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Safety & Security: In a Day, on a Dime

By Net Assets posted 09-26-2019 08:43 AM

Evacuation plan

Risk Management |

Addressing low-hanging fruit and implementing low-cost solutions could improve your school’s safety.

Article by Marcus DePontes, StoneGate Associates, LLC

From the September/October 2019 NetAssets magazine

Following recent high-profile security events, schools and other organizations have been examining and amending their security and emergency management plans to ensure they satisfy regulatory compliance, employ best practices and enhance safety for staff and students.

Over the last several years, StoneGate Associates has had the opportunity to conduct hundreds of security vulnerability assessments at both independent and public schools and interview many school administrators, board members and security professionals. The following are 11 of our most common findings that can be fixed at relatively low or no cost.

1. Building Access and Door Alarm Systems

Most schools are equipped with an access control system, but sometimes schools have not deployed perimeter-door alarm systems that notify an administrator (e.g., secretary, custodian or security officer) of a breach to the building. Administrators should know when a door is propped open, for example, allowing unauthorized access or permitting a student to leave the school without consent. Additionally, most schools use cameras to monitor and vet who enters the building, but often the quality of video does not provide a clear view of visitors’ faces or their full body before they enter the school.

2. Panic Alarms

A panic alarm allows an administrator or school secretary to silently call law enforcement to campus, without alerting a suspicious or agitated person. Panic alarms also alert law enforcement faster than a 911 call. They are usually a button located below a desk, but can also be wireless pendants worn around the neck. Banks, hospitals and schools are using them frequently. In fact, in February 2019, New Jersey passed Alyssa’s Law, which requires the state’s public schools to install panic alarms. The cost to install these devices has come down considerably, and training for staff is minimal. However, it is crucial that schools periodically test the alarm to ensure it is functional.

3. Window Film

In the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, the school was locked and secured, but the perpetrator entered by shooting out the plate glass window by the front lobby door. Applying impact-resistant film to exterior glass doors and windows will not stop a bullet, but will prevent the glass from shattering and thus could delay entry of an armed intruder. There is a cost associated with installing the film, but it is becoming common practice in schools.

4. Door Locks and Hard Corners

Sandy Hook investigators found that no violent intruder has ever entered a locked classroom. Teachers should be trained to keep doors in locked position and closed, if possible, so that all they would need to do upon hearing a lockdown alert, screams or gunshots is hide. Teachers and students should also be trained to find “hard corners” that are out of an active shooter’s sight line from a classroom window. Some schools have used tape to mark hard corners on the floor, walls or ceiling.

5. Communication Systems

In older school buildings, public address systems may be inaudible in school areas such as bathrooms and often can be launched only from the main office, which could delay a lockdown response. You could bring in a vendor to enhance the PA system or consider phone applications that will enable any authorized staff member to launch an emergency announcement from his or her phone.

One easy way to improve school security is to keep landscaping plants trimmed back to improve sight lines.

Older school buildings often have dead zones where cell phone coverage is inadequate. Schools can install a wifi network extender for those areas. This is important, considering that the vast majority of 911 calls today are made from cell phones.

6. Landscaping

Overgrown bushes on campus give perpetrators places to hide and can obscure sight lines of law enforcement if they are driving by a school after hours. Proper maintenance, i.e., keeping bushes within three or four feet tall, can enhance security.

7. Threat Assessment Policy

Ensure your school or district has a formal threat assessment policy. Advocated by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education, such a policy enables staff to gather information, evaluate facts and analyze behavior to determine if an individual intends to harm themselves or commit an act of violence. The policy also outlines how to manage or reduce a threat if an inquiry indicates a risk of violence.

8. Safety Committee

Many schools do not have an active safety committee that meets every other month or quarter to track critical data related to safety, security and emergency management. This requires only time and organization.

9. Evacuation Diagrams

Ensure all classrooms have classroom evacuation diagrams that conform to OSHA and fire code requirements. Diagrams should include:

  • Primary and secondary exits, and wheelchair accessible exits
  • Assembly or reunification area
  • Current location
  • Exit signs indicating the nearest emergency exit
  • Instructions to exit away from rooms with hazardous materials, to never use elevators in an emergency and to never exit into restrooms or narrow passages

10. Numbered Perimeter Doors

Building perimeter doors should be numbered externally and internally. When someone calls for help, he or she can use internal door numbers to tell emergency responders which door to enter. External numbers help emergency responders find the best door. Reflective stickers are also a best practice.

11. Emergency Management Plans

Ensure your school’s written emergency management plan is comprehensive and includes information about the following critical areas:

  • Overview of grades, numbers of students and staff, etc.
  • Up-to-date site diagrams
  • Hazard vulnerability analysis
  • Incident command team
  • School security and safety committee
  • Master school schedule
  • Transportation information and contacts
  • Vendor contacts for food, facilities and information technology systems
  • Media contacts
  • Procedures for lockdown, ventilation control, lost or missing students, student protests, severe weather, fire, influenza, bomb threats and bus accidents
  • Threat assessment
  • Crisis counseling and recovery
  • Emergency generators
  • Mutual aid agreements for evacuation
  • Emergency shelter used by schools and community
  • Offsite evacuation parent reunification plan

Additionally, all schools should have an all-hazards rapid response guide that details step-by-step actions staff should take to manage unexpected crisis situations and school emergencies. Staff should receive annual training on all-hazards security awareness and emergency management procedures. A continuity of operations plan, which outlines how critical school functions will continue if a school building cannot be used for a period of time, should also be developed.

Marcus DePontes is managing director at StoneGate Associates, LLC, which provides security, fire safety, emergency management and health, safety and environmental regulatory compliance consulting services to a variety of industries, including Fortune 100 companies, healthcare facilities and academic institutions, both K-12 and higher education.

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