by Ariel Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP


As school districts and college campuses across the nation enter the 2018-19 year, there are likely many important thoughts on the minds of students, faculty members, and parents alike. In wake of recent mass shooting incidents like the ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Santa Fe High Schools, school safety arguably remains one of the most prominent. Unfortunately, due to a myriad of administrative, budgetary and political factors; these tragic events have become an all too common part of today’s general education landscape.

Within this issue, there remain a variety of arguments related to this issue that fluctuate in national media. However, in order to prevent, respond to and/or mitigate the growing threat of violence towards the our educational institutions, I believe we must focus our attention on just one crucial, yet incredibly tangible variable: a balance of consistent school safety assessment and proper campus security in addition to reporting and investigation plans that act on potential threats.

Regarding the latter, there are several important factors to take into consideration when auditing schools for security-based weaknesses and oversights.


Emphasizing a thorough approach

There are several ways schools commonly conduct security audits, ranging from simple walkthroughs to comprehensive analyses of building components, surrounding grounds, and the technologies involved in surveying both. The truth is, unfortunately, that very few on-staff school safety professionals and/or consultants serving schools and colleges focus on comprehensive safety & security assessment; which includes the review and revision of plans, compliance, emergency management, investigations, reporting and physical security measures.

While common types of security audits are reflective of a campus’ immediate school safety needs; a thorough, comprehensive assessment is almost always the way to go. Redundancy and over-preparation, in this regard, can only further ensure the safety of students and faculty. Either way, the auditing process can be boiled down to a set of broad items:

  • Planning:
    • Does the district and/or college have plans for safety & security and emergency management?
    • Do they have investigative response plans that act on reports of potentially dangerous activities?
    • Do they test these plans on an annual basis and conduct drills and tabletop exercises with external stakeholders?
    • Do IDEA and FERPA compliance plans include safety & security contingencies?
    • Do staff & students receive formal training pursuant to plans?
  • Physical Security:
    • Does the current security system work as intended? Does it include up-to-date technology?
    • If so, are there any immediate weaknesses in its stability? How difficult is it to breach?
    • Are there time constraints on when the current system is active (for instance, does it work at all hours, or just when school is in session?)?
    • If there are clear weaknesses or oversights, what is the estimated cost of proposed improvements?
    • Does the district have an action plan in place for potential building modifications? (In this regard, glaring weaknesses should be planned for and addressed as quickly as possible.)
  • Budget & Staffing:
    • Does your district and/or college budget for annual safety & security assessment, improvement or staffing?
      • If your district or college is completely reliant on grants; How is the district/college identifying potential grant funds and what will it do if those funds dry up?
      • Does your district and/or college budget for matching funds needed to obtain grants?
    • Does your district and/or college staff on-site law enforcement and security personnel that are appropriately vetted, trained & equipped to intervene and stop and address a potential active shooter?  


Accessibility enhancements

It is no secret that accessibility is a central factor in all school building security audits — making a building as impenetrable as possible while facilitating the efficient flow of student movement during daily sessions. Schools, like certain modes of transportation, have morning and afternoon “rush hours” where targeting is optimal for a potential assailant; but throughput and efficiency are of great concern to regular campus operations. A professional safety & security audit is key in managing the balance between screening, control and assuring uninterrupted educational operations.

However, in certain cases, enhanced accessibility can actually improve a building’s overall safety in times of crisis — mainly in terms of external law enforcement intervention. In Pennsylvania, increased emphasis is being placed on vital, yet generally inexpensive auditing measures of this nature, such as the trimming of branches and vegetation from windows so that police and emergency responders can have clearer lines of sight.


Proper Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) student accommodations

A seemingly obvious, yet occasionally underprepared part of school safety & security protocol is the specific safety needs related to IDEA compliance, especially where physically disabled or communication-based IEP students are concerned. One has to consider students who have significant visual impairments, auditory limitations, and other conditions that may hinder their ability to move quickly and absorb conveyed information during crises in safety & security planning (but rarely do on a professional level).

Many State Departments of Education cite a list of important factors that must be considered for IDEA-covered students during an emergency, including but not limited to pre-printed emergency messages, specific items and needs such as pens and paper or charged FM systems, and proper training accommodations for these accommodated students to understand what the emergency system signifies. However, this issue further highlights the need for professional campus law enforcement & security staffing to engage possible assailants and assist faculty in safely sheltering and evacuating IDEA-covered students who may instinctively “freeze up” in a frightening situation.

These three concentrations are by no means the end-all and be-all of school auditing, but they serve as primary components to ensure the process is approached and executed both effectively and efficiently.