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A Sandy Hook Initiative for Safer Schools

In my roles as a School Resource Officer and within several school safety organizations, I have the benefit of learning about many of the latest tools and technology in school safety. That said, I’m often asked for help sifting through all of them. My advice to those inquiring usually starts like this…

Don’t start shopping yet! Conduct a needs assessment to determine your safety and security priorities. Have a purpose and reason for spending money on tools and technology–if at all. And before making any changes or purchases, be sure that you have these basics of school safety and security covered: visitor management and security.

Visitor Management- When a visitor arrives at your school, do you really know who they are and why they are there? Many parents, visitors, and contractors are allowed access to schools by simply “signing in” at the front office or waving as they enter. With ever-increasing numbers of custody and court orders, as well as potential intruders and sex offenders to consider, busy front office staffs are increasingly utilizing visitor management systems and technologies to verify the identity and safety of visitors before allowing them entry. These systems allow staff to better screen visitors and verify identities with driver’s licenses and ID’s. Today, many schools are carefully re-examining their procedures and protocols surrounding visitor management and looking to tools like these to help.

Physical Security- In my last blog I posted some important questions about security to consider in your school. How do teachers secure classrooms? Do doors lock from the inside or require staff to open the door and lock it from the outside? Where do teachers keep keys during the school day?

Now I have another consideration for you: What if a staff member doesn’t have a key to the classroom for one reason or another?  Is there another way to secure the door? Having to fumble around with keys under stress can take extra time and focus in an emergency. Today, many schools are considering inexpensive devices and tools that can be permanently affixed to doors, enabling occupants to secure the room safely in seconds.  I am convinced that if the classrooms of Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech had been equipped this way, many lives may have been saved.

Three important considerations for tools like these are (1) rapid release capability for egress, (2) first responder accessibility in an emergency and (3) compliance with local fire and safety codes. Referring to your local fire and police departments when considering these tools is imperative.

Another important security consideration today is school windows. Glass windows and doors add sunlight and allow students and staff to see what’s going on outside. However, glass breaks easily, providing quick access to anyone able to break a window and step through it. In recent years, architects have begun reexamining school window design and products have been developed to strengthen existing school windows. Increasingly, schools are installing “films” and “laminates” that prevent window glass from shattering or breaking out, eliminating broken windows as a point of entry to the building.

Two important considerations here are (1) the inclusion of an anchoring system for any existing windows treated with these films and (2) that most of these films are designed to be “shatter-resistant,” not “bullet-proof.”

Other Products: With a national trend toward school safety and security, there are now tools and technologies for everything from social media monitoring of bullying and safety threats, to camera systems accessible by smart phone, to high wind and weather shelters for schools in areas prone to severe weather. Following a thoughtful safety assessment for your school, you will be able to determine if and where you might use some of this new technology.

Other Considerations: Be sure to look at several products of each type to find the best one for your needs; and know that many companies will offer competitive pricing to ensure that you get the right product for your needs. Do your homework on each product and know exactly what you want a particular tool or technology to do. This will help you ask the right questions and get the right tools.

Kevin Quinn currently serves as a School Resource Officer in Arizona, as well as Current President of the Arizona School Resource Officers Association (ASROA), and advisor to Safe and Sound. Kevin is the former president of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). Contact Kevin at kquinn@asroa.org  and @klah316 on Twitter.

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