What Schools Need to Know

What Schools Need to Know

Follow this guide for evaluating, implementing a security plan to decrease shooter response times

As schools resume across the country this fall, safety and security is top of mind for parents, faculty and administrators alike. Traditionally, as security alerts arise, schools address individual needs rather than formulating a cohesive safety and security plan with technology to reinforce it. This can cause a siloed approach to safety, and gaps in safety plans. The following is a systematic guide for evaluating, implementing and running a comprehensive, security plan for maximum safety.

Integrating Your Systems
Most school systems use a variety of technologies that typically have separate jobs, such as access control, security cameras, and communications. These are all important tools, but when siloed don’t create a cohesive safety solution, rather, they only address a small set of safety concerns, such as addressing mass communication needs but not addressing point of entry vulnerability.

Instead, schools should examine ways they can actively prevent, detect and triage security threats, such as mass shootings in realtime. This starts with a safety audit of all policies, procedures and technology currently in place to combat emergency situations, like an active shooter situation. The audit process ofien reveals gaps in a school’s safety plan and room for improvement, and an opportunity to adopt additional technology and resources.

Additionally, schools should combine these systems under a single platform to create an integrated safety solution. Implementing situational awareness and response technology is a more proactive solution for schools, as it unifies all of their security and safety systems onto one platform to improve communication, workffow and operations especially in an emergency situation. Time is of the essence in critical situations and using technology to reduce the amount of time the information takes to get to the proper people can save lives.

For example, schools may upgrade their cameras and access control systems, but most do not have the ability to access the live feed in order to alert staff about an incident unfolding in the building that is caught on camera. This reactive approach results in a communication breakdown. Implementing an automated alerting platform can turn alarms from stand-alone systems, into detailed alerts for delivery to communication endpoints. This means school administrators, teachers, and other onsite personnel can receive real-time information about possible threats and can immediately initiate the appropriate response plan. The live feed would be sent to first responders, such as law enforcement, a school resource officer or a principal, in order to launch a quick response. With today’s smarter networks and devices, plus an automated alerting platform to tie them all together, it is easier and more cost-effective than ever to create a safety and security bubble over a single campus or entire district.

Monitoring Access Points
One way a school can integrate technology for optimal safety and security is by auditing their entry points. While schools vary in their entry practices from having a manual sign in at the front desk to keycard entry, the doorway is the first point of access to each building. Entry access control systems are essential for optimum security. The ideal security system allows a person from anywhere in the building to both see and communicate with visitors before entering the building. This gives staffas much information as possible to make an informed decision about which visitors should be allowed to access the building.

Rather than having an employee assigned to wait by the doors and monitor entry, administrators can deploy automated alerting to allow staffmembers to receive an alert on their phone containing detailed information about any individual requesting building access; the alert can even contain live video footage pulled from security cameras. The employee can then permit access directly from their phone with the push of a button or secure the building in the case of a threat.

Adding an extra level of security with credential tracking and permissions, including key cards and pin codes, can be implemented throughout the building as an added layer of caution. Lastly, integrated cameras and building access sensors can allow access points to be monitored with a notification should the building be breached with a propped door to eliminate a threat early. Identifying areas of improvement at access points is a great first step to establishing a comprehensive plan.

Alerting the Right People at the Right Time
In the case of an active shooter inside the building, situational awareness technology notifies the right people, with the right information, in the shortest amount of time. From notifying law enforcement to employees and loved ones, technology can play a vital role in making sure everyone is aware of the situation to respond quickly.

This cuts down on people wondering what to do if they see something suspicious, or are in shock amid an emergency. Instead, a protocol is put in place, and executed for the use of a panic button to alert people of the situation immediately. Technology can make all staff feel empowered to act quickly and efficiently to deescalate an emergency situation, ensuring that every second is being optimally utilized and that emergency staffare alerted in real-time.

Technology has become vital in the safety and security of schools, businesses, and other public places because it provides peace of mind.

For instance, Blount County School District, just one county over from the recent Knoxville, TN, school shooting, implemented technology solutions to better equip them to respond to an active shooter situation a year ago. Their use of situational awareness and response technology integrated all safety and security technology into one platform and enhanced their mobile duress technologies throughout the school buildings.

Specific school staffmembers were given mobile duress buttons to be used in the event of an emergency. When one of the mobile duress buttons is triggered, an alert is immediately sent out to the proper staffand/ or first responders with critical information. This goes out, via desktop alerts and includes a live video feed from the cameras closest to the triggered device and the location of the device triggered. This ensures quick and correct action would be taken to manage any situation.

The school believes this proactive approach will ultimately save lives in the case of an emergency. Each school had a different set of needs and requirements for its program. In a mass shooting situation, one minute can be the difference between life and death. While it can be overwhelming for schools to take on such a challenging and complex issue, starting with an evaluation, and identifying key areas of opportunity/improvement, and incorporating a comprehensive safety plan, schools can take steps necessary towards a brighter and safer future for our children, students and staff.

Making Your School Situationally Aware
Situational awareness technology is used for other mass notification updates to parents and faculty such as school closures, COVID-19 exposures, or new guidelines. An automated alerting platform can streamline lockdowns, evacuations, severe weather responses, medical emergencies, and many typical day-to-day events. By implementing an automated platform, schools are not only preparing for active shooter situations but also preparing for the future.

By maintaining the safety conditions and security of their school buildings, administrators can ensure that when the time comes for students to return, they are more ready than ever. Running a school is already a demanding job, and with COVID-19 and an increase in gun violence adding even more pressure and complications, it is easy to let things be swept under the rug, resulting in a minor issue becoming a major problem. To minimize risk, it’s worth investing in a solution that can catch an issue before it escalates, relieving stafffrom doing unnecessary work and allowing them to focus on what’s really important - teaching their students.

Navigating Increasing Violence in Schools
While several factors have led to school shootings, mental health is one that cannot be ignored. According to a recent report, staffmembers need to be able to identify students who may exhibit or be a victim of violence by examining and analyzing patterns and trends in their behaviors. A number of factors should be considered including attendance records, student grades, previous history or pattern of behavioral issues, and experience with bullying.

Having multiple touchpoints with students each day visible on one platform allows staffto view all interactions in one place to help identify trends or issues. For example, if a student is consistently absent from lunch on a certain day of the week, administrators may be able to identify that the student is facing food insecurity, or being bullied by another student during the lunch hour. Consolidating information onto a single platform not only improves efficiency, but also has the potential to spot issues that could escalate into situations that are more violent if not addressed properly.

Upgrading technology to protect students does not always have to be out of budget for schools. Many states, including Ohio and Kentucky are allocating funds and offering grants to schools to incorporate technology solutions. The technology allows schools to improve safety and communication by providing staffthe ability to summon help from any web browser, which allows law enforcement to be notified quickly and discreetly, and to send and receive alerts via various devices.

Increasing public awareness of safety and security concerns and preparing for the worst can save lives in emergency situations. When the right people can receive detailed information about what is happening around them, they can react immediately and effectively. Situational awareness technology creates time to respond and that is critical for life safety as well as optimizing operations.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

Digital Edition