Door numbering. Another aspect of emergency planning that many schools are adopting is a door numbering system. Ellis explains that this entails labeling exit doors with numbers in an orderly manner, such as numbering them clockwise, so that if there is an emergency and outside help has to get in, they know which door is which.
Additionally, Ellis, Weicker, and others are providing floor plans with door numbering and CD-Roms with school information on them to first responders in the area. This is an example of a simple and inexpensive measure that can make a big difference in an emergency.
Incident command. Pochowski and others point to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) as having assisted in preparing schools to deal with various potential hazards and incidents.
Watson says “schools that take the time to train a few of their key people” in understanding the NIMS and ICS [incident command system] will be much further ahead, because now they’re working on the same playing field with the police and the fire. All the first responders are on the same page.”
NIMS compliance is also tied to various types of security funding for schools.
Experts stress the importance of cultivating community relationships. Watson suggests having memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with various organizations, such as an agreement with a hospital that the school will be sending injured people there in case of an incident. She says that having MOUs can be helpful in the planning process so that schools know where to turn in an emergency situation.
Weicker is cochair of the Allen County School Safety Commission, a much-praised organization that helps public and private schools work with law enforcement and first-responder agencies. He says his schools split the cost of the school resource officers with the town police departments. He is able to do that because he has community buy-in and partnerships, which are often required for schools to get the support they need.
Weicker also points out that schools that cannot afford consultants can go to the community for experts, such as fire department officials, who will be willing to provide advice free of charge.
Community task forces can also be a way to diffuse tensions after an incident. Charles McCrary, a security consultant who was the security director of St. Louis Public Schools when they had a series of violent incidents, said that forming a task force with the community at that time brought school and community together.
Budgets are continuing to be cut this year due to state economic problems, and many grants that were once solely dedicated to school security are shifting and changing. The funding issues are causing districts to lose school resource officers who liaise with students and offer them a convenient way to report crimes or concerns about suspicious behavior.
There are still various funding opportunities out there for schools, such as the grant programs from the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. And Weicker warns against placing too much emphasis on money. He cites schools that implemented programs with grant money knowing full well that they wouldn’t be able to continue the programs when the funds were gone as an example of poor planning.
Schools need to figure out what they can control for themselves, rather than waiting for more money, says Weicker. “You can do things cooperatively, and everything doesn’t take bucks…. If you sit back and wait for somebody else to do it or you’re waiting for dollars to do it or if you’re tied into the almighty buck, then nothing gets done. Everybody just whines.”
Some experts think that it will take legislation and regulations to force schools to get better. “Schools have a very short attention span. And outside of their educational practices, they tend to focus on what’s required, and very little else. So, unless there’s a regulation or some requirement, they’re reluctant to do certain things. Especially security related,” says Chris McGoey.
He adds that school officials are aware of the cyclical nature of the public’s attention to school security. “People will do things for awhile, knowing full well that it won’t be followed through on. Or the next time they have a budget issue, which is daily, they’ll do away with the service.”
Under that sad scenario, if an incident occurs, everyone will act surprised, and the cycle of attention to security will begin anew. Unfortunately, the lives lost will not.
Laura Spadanuta is an associate editor at Security Management.
CORRECTION: The original print and online version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Chris McGoey, CPP, of McGoey Consulting. His name now appears correctly in the text.