School Safety and Security: Is My Child Safe at School and What Can I Do to Help?

School Safety Graphic

With school now in session for most K-12th grades and colleges, parents must entrust the safety of their children into the hands of their teachers and school administrators. Once they have left home for college, walked out the door to make their own way to school, or are dropped off at their classroom door, a parent can be left feeling helpless.

I am a parent of four kids – with one that just started his first year in college, one starting middle school, and two others still in elementary school. As a mother, I cannot help but be concerned about their safety and well-being. These thoughts are compounded as a security professional because I am constantly assessing security risks and exploring the best options to mitigate potential threats. As a security systems integrator, our company designs physical and electronic security systems to provide the needed protection. So, I cannot help but think about how each of my kids’ schools should be designed and the security systems I wish they had.

Most of the schools built in the past 20 years have beautifully open campuses nestled into neighborhoods with several easily accessible ways onto campus and low fences separating them from neighbors and streets. They have multiple class buildings with rows of doors to the outside and numerous walkways between the buildings. These type of open environments are inviting for our children, but difficult to keep secure. Federal and state authorities and most security experts, recommend schools be built with a “single point of entry” to help keep outsiders away from classrooms and the children safe inside.

On top of the open design of schools, there is also the fact that very few schools have any type of electronic security system. No access control system to delay or deny unauthorized entry and no video surveillance cameras to deter, detect, or identify unwelcome perpetrators. While architectural changes are cost prohibitive, there are viable electronic security systems that can enhance the security of our schools. Yet, how do we motivate our school boards and administrators to pursue these options when so many schools are in relatively “safe” neighborhoods and viewed to have low threats. Combine that with limited budgets to cover our teachers, basic facility needs, supplies, and learning technologies. Now, what are we to do as parents? We are concerned about the safety of our children, but seem to have limited control over the situation.

Fret not! You can influence the security of your child or children at school! You just need to:

  • Know and Follow your School Procedures: Yes, this even means those annoying sign-in sheets, visitor stickers or passes, parking lot rules, and any related safety policies. By adhering to these guidelines, you help to make our school(s) a safer place to be.
  • Be Vigilant: Always be aware and keenly alert of who is accessing the school premises. During drop off, class visits, and pickups be observant of anyone acting suspicious or of other possible dangers. Educate your child to do the same. Kids know when something doesn’t seem right. You and/or your child should alert a member of the school staff if you have any concerns.
  • Pay Attention to Rumors and Social Media, but Do Not Overreact: Teach your child to never participate in jokes about potential violence. Ensure they take rumors of a possible threat serious enough to report it to you or a school official, but to not spread the information even further through social media. Let the school or police assess the threat and properly communicate if it is determined to be a viable threat. Overreacting beforehand can cause more anxiety and panic.

Rest assured though, our individual schools and school districts do have the best interest of the children in mind. It is just that the degree of protection chosen is usually based on the criticality and vulnerability. Obviously as a parent, we all view our children as a “critical asset”, but the vulnerability of their school environment is subjective. When creating security designs, it can be viewed as options with Good, Better, or Best solutions. Therefore, below are a few options our schools have to protect our children while they are in their care and the more you understand, the more you can help!

  • A “Good” solution for low vulnerabilities is for our schools to have appropriate policies, procedures, and training in place to promote a safe and secure school environment. This includes basic access control via directing people to a primary point of entrance and using a visitor sign-in log. School administrators should develop proactive measures with coordinated actions that support collective efforts with parents, local police, and other emergency response teams to strengthen the security of the school. There are countless articles on ways to address this. Two of my favorite can be found at:
    • http://www.schoolsecurity.org
    • http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/crisisplanning.html.
  • A “Better” solution to decrease vulnerability is to also incorporate Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies. This can be done with proper fencing, lighting, placement and trimming of bushes, and barriers. Clear signage for visitors, color coded location markings, icons or labels on paths and buildings to more easily guide emergency workers. Enhanced natural surveillance by staff, parents, students, security guards, or other volunteers. Improved line-of-sight to make it easier for teachers and staff to see a wider geographic area from one spot.
  • The “Best” solution is to incorporate an integrated district-wide electronic access control, intrusion detection, and video surveillance system. An integrated system approach provides a much safer environment because it first and foremost provides the four critical elements of security to deter, detect, delay, and deny intruders. It gives school administrators, district offices, and local police immediate access to more accurately assess and respond to emergency situations.  This option can even be combined with emergency call boxes at strategic locations and tracking technology to rapidly find staff or students who need help.

For more information on the “Better” or “Best” school security options, you can reach a security professional at Trofholz Technologies via security@trofholz.com.