by: John Boatman
The February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida continues to cast a long shadow across the national school community. Many state legislatures have passed measures to bolster school safety through hiring security officers, mandating safety assessments, creating emergency plan repositories, buying security hardware and technology and fully reviewing existing policies and procedures.
National organizations that advocate for improved school safety practices also have absorbed lessons learned from the Parkland shooting, as well as earlier tragedies at Columbine High School in Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Most recently, the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) has released the fourth edition of its Safety and Security Guidelines for K-12 Schools.
Its stated focus is to “provide school administrators, school boards and public safety and security professionals with guidelines for implementing a layered and tiered approach to securing and enhancing the safety of school environments.” (‘Layering’ refers to five physical levels for school facilities: district-wide, the property perimeter, the parking lot perimeter, the building perimeter and the classroom/interior perimeter. Tiers are a continuum of capabilities that progress from Tier 1, which provides a good baseline level of security, to Tier 4, which includes the most comprehensive approaches to securing a school facility.)
There is much to applaud in the PASS report. Among its specific recommendations, the most important is a sharp focus on school safety assessments. As the report puts it: “A risk assessment is the first step toward developing a comprehensive security plan and thus a prerequisite for decisions regarding deployment of security solutions.”
Critically, these must include a building assessment — basically a profile of physical security at individual facilities. A core capability of the Haystax school safety solution is an online app for conducting a wide variety of safety assessments on-campus (image below). Haystax is able to import a district’s existing assessment templates or offer its own preloaded form. Sometimes focused chiefly on vulnerabilities or likely threats or safety best practices, these assessments can be stored, aggregated and analyzed to help districts prioritize the protocols, plans and countermeasures they most need.
Either way, by using quantitative information rather than anecdotes or ‘gut feel,’ they produce analytically defensible results that can form the basis of requests for budgets and resources — and ultimately can lead to the implementation of safety measures that have a measurably positive impact over time.
Within each of its five layers, the PASS report outlines seven specific safety and security components:
- Policies and procedures
- People (roles and training)
- Architectural components
- Access control
- Video surveillance
- Detection and alarms
One of the few shortcomings of the report is that it does not explain the ways that school districts can integrate the latter four components into a single domain awareness system. Since 2013 Haystax has deployed an operationally-proven software platform that integrates school incident reporting, event management, social media monitoring, and imported third-party data feeds — such as traffic, weather, natural hazard maps and 9-1-1 calls — to provide dynamic context around its core database of detailed school facility information. This information is available to everyone responsible for campus safety, from first responders in the field to district or state education leaders.
According to the Center for Homeland Defense & Security at the Naval Postgraduate School, 2018 has already seen the highest number of school shootings since record-keeping started in 1970. The PASS guidelines represent a serious attempt to steer school districts towards a more holistic approach to managing risk in schools.
With a real-time domain awareness platform to maintain critical information and rapidly share it with all school safety stakeholders in a district or state, schools will be better well equipped to proactively mitigate not just active shooters but any kind of hazard or threat to school facilities, personnel, systems and students.
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NOTE: To learn more about how the Haystax for School Safety solution can help protect students and campuses in your state or district, please click here.