School safety is top of mind for staff, administrators, law enforcement officials, and legislators. According to a recent Secret Service report focused on school shootings, schools are taking appropriate steps to better protect themselves—often through physical methods like metal detectors and building design. But is it enough? What else can we do to keep kids safe?
Prevention should also be considered when it comes to evaluating school safety. According to the report, in 80 percent of incidents, the attackers’ behavior was so alarming that it “elicited concern from bystanders regarding the safety of the attacker or those around them” but often still went unreported.
This implies that many of the incidents could have been prevented had someone reported the behaviors. By providing the appropriate tools and training to the appropriate people, schools can use technology to both protect students from threats and prevent them from happening in the first place.
Provide an outlet for reporting
According to the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, most attackers (84 percent) share their plans to commit violence with at least one other person, but virtually no one reported risky behaviors. This could have been because only 17 percent of schools in the Secret Service study had any type of system or reporting tool in place to notify school staff or administrators of threatening or concerning student behaviors before an attack.
Implementing technology to collect confidential tips is an easy solution to this problem. Not only do kids not want to be seen as “tattle tales,” but they may have legitimate concerns for their safety if they decided to report a suspicious behavior.
By giving students an anonymous way to report, it lessens the chance of them being identified by their peers or feeling threatened. In addition, most tip solutions can be set up so that kids can simply text to a number from their phones. This makes it convenient and easy to use since it uses the technology they already have in their pockets.
No preventive strategy is foolproof, however. Should an emergency occur, the key to a quick response with minimal loss is putting power into the hands of school staff. In most cases, a school can only be locked down by a superintendent. While this makes sense in theory, valuable seconds can be lost following protocol and trying to connect with a superintendent, who may not even be located in the school where the incident is occurring.
However, by putting that same power in the hands of teachers, schools can enact a lockdown quicker and get help faster. New technologies, such as a panic button app, can play a role in being able to cut out some of these middle steps, saving time and putting power in the hands of the people who are on the front lines and can identify potential threats before they evolve into bigger problems.
However, it’s not just about providing the right technology—the right training is also critical. According to that same Secret Service report, 22 percent of schools had some type of program involving employees who were assigned to assess unwanted or potentially harmful student behavior. Some of these schools had developed basic protocols for assessing and responding to reports of a student threat. In others, school staff created more formal threat assessment teams, but the participation, training and protocols of these initiatives varied.
To ensure teachers understand the role they can play and what to look for when an incident occurs, they need appropriate, thorough and consistent training. Whether it be ALICE or another program, staff knowing how to respond during an incident is crucial to students’ wellbeing.
Connect with local law enforcement and 911
School safety does not just fall on staff and administrators; truthfully, it is everyone’s business and connecting all of the key stakeholders is critical. To guarantee a quick and impactful response that ensures the best outcomes for the entire community, schools, law enforcement and 911 need to work together and agree on emergency procedures.
The quick flow of important information via open channels of communication can ensure a fast and prepared response. For example, if 911 and law enforcement know exactly where on a campus an incident is taking place, they can dispatch to that specific area rather than losing valuable time with vague location information. Likewise, if it’s a medical emergency, EMTs can come with the appropriate tools to ensure a prepared response.
Thanks to technology, these things can easily be communicated. New solutions can also enable two-way communication between law enforcement agencies and school, which can lead to preventative measures also taking place. For example, if police can alert a school that an armed robber is in the area, they can take the appropriate steps to ensure kids and staff are safe by proactively pushing notifications to the school.
Technology can also enable virtual “check-ins” during emergencies, allowing for teachers and staff to report their location and status of their students during a lockdown or other emergency event. This real-time exchange of critical information can allow responders to triage and address the most critical needs first.
While the emergency response process can be stressful for school officials, technology can reduce the workload on schools and allow for integrated planning and coordination with local public safety teams. One critical aspect of this is ensuring that safety solutions are fully integrated and work seamlessly with the systems already in place, such as the school’s HR system, as well as 911.
In many ways 911 acts as incident command during school emergencies. They are the initiation point for first responder resources and collaborate in real-time across all stakeholders. By integrating school safety programs with 911, dispatchers have access to valuable information such as floor plans, reunification plans and student/faculty rosters.
Technology has given us the means to communicate better with loved ones and get information faster than ever before. By applying the technology we use on a daily basis to school safety, there can be a notable difference in how schools prepare and respond to violent incidents. By giving appropriate tools and training to the correct people, schools are empowering their staff and administration to prevent threats from occurring as well as ensuring quick, impactful actions when incidents do occur. This combination ensures the best outcomes for everyone.