School Security: Best Practices

How to mitigate shootings and other violent events on school grounds

In the wake of the heartbreaking shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, parents, school administrators, teachers and communities everywhere are left wondering how to keep our children safe when they are at school, and how to prevent future tragedies.

What are the answers to safer schools? Government and community leaders are looking at options that include armed guards and teachers, stronger gun control, regulation of the video game industry and identifying better mental health initiatives, among others.

In January, President Obama took action and put gun control on the national agenda when he issued his Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions. Unfortunately, even with this increased spotlight and presidential executive orders, there is no simple or foolproof way to protect schools from violence.

While there’s no way to predict or prevent school massacres, experts do agree there are best practices that schools can adopt to be more aware and prepared when these incidents occur. These protective measures can include procedures, personnel and equipment designed to mitigate the effects of an attack.

Fortunately for cash- and resource-strapped schools, the issuance of the president’s Jan. 16 Gun Violence Executive Actions will help facilitate and fund security programs for schools nationwide. For the full list of President Obama’s executive orders, go to

Here’s an outline of best practices to mitigate shootings and other violent events on school grounds:


Planning and Training

School shootings are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Preparedness is critical in any school incident, whether an active shooter, a bomb threat or other terrorist activity. Typically, it takes 10 to 15 minutes before law enforcement arrives on scene to stop the shooter and mitigate harm to victims. This means everyone on campus must be prepared mentally and physically to deal with such situations.

Preparation: While 84 percent of schools had a written response plan for a shooting in 2010, only 52 percent had drilled their students in the past year, according to the White House. This spring, a set of model plans will be made available, and $30 million in grants is proposed to help districts develop their own plans.

Here are some ways schools and students can be more prepared:

Develop model emergency response plans – this is one of President Obama’s Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions required for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

Hire a security director or appoint an employee who will be responsible for creating and implementing these emergency response plans, and coordinating all security activities for the school.

Establish a command and control center to mobilize, deploy and report information regularly to local law enforcement and emergency responders.

Designate individuals familiar with the campus to serve as liaisons with responding emergency personnel.

Provide floor plans and schematics to emergency personnel beforehand, or have them available digitally for quick access when an emergency occurs.

Post evacuation routes in conspicuous locations throughout a facility and ensure the facility has at least two main evacuation routes.

Create and assemble crisis kits containing radios, floor plans, keys, staff roster and staff emergency contact numbers, first aid kits and flashlights. Distribute them to appropriate staff and employees.

Place removable floor plans near entrances and exits for emergency responders.

Conduct security audits on a regular and continuing basis.

Training: There is no better way to prepare for emergencies than training and education. Knowing what to do can save lives and reduce injury of staff and students. One of President Obama’s recent executive orders was to “provide law enforcement, first responders and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.” This should help raise awareness and funding for school emergency training and response programs. Education training practices that should be followed include:

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