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In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Security USA, Inc. organized a school security summit to help the New York City school community to better understand their options for providing a safer school environment. Best security practices were discussed and recent school shootings were analyzed to show how critical each piece of the security puzzle can be. in brief, it was emphasized that multiple layers of physical security and adequate staff training are crucial.
School shootings have been a too-frequent headline in the years since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, but school violence is not entirely a modern problem. Forty five people were killed in a school bombing in Michigan in 1927. What has changed is instantaneous media coverage and the realization that in addition to the threat from individuals who have some connection to a school, there is a risk of random terrorism, as schools are soft targets with high emotional impact.
Security USA's David Boehm laid out detailed plans for improving the security of any school building. He recommends multiple layers of security, including fences, doors, man-traps, separation walls, bullet-resistant glass in ground level classrooms, cameras, access systems, wireless security alarms at the front desk and other key locations and additional locks on classrooms and stairwells. He also spoke of simple, common sense measures that cost very little, but could make all the difference in the world in the case of a real threat. All rooms should be clearly labeled to make it easy for first responders to get to the area where the attack is happening. Public address systems must be clear and audible in all areas of the school building including hallways, gymnasiums, boiler room and janitor's closets, so no one in the school misses important safety information in the event of an emergency.
Perhaps the most important aspect of school security is having a workable plan and adequate staff training. Every room should have a written evacuation plan, detailing several possible routes for evacuation, so there are options that would avoid the area where the actual threat is unfolding. This might include unconventional escape routes, like going to the roof or in urban settings, crossing over to adjoining buildings and using their escape routes. Safe houses must be established, so staff members know where they can take the students in the event of an evacuation. They need to be detailed and practiced, so they are not just a theoretical plan that can't be remembered under stress.
Staff members need to understand the difference between partial lockdown, full lockdown, evacuation or a combination of full lockdown in active threat areas with evacuation of the rest of the school building. An important part of training regarding lockdowns is for staff and students alike to understand that in full lockdown, even if the bells ring to signal the end of a period, no one is to leave the room until the lockdown is over. Training must be detailed, active and frequent in order to be effective. Passing around a flier with instructions is no substitute for physically going through the procedures at least three times a year.
Training should go beyond procedures for evacuation or lockdown and include how to act and react should one find oneself at the center of an active threat. The ability to stay calm and take action on short notice under stress can be the difference between lives being saved or lost. Training of any security personnel on the premises is of the utmost importance. Well-trained professional security staff is the most effective option.
Maintaining a safe and secure school environment may not be comfortable, but school security has become a necessary part of modern life. Effective use of technology, ranging from access systems to CCTV cameras and facial recognition software can help to keep the cost of school security down and make it less obtrusive, which can go a long way toward maintaining a positive learning environment.
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