You would think K-12 public schools are a world apart from large college campuses when it comes to protecting students, faculty and assets. But upon closer inspection, there are probably more similarities than you think.
Both elementary and secondary school officials are asked to do more with less regarding their security budgets not unlike their university counterparts. K-12 and college campuses are usually open environments that must have an integrated working relationship between security and administrative staff and local law enforcement. Plus, when it comes to emergency management on campus, there must be a proactive plan and a visible policy.
I talked to nationally recognized school security consultant Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland and Ronald Self, Director of Safety and Security for the Little Rock, Arkansas School District to get a better perspective on some of these issues.
Trump admits that while budgets may fluctuate, there is no substitute for a trained staff and campus cooperative when it comes to security and emergency management.
“We have rollercoaster funding for school safety from the state and federal levels down to local school districts. We see upticks in funding for security, typically corresponding to high profile incidents that create parental and community anxiety. But a truly comprehensive approach to school security and preparedness recognizes that school safety is a people issue,” says Trump, “The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly-alert staff and student body. Products can supplement, but not supplant, a school district's investment in its people with training, planning with public safety community partners, and reasonable drills and exercises”
Self says that when it comes to schools and budget, doing more with less is not only a mantra, but a mandatory fact of life. He stresses that there is no substitute for researching your solutions and investing in quality when you finally pull the spending trigger.
“There are a lot of companies out there trying to sell you the next biggest and greatest thing. Weeding through those to find the one that actually fits your needs is the largest part of the battle. You may be able to purchase something cheaper now but spend more in the long run.” Self says.
He adds that you should do most of the research and ground work in house by seeking out qualified resources that may not be in your comfort zone. “Security and technology work hand in hand so become close with your IT department, as they may have resources that you don’t. Schools have typically in the past used the mindset of if there is a problem, let’s add to our staff. More often than not this is not the answer. It may require a little work to find out the actual root of the problem but in the long run you will save time and money,” Self admits.
When it comes to that technology investment, how do you work with the campus administrators, law enforcement and security personnel to ensure an integrated and cost-effective technology approach to access control, video surveillance and emergency communications?
“In our work with preK-12 schools, we know that each school-community is unique, each school district is unique, and each school within every school district is unique. There are common themes and best practices that come into play across school districts, but every district and each school must be assessed on an individual basis to determine what is currently in place that works well, what concerns and issues exist at that time, and what reasonable risk reduction and preparedness measures can be strengthened to build upon the existing people and product approaches are in place,” Trump says. “In our school security and emergency preparedness assessments, we take a multi-faceted evaluation approach to assess what is on paper, what school leaders believe is in practice, and what really is in practice at each building level.”
For Self, a successful outcome doesn’t happen without all parties being on the same page.
“Communication is key. If there is no open communication across these departments then you are wasting your time. Often times this can be a juggling act as each of these departments have different ways of accomplishing the same goal,” he says. “While this can be difficult to accomplish, it also opens your eyes to see things in a different light. We regularly meet with administrators, and law enforcement to ensure that their needs are being met. When operating in a multi-site environment it is important to consult those at each location. They may see something that you don’t, since they are on the property all day every day. Always be willing to listen to the other side and keep an open mind.”