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When I sat down to talk with John McDonald, a nationally-recognized school security expert, I knew I had to share some of his thoughts and lessons with you. So I recorded our conversation and edited down some key points for you. This is the first conversation in a series we’re calling “The Sound Off.” More on that later this year…

Back to John. This man is quite simply, incredible.

Even though John joined Jefferson County after the Columbine shooting, he has endured three horrendous experiences… things we hope nobody else has to go through… one abduction and two shootings. Suffice it to say, we can all learn from John. He has so much experience, working for 10-plus years in his community, honing communications, processes, and overall security. He knows what works, and what doesn’t.

Sure, John’s commitment to his school community is impressive. But his accomplishments highlight the importance of having someone dedicated to school safety. From the assessments, training, and ongoing discussions he drives, John is involving the whole community and changing perceptions about school safety.

We all thank you, John, for all you do to keep these school communities safe. You are a beacon of strength, a foundation of hope, and thread of connection helping to keep your community strong.


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

By Kevin Quinn

There has been much talk about school safety and active shooters. One solution discussed at great lengths is arming school staff to deter and respond to an active shooter. Some people say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. I wish it were that easy, but there are several considerations to take when the topic of arming school staff members arises. For today’s blog, I will discuss two primary issues, identification and training. In Part 2 of this blog post, I will cover the remaining issues.

Identification

schoolsecurity-6c52aaecAs a police officer, I wear a uniform that identifies me to other officers and the public. Even if responders can’t see my face, they know I am not the suspect and can react accordingly when locating the threat. Unfortunately, teachers do not dress any differently than regular civilians and do not stand out in a crowd at a school – especially high schools and colleges where the students are older than elementary school students.

Furthermore, when officers arrive at the scene of an active shooter, our first goal is to end the violence. As we attempt to locate the suspect, we look for someone with a weapon. Imagine we come across Mr. Jones, the math teacher, in the hallway with his gun drawn. Chances are, Mr. Jones will be detained until his identity can be confirmed. That is, of course, if Mr. Jones doesn’t react in a way the officers deem a threat. In that case, there is a possibility of injury. But here’s another alarming variable –time – precious time that officers should be spending locating and apprehending the suspect.

Training

How much training will the armed staff members receive when the program is put into place? How much on-going annual training will they receive? How many hours will a staff member train before being allowed to carry a gun in schools? Depending on the location in the country, I have heard everything from eight to 24 hours of firearms training. It is important to realize that being able to shoot holes in paper does NOT mean you are ready for a potential deadly-force encounter. That readiness comes with intensive force-on-force training, decision-making scenarios, and high-stress combat shooting.

As you can see, identification and training alone raise several questions we need to consider before deciding to arm our school staff members. Look for Part 2 of the blog post, later this week.

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Kevin Quinn is a 20-year veteran police officer and SRO in Arizona and the former President of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He is the current President of the Arizona School Resource Officers Association as well as an advisor to several school safety organizations. He can be reached on Twitter @klah316 or email kquinn@asroa.org.

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January, February, and March have come and gone with Safe and Sound Schools bringing its message to new communities and new social media channels.

This year’s first quarter started with the culmination of the Shine A Light for Safer Schools campaign, the holiday fundraiser we launched last November. Safe and Sound Schools raised over $3,500 through online and mail donations, some of which has already been used to update our free online materials and website.

By mid January, Safe and Sound Schools turned its focus to onboarding new students from PRLab, Boston University’s student-run public relations agency. This is Safe and Sound Schools’ fourth time working with PRLab students who help the organization meet its outreach initiatives.  We are lucky to have such great talent from BU to support our growing organization!

In the months of February and March, Safe and Sound team members travelled to several communities across the country. Michele travelled across the state of Tennessee, presenting to full houses of school administrators, educators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement in Knoxville, Murfreesboro, and Jackson, Tennessee. She then made her way to the Midwest to present to an audience of over 150 at the 2016 Tuscarawas County School Safety Summit in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Michele concluded her February travels in Baltimore, Maryland. Joined by her husband, Bob Gay, Michele accepted a $20,000 endowment award from the BFG Community Foundation, an organization dedicated to affecting positive change in local communities by supporting charitable organizations.

In early March, Frank DeAngelis, Safe and Sound speaker & former principal of Columbine High School and Paul Timm, Safe and Sound advisor & author of School Security:  How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, presented at the Axis School Safety Symposium in Syracuse, NY.  On the same day, Michele traveled back to the South, to Decatur, Alabama, where she presented to a room of approximately 400 administrators, educators, law enforcement, and mental health professionals at the 14th Annual Alabama Child Safety Conference.

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By mid March, Safe and Sound Schools launched it’s new website, complete with new additions, including a Press Room, Speaker’s Bureau, and an improved user-friendly interface.  We’ll continue to add to the site this year.

March also found us busy in Massachusetts, with Michele attending the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officers Association conference and working with three local school districts, to support the unique efforts of each community to improve school safety.  We are excited to see our collaborative model take hold close to home and across the country!

Communications efforts continued with Safe and Sound Schools using social media platforms to celebrate social work month, highlighting and celebrating the contributions and positive impact social workers have on school safety and children. We concluded March and social work month with featured guest blogger & Safe and Sound Schools advisor, Shari Nacson, a Cleveland-based clinical social worker specializing in child development.

To keep up with Safe and Sound Schools daily, connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and now, Instagram. Stay tuned for more about our spring travels and additions to our new speaker’s bureau in the next quarter.

 

 

 

 

 

Donation to fund school safety programs in Maryland

Baltimore, Md. – February 29, 2016 – BFG Community Foundation, Inc., during their 2016 Champion in Life Gala, bestowed a $20,000 endowment award to Safe and Sound Schools in recognition of its ongoing efforts to educate communities about proactive school safety measures.

With this endowment award, Safe and Sound Schools will establish a School Safety Series exclusively for Maryland school districts. During this education initiative, Safe and Sound will be able to impart important lessons about better planning, management and recovery strategies to improve a community’s resiliency during a school-based emergency.

“The Safe and Sound Schools team has courageously shared the lessons learned from the tragic Newtown shooting and created a growing movement focused on improving school safety,” said Michael O. Brooks, Chairman and CEO of BFG Community Foundation. “Bringing this wisdom and expertise to Maryland schools will help create a stronger, safer learning environment for our students and their educators and families.”

Safe and Sound Schools will unveil specific plans for the School Safety Series over the coming months, but aims to reach a minimum of five districts and 500 educators, with the power to impact thousands of Maryland students.

“Support from philanthropic leaders like the BFG Community Foundation will have a lasting impact on schools by making is possible for us to bring vital assessments, tools and resources to local communities,” said Michele Gay, executive director and co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools. “I am so grateful for BFG Community Foundation’s endowment award, not only for the impact it will have on Maryland communities, but for the organization’s commitment to improving school safety.”

For more information about Safe and Sound Schools, including free assessment tools, tool kits and resources, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

About Safe and Sound Schools

Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization founded by Sandy Hook parents who lost their children during the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Winner of the 2015 SBANE New England Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools is dedicated to empowering communities to improve school safety through discussion, collaboration, planning, and sharing of information, tools, and resources. To get involved, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

 

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Tomorrow it will be three years since our daughters’ deaths at Sandy Hook School. Three years since Emilie, Joey, eighteen of their classmates, and six of their teachers, were killed. Three years since our lives, and countless others, were forever changed.

An intruder shot out a window beside the front door of our school; and stepped through, intent on destroying us all. In many ways, he succeeded.

Yet, here we stand—with so many others beside us. Family, friends, community members, survivors and families who also lost loved ones that day. We have been joined by others—across the country and throughout the world—in support of one another and in search of a better way.

We lost our daughters that day. Yet, somehow, we continue to find them every day—in the memories our families share, in the healing relationships we’ve formed, and in our mission to empower a nation of safer school communities. Our children light the way.

What started as a small group, gathered around the Parker family’s kitchen table, has grown into a national network of stakeholders: school communities and organizations, parents, students, educators, and professionals in the fields of mental health, law enforcement, safety, security, and fire safety—all working together to make schools safer. Our practical tools, resources, and programs are making their way to school communities across the country, guiding administrators, educators and parents as they rethink school safety.

Our children are making a difference.

We look with pride upon the work they have inspired at Safe & Sound Schools. We look forward to sharing much more in the New Year.

We remember our children today, tomorrow, and every day—as we work in their honor for a nation of safer schools. They continue to guide us, teach us, and inspire us. We are grateful that they are loved, honored, and remembered by so many.

Thank you for opening your hearts to our families and our mission—and for your continued thoughts and prayers. Together, we can light the way.

Alissa and Michele

Alissa Parker, Co-Founder & Director, Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative
Michele Gay, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost three years have passed since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Since then, as a country, we’ve witnessed dozens more school shootings and continuing incidences of bullying, violence, and even natural disaster. Although the Sandy Hook Tragedy caused many schools to reassess their safety and preparedness, these continuing incidents remind us that school safety needs to remain at the forefront –for both K-12 and college campuses.

This fall, we gathered local and national school safety stakeholders with the goal of better preparing schools and students for safety and beyond. We held a panel discussion at Boston University –“From Tragedy to a Safer Tomorrow.” Panelists included our Executive Director and Co-founder, Michele Gay, mother of Josephine, Scott Pare of Boston University Police Department, Virginia Tech survivor Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers and Andre Ravenelle, Superintendent of Fitchburg Public Schools and President of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Click here to view the event video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttk_lNUH2V8&feature=youtu.be

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Thanks to an engaged audience, asking questions at the mic and on Twitter using the hashtag #ASaferTomorrow, the discussion covered a range of topics. One of the topics of interests for many students in attendance was social media. We examined both the dangers and values of social media in in the school community. In times of crisis, social media has the advantage of getting information out instantaneously, but it can also be a cause for concern, as miscommunication and sensationalism can quickly lead to confusion, panic, and inaccurate information.

Scott Pare and his team at Boston University Police Department have had great success using social media to monitor potential violent threats. “We have software [to help us] monitor that information and stay current,” said Scott. While prevention is a huge component of school safety, the panel reminded our audience that having a plan in place to help staff address and respond to potential threats is essential. Likewise, it is critical to ensure that parents and community members receive accurate and timely information when a crisis occurs.

Mo Canady discussed the importance of School Resource Officers (SROs) and how they are becoming more common and valued in K-12 schools, particularly elementary schools. SROs are trained to build relationships with students and are more likely to control and calm a crisis situation. “The issue of deterrence cannot be overlooked,” said Mo. “There have been very, very few school shootings that have happened when an SRO is present.”

The issue of mental health and combating stigma attached with psychological counseling was also brought up during the discussion thanks to a question from an audience member. The panel of experts stressed that the need for mental health professionals at schools is just as important as increasing the presence and participation of SROs and other first responders.

With the evening coming to an end, our panel closed the discussion reminding all that as community members, each of us has a responsibility to ask difficult questions, keep the conversation alive, get involved, and realize that we all play a role toward a safer tomorrow.

Photo from Campus Safety Magazine reporter, Zach Winn 

 

 

Blog - Begging the question - Optional 3

The Edvocate recently posted an article, School Security: Just Smoke and Mirrors?, that begs the question, “Does school security really increase safety?”

As the mother of a child killed at Sandy Hook, and a national school safety advocate, I believe that whether it does or not, depends upon a few more considerations.

Hardware, technology, and programs alone cannot improve safety and security.

It’s more than installing cameras and door locks. These pieces of hardware and technology are examples of valuable security tools available today. Security is actually a practice that requires not only tools, but education, plans, procedures and human involvement. As school security consultant Paul Timm, PSP teaches, “…products and systems play a complementary role to the real star of the show: people driven-solutions.” (School Security, How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, 2015)

A locked front door combined with a buzz-in system can greatly restrict public access to vulnerable school occupants. But tools like this require a trained staff member on the other end to ensure that the door is securely locked, and to require identification and clearance of a visitor before granting access.

Just the same, cameras can serve as deterrents for negative behavior and even criminal activity in some communities, as Nancy La Vigne and her team found in a study with the Urban Institute. For many would-be perpetrators, a camera signals the risk of being caught or detected, either in the act, or in preparation; and it’s enough to change their behavior. In a recent article in Scientific American, Sander ban der Linden chronicles several scientific studies on the positive affect of merely perceived surveillance upon human behavior.

But cameras are undoubtedly more powerful with human involvement. A trained staff member to ensure the working order of cameras, monitor the live feed (or at least review it periodically), and report or address harmful or suspicious activity, can turn a camera into a tool of prevention rather than one of forensics.Blog-MicheleQuote-Option2

Programs, Staff Development, and Curricula can make all the difference.

Beyond hardware and technology are a wealth of tools in the form of safety programming, training, guidance and curricula. These tools support school safety and security through developing a mindset for safety and preparedness in the school community.

Just as hardware and tools require support to be effective, so do programs and curricula. The best reporting and threat assessment protocols cannot address harmful actions or circumstances without adults trained to monitor, respond, and provide intervention. Just like the best anti-bullying, social emotional learning, and emergency preparedness curricula carry little weight without support and reinforcement in the school community.

Below are a several school safety programs and curricula to explore.

School Safety Resources

For truly safer schools, we have to ask tough questions like the ones The Edvocate poses in order to find a way to work together toward thoughtful answers and use the tools available to us wisely. Otherwise, school security and safety really is just smoke, mirrors, and very expensive window dressing.

To view the chart above with hyperlinks to each resource click  this link: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/7223104-school-safety-resources. For more information and resources on school safety and security, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

Michele Gay, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools

 

 

 

 

 

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The following is part of an interview conducted by high school student “Melanie” with Co-Founder and Executive Director, Michele Gay.  We’ll post subsequent questions and answers from the interview as part of our continuing School Safety Q & A Blog Series.  We are very proud of Melanie’s contribution to the national school safety conversation!

Melanie: On your [Safe and Sound] website, there are many ideas that can be implemented [in] schools to make them safer. What are your opinions on the [use] of bulletproof glass? Is this affordable for schools?

Michele:  The idea of protecting and reinforcing glass has been recommended by school safety experts for quite a while.  This simple measure can deter, delay, or completely prevent unauthorized entrance to school buildings through glass windows and doors. It’s in use today in banks, government buildings, and stores.

What’s most commonly used to protect glass windows and doors today is not “bullet proof glass” though. It’s something called “ballistic film” or “glazing,” an application to existing windows that’s designed to prevent shattering and reinforce integrity. Bullets or other small projectiles can still pass through treated windows; however, the glass can better withstand impact. The treated window is no longer an easy entry point, and broken glass pieces cannot become dangerous projectiles (as they might in an impact, explosion, or high wind event). Windows can be manufactured with this technology at the factory level now too, allowing schools to install already reinforced windows during building construction.

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The cost of installing protective film, and the necessary anchoring system (to keep the glass attached to the window frame upon impact) runs an average of $15-25 per square foot. Not cheap–but not out of reach for most school communities willing to budget, fundraise, or work for bonds and grants. Many communities across the country are “phasing in” their installation, with focus on high priority areas first.  In addition to costs, proper installation of the film requires consideration of time and environmental factors too, so schools must plan ahead and do their homework for this project!

Another option for protecting glass windows and doors is something called a ballistic shield. Ballistic shields are aluminum, plates installed over glass to prevent access.  Although not “bullet proof,” these shields can withstand gunfire and impact,  preventing access and protecting from danger outside.  The shields are not transparent, like ballistic film, but may provide a more affordable and immediately available solution for schools.  According to Rob Couturier, who manufactures and installs ballistic shields, the shields cost $48-142 per window or door, and can be installed a day or less. Rob’s company customizes the plates with school names and logos “to make them part of the school” and provide openings for visual surveillance from inside the building.

As always, it is critically important for schools to include local police and fire officials when considering any safety enhancements.  Approaching school safety decisions as a team, represented by many stakeholders and perspectives, can build strong community support and engagement in school safety.

-Michele Gay, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools

In the years since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012, many have been working to improve school safety. School communities across the country are reexamining measures, plans, and procedures in place to better prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. As part of these efforts, schools nationwide are looking for tools that help.

Many are looking to the growing number of apps and software technologies now available to assist school emergency preparedness. It is not surprising that this trend has emerged, with smart phone sales exceeding 1.2 billion units in 2014 according to GFK. Companies like CrisisGo, Guardly Corp., Guard911, Punch Alert Technologies, Elerts, Livesafe, and NaviGate PreparedTM, among others, have developed software that school communities can use to better prepare for and communicate during emergencies.

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The technology integrated in these tools is not only supportive of the school community during a crisis, but also to first response teams. With interactive maps and floor plans available in many programs, first responders can quickly locate entry points and reduce the time it takes to respond to an emergency. As well, school communities can train staff and conduct drills using app technology. First responders can use apps to readily access emergency information, practice and refine procedures with students and staff, and reunify a school community following practice or true emergency.

Many school districts have started to use app technology for emergency preparedness and practice. Lake Forest Schools in Illinois is implementing an app to serve as a panic button for classroom teachers. Davies County Schools in Indiana now uses an app to alert first responders of emergencies, and may expand their app use to communicate internally as well. Royalton Schools in Minnesota is using an app to replace its 40-page crisis management plan.

One concern some community members have expressed with the new technology is protecting private and critical information like student attendance and schedules. In counties like Lake Forest, school board members have decided that the privacy risk is worth the security trade off. Several app companies now offer government level security protection of critical information with their technology.

As exciting as these innovations are, it is important to consider that tools and technology are only part of a comprehensive approach to school safety.  Successful school safety requires education, training, innovation, and collaboration to keep students and staff safe!

 

 

 

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.