School Safety Reflections

Recently, I reflected back on my involvement with school safety and the changes during the past 36 years. In the eighties, school safety was focused on accident prevention. Fire drills were the only active exercises conducted with any regularity. Safety inspections were most frequently conducted by the local fire department, or with guidance from the district’s insurance company’s risk management section, to eliminate “hazards” that could cause injury to students and staff. Back then, death at school was rare and usually occurred as a result of a medically fragile student or a particularly unfortunate accident. School “security” meant closing the windows and locking the doors, and maybe setting the burglar alarm at the end of the day to protect the property. Today, school shootings have become so prevalent that school violence is included among the myriad hazards and threats that are addressed by the term “school safety.” Thirty years ago, school staff and students didn’t think about school shootings. Today, they do.

Why the change happened may be a reflection of a changes in our society, but when the widespread public perception that change was needed began first in 1998 with the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting, followed by Columbine High School in 1999. These two events were widely publicized and analyzed, and the beginnings of realization began to drive changes at schools and in how law enforcement responds to these types of events. Threat assessment, restorative justice, school safety teams, anti-bullying programs, detailed crisis management plans, School Resource Officers, lockdown drills – all these things have been developed over the years and are contributing to safer schools in our changing society. The issues of thirty years ago still apply, but the new normal has complicated the realm of school safety.

Last week, we worked with a Metro-Denver area school district who just received a two-way radio interoperability system through Colorado’s new SAFER grant program. The system allows school radios to “inter-operate” with police, fire, EMS and the 911 call center’s radios, on-demand and as needed, using radios to pass and receive critical information during a school emergency. While working through several emergency scenarios using two-way radios, the Superintendent made an important observation: he said interoperability is a useful capability and the exercises and practice is what would make the difference for school staff during various school emergencies.

At SchoolSAFE, our training program was developed to teach our clients to communicate effectively using two-way radio during challenging scenarios based on events that have actually occurred at schools. We don’t focus only on our worst fear of school violence, like the active shooter, but also include the myriad of other hazards in our exercises. We do this work, as you do, to make a difference. Last week’s comment by the superintendent helps validate one of our core beliefs – focused practice will help us respond more effectively when the unthinkable happens, no matter the “school safety” situation.

June 2019

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National Safe Schools Week October 21-27, 2018

Safe Schools Week: What Can You Do?

It is Safe Schools Week this week, October 21-27, 2018, sponsored by state governors, state school superintendents, and The National School Safety Center. It is a week to recognize the success of positive efforts made in school safety as well as encourage others to improve their safety programs. Children cannot learn in an unsafe environment; safety is of paramount importance to ensure the well-being and provide a quality education for every student.

What can you do to improve your school’s safety? We’re so glad you asked!

-Ask about or evaluate the Safety Team at the school. Who is on it? Are they practicing crisis communications? Are they updating their emergency plans? There are many resources to make sure those plans are up to date. We are big proponents of the School Safety Resource Center here in Colorado. There is a lot of great information on their site.

-What is the district doing to provide resources to improve school safety? Is there support from the entire district? If not, how can that change in a positive, proactive manner? Many districts have a safety director or student services director who helps with the safety plans. Contact them to learn more about what is being done in the district to improve the safety of all students.

-How are the existing relationships with community partners? When is the last time the school worked with its local fire department, police department, or sheriff’s office? These professionals are such a vital resource and they want to help. If the school hasn’t reached out to them yet, this is a great time to make the connection. We provide an interoperable communications program to help facilitate these relationships and to allow public safety to speak to schools on their existing radios with hardware, software, and training. Learn more here.

-When was the latest safety training the school and district conducted? If not recently, when can the next one be scheduled?

-Are all staff members empowered to call a lockdown? How would they do so safely? Do they need access to radios, a PA system, or phone?

-During an emergency, is the school getting quality information to the 9-1-1 dispatcher? If not, how can you improve internal information to help the professional first responders be as efficient and effective as possible?

-How’s the reunification plan? When we train schools, we frequently hear that the reunification plan could be exercised and improved. It’s daunting but well worth understanding the systems in place.

-Need funding to improve communications? There are grants available in Colorado, apply for the SAFER grant by December 3

We advocate for quality plans, practices, and communications during an emergency. Even if  10 minutes of this week (or month’s) staff meeting is spent on one emergency scenario and how it could have been improved, it can help empower school personnel and improve the next situation.

Other ways to improve yourself during a school emergency:

-Get educated! FEMA has great resources to learn how to improve a response and understand how public safety organize themselves in the Incident Command System

-Think about previous scenarios that have occurred at the school or throughout the district. What went well? What could have been better? What would you have done in those situations?

Any constructive attempts to improve school safety are well worth the time and potential investment. This week is a great week to see what you can do to improve any aspect of school safety in your area. Need more help? We’re here! Don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more.