5 Non-Negotiables for Protecting Schools from Gun Violence | #schoolsaftey

A school’s safety measures are only as strong as the weakest link. Maintaining a consistent, ongoing focus on safety protocols is critical.

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

The new school year is underway. Students are being reacquainted with friends. And homework. Parents are acclimating to a more structured routine. Teachers and administrators are ready to be back in their classrooms and offices. No matter how much excitement and promise the new academic year holds, there’s an underlying fear that something bad could happen. It’s impossible to ignore, especially when the latest headlines on mass shootings weigh on everybody’s mind. This year, the U.S. is tracking toward a horrible milestone as the country could see its most mass shootings ever, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

This information is not shared to scare you. Rather, it is to make sure schools are doing everything they can to reduce the threat of gun violence. As a school safety expert, below are my five non-negotiables when it comes to preparing for a safer school year.

  1. Test your technology and safety protocols. Just as you ensure the air conditioning, plumbing and electrical are free of issues before students walk through the doors each day, it is critical to check that every security mechanism, door lock, camera, and emergency alert are fully functional without any issues. This goes beyond testing the technology as a standalone activity. It’s critical to test it under several real-world safety drills and to correct any issues you may discover, not only with the technology itself but also with the associated response protocols (e.g. if staff believe a panic button alerts local law enforcement and use the button). This way, you can identify and address potential issues that may arise in an emergency situation.
  2. Retrain your teachers and staff on safety protocols. Whether it’s a teacher’s first or fiftieth time attending a safety training class, everyone in the building needs to attend every workshop. Besides, it’s not unusual to discover the protocols reviewed in the last training session are slightly different now because every incident provides new lessons to be learned. Learning the procedures and practicing them often keeps safety front of mind. Not to mention the speed at which safety technology continues to evolve, especially when it comes to sophisticated weapons screening technologies. Remember, a school’s safety measures are only as strong as the weakest link. Maintaining a consistent, ongoing focus on safety protocols is critical to security.
  3. Prepare for physiological reactions to an event. One area of safety training that is commonly overlooked is the body’s natural response to a crisis in an effort to protect itself. We know the physical responses – rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, running or freezing in place – will eventually subside. The psychological impact can require a longer recovery. In fact, a recent survey, Gun Violence in America: The Impact on Educators, conducted by Equation Research and Evolv Technology, found that 58% of teachers are moderately or extremely anxious about going to work. For these reasons, every school safety plan should factor in how to support the physical and psychological impacts of an incident. The plan should include working with trained trauma counselors, emergency responders, and external school shooting resources that can help the students and community begin to heal.
  4. Open up the dialogue. Once the school year is in progress, it’s easy to assume that everybody remembers the details from the safety training workshops. But school safety is not a set-it-and-forget activity. To keep it top of mind, incorporate safety conversations into regular staff meetings. For example, I recommend that schools add it to the staff meeting agenda and allocate at least five minutes to discuss a new emergency protocol, insight, or shared learning. During the discussion, attendees should feel free to ask difficult questions, answer with “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” and tackle the hard topics in a safe environment under non-threatening circumstances. Staff meetings should become a safe place for staff to share their concerns and frustrations. Administrators can then secure training that is timely and responsive to their needs.
  5. Learn from mistakes and near misses. Here’s an unfortunate reality: I can’t begin to count the number of schools that say, “We’re safe, except for the one time when a gun nearly got in.” This is from schools of every size and demographic across the country, including those with the most stringent safety protocols in place. While a near miss brings a sigh of relief, it also provides vital intelligence and important lessons. As much as you may want to forget the near-miss incident happened, it’s important to bring it into the dialog, ask questions, and use it as an opportunity to further fortify your school safety protocols.

School safety conversations and trainings are not easy, but the more they occur as part of a strategic and preventative way to protect our kids and communities, the better we will all become at identifying and reducing the risks. As a school safety consultant, I want nothing more than to play a part in ending the heartbreaking epidemic of gun violence.

Shane Davis is senior lead consultant for Secure Education Consultants.

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