School safety is a hot button topic, and physical security companies all over the country are stepping up to provide a safe and violence-free environment for our youth. It is certainly not without its challenges, and physical security providers have their work cut out for them. But, recent technological advances, and new processes and procedures can help ease the burden of school safety. Check out ten lessons physical security companies can learn to provide better campus safety services.
Lesson One: Create a Safe and Non-threatening Atmosphere
Studies show that students who see armed guards feel less secure in their schools than those that see unarmed guards. Even the appearance of threats can cause extreme anxiety and discomfort. Physical security companies are combating this with concealed weapon holsters and unarmed patrols while keeping guns and other tactical equipment locked away safely using biometrics for access (thumbprints are currently the most used).
Lesson Two: Utilize Visitor Monitoring Systems
A lesson hard learned in the past 20 years of school violence has shown visitor monitoring systems could have prevented many school safety incidents. Using buzzer systems that require visitors to state their intention for the visit (along with cameras that allow school personnel to verify identity before allowing entry) has proven to decrease school violence. As a physical security provider, train school personnel on how to spot red flags when screening visitors, and help school administrators put in place a policy of photo identification for all visitors, and how to alert on-premises security in the event of threatening behavior for denying entry or refusing to provide an ID.
Lesson Three: Randomize Outdoor Patrols
Crime pattern theory says criminals look for patterns and ways to exploit them. Randomizing outdoor patrols of school grounds (even completing some patrols out of uniform) can throw off criminals that may be looking for opportunities. While most school violence incidents occur between students, outside threats cannot be discounted.
Lesson Four: Train Teachers to Look for Signs
Teachers already get a lot of training in looking for the signs and behaviors of students. They learn to look for the student that sits alone at lunch, or the people being bullied, and doing the bullying. They learn to identify behaviors that might produce violence if unattended. But teachers should also be trained in identifying security risks. As a physical security provider, train teachers to notice the signs of security incidents in schools. For example, share with teachers the above-mentioned photo identification policy for visitors to the school. Visitors should be given a unique badge showing they are a visitor. Teachers should be trained to look for this badge on anyone they do not immediately recognize.
Lesson Five: Work with Schools to Establish a Plan
As a security provider, your services do not always have to involve guarding and monitoring. A very lucrative aspect of school security exists in working with schools to establish plans for incidents and acts of violence. Schools should always have plans for three major incident types: active shooter, acts of riot, and threatening behaviors. Work with schools to put in place student training, teacher education, and policies and procedures for each of these incident types.
Lesson Six: Strengthen Partnerships with Public Safety Officials
When dealing with schools, it is essential to have a solid partnership with local public safety officials. Given they are the first to arrive on the scene of active shooter situations, and most other school safety issues, it is essential they know that a physical security firm is providing security services. This allows your guards to partner with safety officials to effectively resolve these situations faster. Additionally, these relationships can quickly lead to business expansion opportunities.
Lesson Seven: Utilize Instant Lockdown Technologies
Instant lockdown technologies are one of the best ways to ensure security threats are isolated to one area. Most instant lockdown systems can patch into fire door systems used to contain fires, but those doors do not lock. Instead, they act as a deterrent. Some school systems are looking into lockdown systems that lock main hallway doors to completely barricade violent offenders.
Lesson Eight: Evaluate Your Communication Systems, Then Implement Improvements
During a crisis, communication is key. Schools are already using PA systems to notify teachers of threats using color code systems. For example, “Code Black” is the common code for a bomb threat, while “Code Red” is the common code for a serious and threatening incident. Still, during some situations, these codes are not enough to protect students and teachers. Work with schools to evaluate their current communication strategies during situations. Especially in larger schools, this can be crucial in identifying the areas where a threat is occurring and allowing students and teachers in other areas to evacuate.
Lesson Nine: Practice with Teachers Often, Students Sporadically
This lesson is hotly debated. Parents often worry about the psychological harm that comes from practicing active shooter drills. While that may be true (there is not enough evidence currently to say one way or the other) it is still essential to have drills that run real scenarios. As a physical security provider, train teachers to carry out active shooter drills and take part in monitoring their success. Rather than putting the students through these drills frequently, make them a part of teacher in-service days and dedicate one training day per year, or every other year, for students.
Lesson Ten: Set Up a Central Command Center
In both peaceful times, and times of trouble, you need a central command center onsite for proper security measures. Establish an area of the school, in a central location, that can act as a security office. In this office, protected by a bulletproof door, security teams can monitor situations in real time. Additionally, establish a location for a remote command center should you be forced to leave the building. This is where you will meet with local officials and decide on the next courses of action.
As a physical security provider, the responsibility to protect the public is a heavy burden, and it becomes even heavier when protecting schools. As a place meant to be a haven for learning and creativity, violence has no place in those walls. Still, learn from the lessons above to help prevent violence, deter criminal activity and threats, and secure schools.