Posts

Untitled design

On December 14, 2012, I had two children in Newtown schools. My daughter, Charlotte, was one of the 20 children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary and my oldest son, Guy, was in 5th grade at Reed Intermediate School. Three weeks after the shooting, Guy returned to school on January 3rd, and was introduced to the therapy dogs that had already been visiting the school in the previous weeks. In the immediate days following the tragedy, dogs around the country were deployed to Sandy Hook and Newtown and were received openly and with gratitude by the community. The Newtown school district noticed the positive reaction to the dogs and deployed therapy dog teams to many of it’s schools. The intent was to comfort the students and the staff, but the dogs also added a layer of security that one may not anticipate or notice.

The security I speak of is not the type that protects one’s physical safety. I am speaking of the emotional security they can provide. For my son, returning to school was distressing. He felt exposed, vulnerable, and had exit plans for threatening scenarios. Throughout the next months he would spend a great deal of time with the therapy dogs. These dogs gave a great deal more than just love and comfort. The idea that the single job of a therapy dog is to make people “feel better” is a big misconception. No dog was going to make him ”feel better” after his sister just died, but what they did provide was an opportunity to allow my son to feel safe, understood, and loved. With them, he could be vulnerable and let his guard down. He did not have to pretend that he was OK. When in their presence, Guy felt safe enough to feel what he was feeling. The added bonus is that he also believed he was physically safer with a dog nearby and viewed them as protectors.

The impact therapy dogs had on my son was profound. Last September as we approached the third anniversary since Charlotte died at Sandy Hook, Guy became a published author at the age of 13. His book, The Dogs of Newtown, features many of therapy dogs that visited his school and gives tribute to their work. Therapy dogs did not fix Guy, nor cure him of grief for his sister. Nothing can fix something like this, but he has demonstrated how an individual can grow from profound adversity with the right support and love. I am incredibly proud of my son. His experience, along with Charlotte’s love for dogs, inspired my husband and I to create the program Charlotte’s Litter which advocates and supports therapy dogs in educational settings. It is our hope that schools will recognize that therapy dogs can help students feel emotionally safe and supported and aid to developing well rounded students.

– JoAnn Bacon

____________________________________________________________________________

JoAnn Bacon is mother to Guy and Charlotte Bacon. JoAnn and her husband, Joel, founded the Charlotte’s Litter Therapy Dog Program in memory of their daughter Charlotte. The Bacon family advocates for the use of therapy dogs in education. For more information about their work and books please visit: www.charlotteslitter.org and www.gooddogsgreatlisteners.com

unnamed

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a crisis occurs in the school or anywhere in public, it can be a very daunting experience for anyone, especially if they are not prepared. But, imagine what it would be like for a student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD have a difficult time responding to changes or interruptions in their schedules. They not only need structure, repetitiveness and consistent schedules, but they also must have access to the resources and tools to keep them safe.

At The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation, our mission is to help families live life to the fullest. Through our programs and partnerships, people can access the services they need to lead active lifestyles and build their adult independence. Safety and preparation for a crisis situation is crucial for families to consider. This is why it is part of our core mission.

To give parents peace of mind, or at least help them prepare in case of an emergency, we have supported several safety initiatives including ALEC and SafetyNet Tracking Systems. Through Joey’s Fund, we have funded multiple fences for families who are concerned about the safety of their child but cannot afford to pay for one.

ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition) is a first responder training program that provides an in-depth understanding of ASD to public safety and law enforcement personnel. We have supported ALEC’s Community Days in the Boston area to spread awareness about this safety program. ALEC’s Community Days allows individuals with ASD and their families to meet and interact with police, firemen and EMS in a non-emergency situation in their community. More information can be found through the Arc of South Norfolk at http://www.arcsouthnorfolk.org/alec-first-responder-training.html

For over five years, we have also partnered with SafetyNet Tracking Systems (formerly LoJack SafetyNet) to provide children with autism GPS tracking bracelets through the Flutie Foundation’s Safe & Secure Program. This service enables public safety agencies to effectively search for and rescue individuals with autism who wander and go missing. SafetyNet not only provides the equipment for local law enforcement but offers a comprehensive training program to first responders. The program allows first responders to become familiar with the communication challenges an individual with autism may have and can adapt their search to rescue and return the individual home safely.

Another great resource to consider is Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety developed by Organization for Autism Research. It is a comprehensive guide for parents on safety issues and strategies to consider. It includes an Appendix for School Safety and Crisis Planning. You can download the guide for free at:   http://www.researchautism.org/resources/reading/index.asp#AGuideToSafety

Although we cannot prevent every tragedy or prepare for all crisis situations, we can better protect this at-risk population by educating ourselves and taking advantage of the growing number of safety resources that are available for individuals with autism.

Lisa Borges is the Executive Director of The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Additional Resources

The National Autism Association has a lot of great resources and safety products for parents as well as a Safety Teacher Toolkit for educators in need of wandering prevention tools.

The Autism FYI Organization– their mission is to promote a safe environment for the increasing ASD population in their existing communities and is in the process of establishing a national registry for safety.

Autism SpeaksAutism Safety Project

 

 

shutterstock_720305-2

Guest Blogger, Michael Dorn, Safe Havens International

Having worked in the campus safety field shutterstock_157774967for nearly thirty five years, I have never seen as much time, energy and money devoted to school safety as I have since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Formal evaluations of more than 6,000 K12 schools indicate that the results of all of this effort are mixed. In comparing the more than 1,000 K12 schools we have assessed since that attack, to the 5,000 schools our analysts assessed prior, the consensus of our 52 analysts is that while we have seen many improvements, we have also seen many well-intended but harmful efforts that actually increase danger.

For example, there is currently litigation against public safety officials in Iowa because a school employee alleges that serious injury occurred while practicing how to attack a gunman. The plaintiff’s school district insurance carrier has already paid on the original injury claim and anticipates that it will have to pay more than one million dollars in additional worker’s compensation claims from other employees who were injured during similar training sessions. To make matters worse, graduates of this training program have tested worse when asked to respond to dynamic school crisis video scenarios than school employees who have received no active shooter training at all. While education and training for school based emergencies continues to evolve and increase in demand, it is imperative that any such program is carefully vetted and proven before implementation in the school community.

In other instances, school officials have purchased school security hardware and technology solutions with unexpected negative outcomes. For example, a number of schools have purchased emergency classroom locking systems only to learn that they are unsafe and are prohibited by state fire codes. One of our clients almost spent several million dollars to equip every classroom in more than 100 schools with one such device before learning that its installation would result in a fire code violation. It is important that any modifications to the building be considered and reviewed by police and fire officials.

Fortunately, there have also been many success stories. Our analysts have seen numerous examples where school and public safety officials have dramatically improved their school safety, security and emergency preparedness measures. How have these communities been effective in avoiding pitfalls?

shutterstock_110625482shutterstock_110625482shutterstock_157774967

The primary factor we have observed involves a formal, thorough and thoughtful all-hazards assessment process. This approach can help schools avoid the often highly emotive thinking that has resulted in the ineffective strategies that we have seen. Taking the time to conduct a proper annual all-hazards safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessment can not only help to save time and money, but can save lives as well.

The Author of 27 books on school safety, Michael Dorn’s school safety work has taken him to Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Michael serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. Michael welcomes reader feedback at www.safehavensinternational.org

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.

Safety and Security. These two words get tossed around and together all the time. They are often used interchangeably. They are, of course, strongly related, but two distinct concepts nonetheless.

In terms of our school communities, “safety” is a global term, used to describe our efforts to keep the school community and environment safe. Safety is an “umbrella term” for the many types of issues and/or crises a school community addresses in order to ensure the overall wellness of its members.

Examples of such issues are health, mental wellness, school climate, fire safety, weather safety, building security, dangerous persons, bullying, environmental disaster, crime in the community, and bus and traffic safety. The number and type of each issue a school community addresses is highly specific to the community. Factors such as location, student population, culture, geographic location, and proximity to potential dangers are completely unique to each school.

While many schools are focusing intently on building security because of recent events like our tragedy, it is critically important that school communities examine the entire “Safety Umbrella” of their school in order to provide a truly comprehensive plan for school safety. Security may be the most lacking of all aspects of safety in our schools today and as such deserves our attention. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that security represents one of many critical aspects of the “School Safety Umbrella.”

What kind of coverage does your school’s “safety umbrella” provide?

MG

Safety Umbrella