School Security

by: Cassie Pfeifer, The Sandner Group - Claims Management

School security has understandably become a hot button topic in the media. At multiple points in recent years, we have all found ourselves staring in disbelief and horror at reports about some of the tragedies that have unfolded within our nation’s schools.

Students should be able to feel as safe in their school environment as they do in their own homes, and it is the district’s job to ensure that they keep improving the school security protocols and ensure the protocols are always being enforced.

It is important to remember that school security involves keeping every employee informed on how best to respond to all types of emergency situations including active shooters, medical emergencies, fires, tornadoes, flash floods, and motor vehicle accidents. Additionally, it is the job of everyone in a district to be diligent in identifying and immediately reporting potential hazards before any student, employee or other individual is put at risk of injury.

Preventing unauthorized access to school buildings is an important task that must be met with diligence and care, and there are many ways to tighten school access security without incurring large expenses. First and foremost, all doors to school buildings should remain shut and locked at all times. Too often school side-doors are propped open and left unattended to make loading and unloading materials easier, or students grant entrance to people without visitor badges. If a door must be held open in order to bring in materials, there should always be an employee standing by to ensure no one takes advantage of the open door to enter or exit the building undetected. Students should also be informed that rather than opening doors for people they are not familiar with, they should find an employee who can then escort the visitor to the office where they may sign in and receive a visitor badge. Visitor badges should not be kept out in the open where people can grab multiples, and they should also be marked with the date and time to ensure visitors are unable to use them multiple days without signing in again.

Access to maintenance rooms and roofs should also be prevented. Vandals have been known to crawl up gas lines and other items in order to gain access to roofs and maintenance sheds. Also, garages contain many hazardous materials and tools that only properly trained personnel should access. Districts should inspect the exterior of each building and restrict all access to roof tops. Maintenance areas should also remain locked at all times, and tools and machines should never be unattended on district grounds. Another way to ensure these areas are not in danger of causing a fire or injuring employees is to keep them organized. It is easy to allow storage and maintenance spaces to fall into disarray; in fact, all we need to consider is the ever popular junk drawer so many of us have in our homes. However, these areas can become fraught with hazards in a school setting. Machines that are never unplugged and are surrounded by clutter can become a significant fire hazard that are capable of spreading quickly to other areas of the school. Items stored improperly can fall and injure people, and a failure to follow appropriate lock-out/tag-out procedures can also quickly become a serious medical emergency. Storage spaces should always be well organized and located away from electrical service panels and exits. Proper tags should be placed on machines and breakers that are currently turned off to guarantee no one will turn them on while maintenance is being performed.

Preventing and removing school safety and security hazards, such as those mentioned above, are effective ways to keep your schools safe; however, staff must also be well versed in appropriate emergency response procedures. Performing emergency response drills is integral to ensuring your district is prepared to deal with emergencies. Districts should aim to ensure their drills address multiple types of emergency situations to help staff prepare to keep a level head in unexpected emergencies. Performing scenario-based drills can prepare employees to quickly answer questions that may come up and also allow them to become familiar with their environment and how best to work with it in emergency situations. For instance, how would a teacher deal with a lock down situation if their classroom door only locks from the hallway?  Do your employees know to grab first aid kits and communication systems in evacuation situations?  How should a bus driver respond if caught driving in a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch?  What’s the best way to respond to an emergency that occurs while on a field trip?  Working with first responders in these types of drills can help shed light on how best to prepare for the unexpected questions that may arise in the height of an emergency situation. Performing inspections on items like interior door locking mechanisms can also highlight areas in which a district can improve its emergency response procedures. The most important goal to achieve in all drills is to ensure all employees, regardless of whether they are teachers, substitutes, aides, maintenance workers, bus drivers, or students, are prepared to respond quickly and efficiently in all emergency situations.

Communications systems should also be reviewed by all districts  to ensure the systems will work efficiently during an emergency. Determine how your communications systems would be affected in the event of a power failure and confirm that district-wide communication is possible rather than simply within each building. Districts should also consider taking advantage of text messaging. Many emergency situations have shown us that text messaging has often been an effective way to communicate once phone lines become dead or jammed. Text message alert systems can also become an invaluable tool in alerting both district employees and parents of emergency situations or school cancellations. Employees district wide should have the ability to alert the appropriate people of emergency situations to ensure the safety of both themselves and the students.

The primary goal in all school settings is to create a learning environment that is both safe and productive. It does not take a huge amount of money or time to ensure the security of your school. Basic safety principles and well-informed and well-prepared staff are the best ways to preserve the safety of your students. 

The Loss Control Specialists at the Sandner Group – Claims Management are dedicated to helping you achieve the best educational environment possible and are always available to assist in improving your safety and emergency response protocols. Please do not hesitate to contact your Loss Control Specialist at one of the numbers listed on the right.