Do Schools Need to Take Security and Safety More Seriously?
We came across a recent article from a Colorado news outlet looking at how the state's school systems have responded to the growing need for comprehensive safety protocols. Colorado has the unfortunate distinction of being home to Columbine, the site of one of the most notorious school shootings in our country's history. While it may not be fair to use the state as a litmus test for our public school system's approach to safety, it can still provide useful insight into practices and protocol development.
Our industry takes us across the United States and into schools as geographically and economically dispersed as possible. As a result, we've had the fortune of working with teachers, administrators, law enforcement, and other like-minded citizens, each of whom have the singular focus of making our schools as safe as possible. Despite this, the methods used to achieve that focus can vary from school to school, or even person to person. With that in mind, we read with interest several illuminating points brought forth by the reporters of this story.
Each time a school shooting occurs there are several narratives set in motion, one of which is the prospect of arming teachers and the possible effect it would have on deterring these incidents. The authors write, " ... experts say expecting teachers to be able to respond like police officers in a crisis could be dangerous as even trained professionals can make fatal errors during such a confrontation. In addition, security experts worry that law enforcement officers responding to a school shooting could confuse a gun-toting teacher with an assailant."
Aside from obvious philosophical considerations that accompany the conceptual argument of needing to arm school teachers, there are very tangible concerns, as pointed out in the excerpt above. Arming teachers and staff is likely to cause more danger than it is worth. The real key is to do everything you can to prevent someone from getting in and then to be able to get the trained professionals - law enforcement, first responders - there as soon as possible. Many schools have implemented some kind of access control, a strong first step in developing school security. But the second consideration, getting trained professionals notified and on-site as quickly as possible, is too often an afterthought. We know that these professionals can be true difference makers in crisis scenarios like active shooters in schools. Expecting teachers by trade to adequately confront a threat and maintain control is not fair, and can, in fact, be even more dangerous. We advocate for the deployment of Rapid Emergency Response Systems (RERS), which are specifically designed to speed the response times of law enforcement and first responders and notify building occupants when serious or threatening incidents occur within schools or other facilities.
In 2014, we worked closely with Greg Rabenhorst, Weld County Public Schools Superintendent in Colorado, to implement a RERS in Weld Central High School. Although Weld Central High School has never had an active shooter incident, Rabenhorst decided to take a proactive approach and look beyond traditional security measures one might see at a high school. Weld County High School is located in a rural area in Colorado. This also led Rabenhorst to look at ways to notify first responders as quickly as possible. He wanted a way to ensure that should a crisis scenario take place, that the correct law enforcement and first responders were notified as quickly as possible. Along with the system implemented, the school also evaluated its greater security protocols, looking at processes, personnel and situational decision making.
Some of the schools mentioned in the report had attempted to implement security protocols designed to alert students and staff to the threat without giving away valuable tactical information to the intruder, using code words and complex plans. However, the reporters noted, "... some districts have plans that are overly complex and may cost minutes during an emergency. 'Code Blue. Code Yellow. ... Some districts use code: 'Sister Mary Clarence.' ... Code words don't mean a lot in a crisis.'"
The thought process behind developing a series of code words and plans is sound, but the reality of executing these protocols in a true crisis scenario is fraught with potential problems. Complex plans are never going to work. When people are panicked they are not going to think clearly until the adrenaline dump is gone. Keeping things simple and intuitive is the key to good protocol. Our approach to protocol is to keep the first and most critical step as simple as possible: notify the rest of the building and get law enforcement dispatched without delay.
Truly, there are a great number of factors that go into developing the best and most comprehensive security plan and protocol for schools. This particular article we referenced focused on Colorado schools, but these thoughts can really be applied across the board. The unfortunate reality is that we must think about these things. For administrators, teachers, law enforcement and even parents, proactivity and thoughtfulness are two key things that cost nothing and can potentially lead to positive changes. Is your school or district making changes? What kinds of success have you seen?