“What do we do?” “How do we prioritize?” “Where do we start?” These are the three most common questions we get from schools when it comes to making their campuses safe and secure. While school safety and security is a complex issue, formulating a plan doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to get started with your comprehensive school safety and security plan in just four steps.
School Safety and Security Plan Step 1: Assemble a Team
The first step to formulating your school security plan is to assemble a planning team. This process should ideally be led by an experienced security director. In the event your school district does not have a full-time staff member in this position, utilize the staff member whose primary responsibility is safety and security.
The Security Planning Team should comprise, at minimum, the following key stakeholders to the K-12 environment:
#1 security director;
#2 school administrator;
#3 security/systems integrator (or consultant);
#4 IT director;
#5 local police and fire officials; and
#6 a school-based health care professional.
For larger or more complex projects, it’s also best to have a hardware consultant involved in the process.
School Safety and Security Plan Step 2: Do a Risk Assessment
The second step to formulating your school safety and security plan is to perform a risk assessment. To understand the importance of this step, let’s talk about risk.
What Is Risk?
In everyday conversation, threat, vulnerability, and risk are often used interchangeably. However, there are important distinctions between these terms:
- A threat is what you are trying to protect people and property against.
- A vulnerability is a gap in those protection efforts.
- A risk results where and when threats and vulnerabilities intersect.
In the commercial sector, protecting a facility and its occupants is viewed not as a reactive law enforcement function, but as a proactive safety and security function. Like any organization inviting people onto its property, schools have an obligation to provide a reasonable level of safety and security to their patrons.
How Do I Conduct a Risk Assessment?
A risk assessment is considered a prerequisite towards developing a comprehensive safety and security plan because it will inform the decisions you make. Most school buildings across a district have unique risk profiles, so a risk assessment should be completed for each building.
Risk assessments can cover a wide range of issues, including (but not limited to) theft, sexual assault, kidnapping, active shooter attacks, suicide, gang activity, trespassing, bullying, vandalism, unsupervised visitors, and cybersecurity.
There are many free assessments available that can provide a useful starting point for formulating a safety and security plan, especially when resources are limited. There are several organizations that perform risk assessments, including:
- State school safety centers;
- The Protective Security Advisor Program through the Department of Homeland Security;
- Local police and fire officials (depending on the capacity of each jurisdiction);
- Security design consultants; or
- Local subject matter experts assembled by the school district.
Risk assessment and mitigation can never eliminate risk; however, risks can be identified, measured, and mitigated. The PASS Guidelines can be used to develop recommendations based on this process and formulate a plan to put them into action.
School Safety and Security Plan Step 3: Do a Building Assessment by Layer
Building assessments take an inventory of the existing conditions on campus while documenting potential gaps in a school’s protection efforts. There are five layers that should be reviewed during a building assessment: district-wide, property, parking lot, building, and classroom/interior. The district-wide layer only needs to be completed once, as the proven practices (described in the PASS Guidelines) are designed to be implemented across the entire district. The other four layers should be completed for each building in the district. Here are some things to take into consideration when assessing these layers:
The physical security of a school facility begins at the property perimeter, where the most outwardly visible security deterrents to an external threat can be implemented. The property perimeter layer begins at the school property boundary and extends to the parking lot. This area includes playgrounds, sporting fields, and other facilities that are often used by the public after school business hours end. The boundary should be clear to the public and provide visible notice of the rules and responsibilities for individuals entering school property.
Parking Lot Perimeter
Parking lots are highly trafficked areas on any school campus and, as such, are the areas where schools often experience the most safety issues. Staff, students, and visitors are constantly operating vehicles, or arriving and departing by bus or other means. Falls, car accidents, dangerous driving, theft, vandalism, and assault are just some of the events that can take place in these areas. Just like the property perimeter layer, the parking lot perimeter should always be clearly defined.
The building perimeter begins with school grounds adjacent to the exterior structure of a building and consists of the perimeter of a building itself, including the exterior doors and windows of a school. Securing a building perimeter can range from simple to complex, especially for middle schools or high schools with multiple buildings or open campuses. Key safety and security functions take place within this layer, as it encompasses all areas where people enter and exit a school building.
The classroom/interior perimeter layer consists of a school’s entire interior, including not only classrooms but also gymnasiums, cafeterias, media centers, etc. This is both the last layer of defense against external threats and, often, the first protection against internal threats to student, staff, and visitor safety.
School Safety and Security Plan Step 4: Establish Documents and Budgets
Based on your findings from steps 1–3, the final step to formulating your school safety and security plan is to put it in writing and establish a budget. Security components and proven practices found in the PASS Guidelines can be used to assemble a detailed document of the building and/or district plan. Budgets can be established using an estimated cost range for each proven practice.
Check Out the PASS Safety and Security Checklist
Securing schools requires a risk mitigation mindset. PASS has done the industry research for you and compiled our proven practice recommendations into a comprehensive set of guidelines, available on our website at no cost. You can also check out our PASS Safety and Security Checklist, which allows you to assess your school or district’s safety and security efforts compared to nationwide best practices. The PASS Guidelines provide the complete narrative surrounding each of the best practices found in the checklist.
The Door Security and Safety Foundation promotes secure and safe openings that enhance life safety through outreach efforts that include awareness and education within the building design, code authority, and facility management communities.
The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) bringing together expertise from the education, public safety, and industry communities to develop and support a coordinated approach to making effective and appropriate decisions with respect to safety and security investments. You can download the complete PASS Guidelines on our website, or check out our PASS Safety and Security Checklist for quick tips on how to get started. These resources — as well as whitepapers on various topics including barricade devices, lockdown drills, and more — are available at no cost.
Ready to get the Guidelines?
The most comprehensive information available on best practices specifically for securing school facilities, vetted extensively by experts across the education, public safety and industry sectors.