School Security: Lessons from the Past and Suggestions for the Future

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School Risk assessments:

“Professional school security / school safety assessments provide educators an independent assessment by school security professionals of existing positive safety measures in place and recommendations for building upon those measures with school safety improvements at the building and district levels.” (National School Safety and Security Services)

Risk assessment is the process and methods utilized to identify all the risks involved by determining the risk’s probability and predictability. There are three basic types of risk to consider. The first types of risks are directly perceptible risks. These risks are dealt with using basic good judgment by the parties involved. These types of risks are the easiest to assess and deal with.

The second type of risk is risk perceived through science. Most of the published literature on risk management falls into this category. In this type of risk, electronic along with biological risks are covered. With crimes such as identity theft on the rise and the ease of chemical warfare rising, this type of risk cannot be overlooked.

The third and final type of risk is virtual risk. These are risks that are culturally constructed. This risk comes from people not being fully educated about a subject and are left to make judgments based on preconceived notions, prejudices, and superstitions. This type of risk is by far the hardest to assess and can potentially be the most harmful.

When looking at risk assessment, one must consider and identify the assets that are in need of protection and the appropriate level of security to adequately protect each asset. Assets may include everything from money, customers, buildings, or in this case, students and faculty. Next, one must identify any and all threats to these assets. There are two basic types of threats; acts of nature and acts of mankind. Thirdly, one must estimate the probability and predictability that these threats will actually happen. A probability is the likelihood of something occurring based on historical data. Predictability is the percentage of chance that something will happen. It is noteworthy to remind school officials that exact numbers are simply impossible but in the instance of terrorist threats against schools, Osama Bin Laden has called for the destruction of 2,000,000 American children. Fourth, one must estimate the impact or consequences of the threat. This too is an approximation based the organization’s prior experiences of similar happenings as in the case of Beslan. Finally, one must estimate the probable frequency of occurrence. In the estimation of occurrence at one school, the number might be once or twice. In the estimation of occurrences nationwide, that number is as endless as the amount of schools in session at any one given point in time.

School safety assessments should be district-specific to properly identify security concerns and address any specific needs for each district. Safety assessments should never be pre-packaged comments and forms with a few name changes. School security assessments are designed to help educators be proactive, not reactive, with school safety. Evidence of having conducted a professional security assessment can be used in the application for a federal and state grant proposal requirement to receive grant funding for safety and emergency planning. (National School Safety and Security Services)

Prepared schools absolutely must begin to train teachers and support staff for the possibility of an impending attack, evaluate and refine security plans, and test/exercise school crisis plans. Security and Police Officials should encourage school personnel to maintain a "heightened awareness" for suspicious activity and to report any and all activities that seem out of place or suspicious in any way.  This can include any and all things such as suspicious vehicles on and around campus, suspicious persons in and around school buildings especially those taking photographs or videotaping, suspicious packages around the building perimeter and/or in the school, and any persons seeking special information or information not normally given to visitors.  Schools should also establish routine inspections of not only the buildings and grounds by school employees but also a trained professional. 

Finally, schools need to develop, review, refine, and test crisis preparedness guidelines.  These guidelines should have appropriate protocols for both natural disasters and acts of violence.  Specific procedures for handling bombs, bomb threats, hostage situations, kidnappings, chemical and biological terrorism, and related information must be created and reviewed on a timely basis. (National School Safety and Security Services)

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