Access Control, Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

Empowering School Safety: Strategies for a Secure Learning Environment

It’s crucial for your school to continuously reassess its approach to safety throughout the year, establishing new goals and strategies as needed. Reviewing current policies, anticipating future trends, and taking a proactive approach will help your school prepare effectively to address and prevent potential issues.

Start by Conducting Thorough Assessments

Improving school building safety involves conducting regular assessments to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in physical security. These assessments, which should include a comprehensive review of practices and measures, are crucial for prioritizing effective solutions. By drawing on industry best practices and collaborating with local law enforcement and key stakeholders, facilities managers can develop a comprehensive plan to address all potential risks. Implementing such a plan ensures a secure and supportive learning environment for everyone involved.

Plan for Emerging Safety Trends

Effective safety planning considers the unique layout, needs, and challenges facing each individual school. The non-profit organization Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is a collection of safety specialists from security fields, architecture, and education that recommends coordinated safety solutions backed by field-tested practices. PASS provides self-assessment guidelines that enable schools to evaluate current safety plans and identify important areas needing improvement. Schools can then explore innovative technologies, such as electronic access control systems, to restrict unauthorized access during lockdowns. Security solution companies can offer custom security assessments to help schools strengthen existing safety layers in response to recent trends.

Implement Updated ADA Accessibility Standards

Educational institutions are increasingly prioritizing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant safety measures in their security plans, responding to a growing emphasis on school safety. This commitment involves ensuring effective communication with individuals with disabilities during emergencies, as mandated by Title III of the ADA. Schools are integrating accessible alerts, accommodating visual or hearing impairments, and considering the accessibility of evacuation routes. This proactive approach aims to create inclusive emergency preparedness strategies for all members of the school community, irrespective of their abilities. Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization that introduced the “Especially Safe” program to assist schools in their efforts.

Address Staffing Shortages Alongside Safety Concerns

Addressing staffing shortages alongside safety concerns in schools is critical, given the challenges of teacher and substitute deficits and increasing violence targeting educators. The strain on existing staff is exacerbated, with 86% of U.S. K-12 public schools reporting hiring challenges for the 2023-24 school year. To tackle these issues, school leaders should consider a safety strategy that involves investing in staff training, enhancing security infrastructure, fostering a positive school culture, and collaborating with community organizations to provide support and resources. By addressing both staffing shortages and safety concerns, schools can cultivate a safer and more supportive environment, promoting student success and staff well-being.

Centralize Access Control

Centralized electronic access control systems are rapidly emerging as a gold standard. These systems consolidate management for both interior and exterior door locks under one unified platform. Central command centers enable administrators to trigger school-wide lockdowns instantly while monitoring access points in real time and immediately identifying any unsecured doors. As active threats multiply and preparedness becomes more urgent, scalable access control systems promise efficient life safety and peace of mind. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions will provide even greater benefits.

School leaders can enhance campus security by proactively evaluating current protocols, implementing best practices, and centralizing access management. This approach integrates human expertise with smart technologies to deliver specialized solutions, ensuring safe and supportive learning environments. It’s essential to set goals that empower institutions to tackle present safety challenges while preparing for future ones.

Paul Timm is the director of education safety at security solutions company Allegion. Timm is a board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP) and author of “School Security: How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program.” He hosts “The Changing Face of School Security” podcast and is an experienced School Crisis Assistance Team volunteer through the National Organization for Victims Assistance (NOVA). Timm serves on multiple advisory boards, including Campus Safety Conferences, Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, ASIS International School Safety and Security Community, and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials Risk Management Committee.

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