Digital Crayon: Article 9 – School Safety and Security
by David Epstein, January 4, 2013
In light of recent tragic events, I thought it would be timely to discuss safety and security at schools. It is always a difficult discussion. In many of our local schools, there is a feeling that the community is safe and something bad couldn’t happen here. The shooting in Essex, Vermont in 2006 certainly shifted that perception, and now, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, every school is re-evaluating its security arrangements. For our international clients, this has always been a paramount concern and we often consult with the Regional Security Officer to understand the security concerns for that region.
To be clear, there is no way to completely remove the risk of an event. Each school has to achieve a balance between the effectiveness and the cost, both financially and culturally, when considering security improvements. On one hand, we can’t ignore the potential threats; on the other hand, do we want our schools to resemble prisons?
Let’s start first on the exterior. Following the Sandy Hook shootings, much of the discussion has centered on how to keep a perpetrator out of the building. Unfortunately, it is very difficult, if not impossible if the perpetrator has made it to the building perimeter. And what about the safety of the students using the playgrounds and recreational fields? They are in a completely unsecured area. This is why virtually all of the international schools we work with create the security zone at the perimeter of their property, usually with a 3m high fence and guard house at the entry points. It is recommended that buildings be placed a minimum of 100ft from a public way. While this is standard for international schools, this is considered overboard for schools in a region like Vermont.
There are differing opinions on the effectiveness of armed security guards. It certainly sets a tone – for some reassuring, for others unwelcoming. Perhaps it sends a signal to the public that the school is serious about safety. To be effective, the guard must be at the right place at the right time. Will a gunman choose to enter at the most secure point? In any case, many question whether a minimally trained guard with a service revolver can stop a gunman in a bulletproof vest with a semiautomatic weapon. We do know that innocent bystanders are often caught in the crossfire. As you can see, the benefits of armed guards remain an open question.
Inside the school, it is imperative that there is a way to alert every staff member about an intruder. This may be through a public address, phone or walkie-talkie system. Often there is a code phrase that signals the lock down. The general protocol is to clear all public areas and sequester staff and students in classrooms. To do this, it is important that classrooms lock from the inside, which is not how older classroom latch sets function. However, they can be easily retrofitted. As it is also important that the perpetrator not see any potential victims, there must be a quick way to obscure views through both hallway doors and exterior windows.
As many of our schools function as community centers, school leaders are concerned about maintaining an open, welcoming feel while at the same time improving the safety of both students and staff. It is a difficult balancing act in light of the recent tragedy.
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