There is tremendous pressure to ensure that our students, faculty and administration are kept safe in a world where violence, mental health issues and weapons are present in our schools.
As we have met with those concerned with these issues – including law enforcement, mental health professionals, school administration and staff, parents and technology professionals – we have come to an understanding that there is not one specific solution to these problems. Rather, we understand the solution to be like an onion – with many layers representing different levels of defense in support of safety.
It is a matter of establishing priorities and providing sufficient training and education to all involved.
Research conducted around school violence makes it very clear that preventative measures can make a difference, School districts are currently exploring strategies and identifying mitigating factors such as:
- Strong preschools rich in family engagement
- Connecting youth to caring adults
- Providing interventions including increased counseling and referrals for mental health services.
- Making students aware of the resources available to them.
Collaboration with Local Law Enforcement
School district personnel should continue to strengthen partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to strengthen strategies to prevent violent acts in schools. Collaborative strategies may include:
- The roles and responsibilities of school resource officers and their interactions with school personnel and their peers in law enforcement
- Addressing challenges related to the distance between law enforcement / emergency personnel and the school
- Identifying at-risk students
- Identifying vulnerable areas within the school
- Sensitive, age-appropriate emergency drills and simulations
- Policies and procedures related to concealed weapons (where legal)
School districts often use technologies to inform and warn administrators, teachers, students, parents, and law enforcement when emergencies occur. Common technology solutions include:
- Surveillance cameras
- Texting and phone messaging services
- Door access/control/monitoring systems
- Glass technologies, barriers, etc.
The technologies utilized are as varied as the schools themselves. One deficiency of these technologies is that they are usually activated after an emergency event has occurred and do little to prevent the emergency itself.
Advances in technology now offer the ability to create early warning systems that utilize artificial intelligence to identify risks and alert responsible individuals as those warning signs are observed.
Alpine Consulting is working with one of those systems now – ZeroEyes – which uses artificial intelligence to monitor school camera feeds and identify weapons.
Altering Facilities to Control Access
Nearly all schools have multiple access points, which most certainly increases risk. School districts are struggling to balance the need to secure school facilities while preserving freedom of movement and other elements necessary to maintain a productive learning environment.
This is a sticky and expensive issue. Modifying access points often requires costly architectural changes with benefits that can’t be easily quantified – and those changes will be endlessly debated by the various groups of stakeholders. Tread lightly, keep stakeholders informed, and consider their input.
Emergency Protocols and Training
Appropriate training is critical in preparing your school to deal with real and potential emergency events. Such training may include:
- Flight/hide/fight strategies for both teachers and students.
- Emergency simulations and evacuation procedures (Fire, earthquake, weather, active shooter, etc.)
- Special medical considerations (Allergies, Drug interactions, medical conditions, etc.)
No single solution is adequate as every school is unique in geography, weather, and local policy. It is important for schools – and school districts – to create plans that address the unique needs of their schools and allocate time and resources to prevention and preparation.
Funding for these programs is often a challenge It is important for schools to research and pursue opportunities to obtain federal and state funding to make these needed investments in school safety. Unfortunately, local budgets often cannot bear the additional investment required to implement these improvements. We must seek community involvement to help fill the budget gaps. Community involvement with these initiatives generates heightened awareness and a shared responsibility that connects people and builds relationships.
We often hear about communities bonding AFTER a tragic event. Why not build those relationships now, while you’re preparing and implementing your school safety plans?
If you’re considering changes to your school safety/security plans, please reach out to us here at Alpine. We’ll be happy to share ideas, best practices, and technologies that may be of value.