in planning for special events is anticipating how people, property and information may be subject to greater-than-normal risk and what resources will be required to protect them.
For example, as attendance at sporting events increases, is there a greater risk of unwanted activities taking place in and around the school? Are security resources deployed to mitigate that risk? If an election is taking place in the community, and the elementary school cafeteria is a polling place, is there a plan to deal with traffic flow and crowd management inside the school? Consider utilizing resources such as off-duty law enforcement, security guards, volunteers, and video and access control as a means to manage the influx of people. Most importantly, develop a plan for your special event.
Examine the history of your special events and look for learning opportunities, benchmark with other schools in the area, and reach out to law enforcement or security professionals for assistance as needed. Doing your homework is the key to successful planning.
Advance communication with all stakeholders is crucial. Review roles and responsibilities, and set up a “dry run” to give everyone involved an opportunity to practice and ask questions. Also, the dry run should be used to test the functionality of communications gear and the accuracy of an emergency resource call list. Ensure there is an appropriate means to communicate with the crowd. For most schools, this is a PA system, loudspeaker, or bullhorn. Prepare messages in advance to communicate crisp and concise information. This practice will keep the speaker on message, communicating the correct instructions and reducing the need to adlib. Signage communicates important information such as the location of exits, first aid stations, fire extinguishers, rest rooms, etc. Remember, there will be many people at special events who are not familiar with the school’s lay out.
Managing Crowds and Traffic
Start the event off on the right foot by deploying a good traffic management plan. When large crowds are expected, reach out to law enforcement for assistance in directing traffic. Assess the parking situation and, when necessary, collaborate with neighboring businesses or residents to authorize overflow parking thus accommodating everyone. During nighttime events, adequate lighting is a must when it comes to reducing safety and security incidents.
Managing the crowd helps ensure safety and minimizes conflict. A best practice for crowd control at a sporting event is to provide separate entrances and designated seating areas for the home and visiting teams and their fans. This will help avoid conflict, fights, and other undesirable interactions. Managing queues may be necessary for some events. Lines should be controlled using crowd control barriers that are set up in the most direct route possible.
Crowd control on campus may also mean blocking access to certain parts of the school, ensuring classrooms and entrances are locked and monitored to avoid unwanted activities that could result in theft, vandalism, accidents, or other legal liabilities.
Make your special event “special” by taking the time to review and update plans, make sure the traffic plan minimizes frustrations, validate that the right resources are in place, and communicate roles and responsibilities to all the stakeholders. Remember, the key to providing security for a special event is planning.
Jeff Floreno serves as director of security operations and strategy for Wren, providers of physical security solutions that create safe learning environments. Floreno directs new product development efforts and provides security expertise to Wren’s education customers. Floreno can be reached at email@example.com. To learn more about Wren’s solutions, visit www.wrensolutions.com.