The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently published a guide for K-12 schools for preventing and protecting against gun violence. The guide links to a self-assessment tool and suggests a selection of solutions if, after completing the self-assessment tool, schools find vulnerabilities in their existing plan of action.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's “K-12 School Security: A Guide for Preventing and Protecting against Gun Violence” (PDF) is a comprehensive guide covering every aspect of gun violence in schools, from identifying mental health issues to deploying Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones) for incident response.
The guide starts with a brief overview of active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2017; and, after explaining the scope of the guide and its preparedness mission areas, the remainder of the publication is divided into three sections:
• A Systematic Approach to Improve Security
• School Security Survey for Gun Violence
• Integrating Security Solutions into a Plan of Action
The Systemic Approach to Improve Security
The systematic approach to improve security consists of four stages - Connecting, Planning, Training, and Reporting. Many schools will already have connections with external groups in the community (i.e. law enforcement and social security), but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends schools also reach out to additional groups such as mental health groups, volunteer organizations, and utility companies in order to develop a community relationship that is less adverse to security planning.
Not every organization has to be involved in security preparedness at every planning stage; but, by building a “coalition of support groups”, the DHS suggests planning efforts will be more successful. The DHS also warns against spending too much time planning and too little time connecting, training, and developing a reporting process, as this will undermine the systematic approach to school security. Consequently, it is recommended an officer is put in charge of time and resource management.
The training stage possibly doesn't receive as much attention in the guide as necessary due to each school having its own individual plans and individual security solutions. However, the DHS makes two important points - that training should be divided into small segments before launching into a full-scale exercise, and that - following a full-scale exercise - schools should develop an after-action report and improvement plan based on the outcome of the exercise to evaluate its successes and failures.
According to the DHS, developing a reporting process is arguably the most important stage of protecting a school against gun violence. The guide suggests facilitating the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign with solutions such as anonymous tip texting services, and recommends staff and students are trained on their use and drilled on using them to keep their skills sharp. Not only will an effectively drilled reporting process potentially save lives, it will also reinforce the importance of the solution.
The School Security Survey for Gun Violence
The school security survey for gun violence is not a questionnaire, but rather a self-assessment tool for schools to identify gaps in their preparedness against gun violence. It consists of a downloadable Excel spreadsheet with seven sections each having up to eleven questions. The sections relate to the topics of:
• Emergency Management
• School Security Force
• Entry Control
• Fencing and Gates
• Parking and Barriers
• The “Building Envelope”
• CCTV and Video Surveillance
Each question has between three and five answers. A background to the question is provided to ensure it makes sense to the person(s) completing the survey, plus links are provided for more information. The DHS recommends users refrain from taking a “benefit of the doubt” approach and answer each question as honestly and accurately as possible to prevent vulnerabilities being overlooked.
Depending on the answers provided, a score of between 1 and 5 is assigned to each question. At the end of the survey, there is a summary of the scores by section, followed by a further page on which options for consideration can be noted, prioritized, and assigned to a member of the planning team. Possible options for consideration are covered in the final section and in Appendix A of the guide.
Integrating Security Solutions into a Plan of Action
There can often be political and administrative pressure against integrating security solutions into a plan of action, and the DHS suggests using the survey to highlight areas of potential concern and infrastructure vulnerabilities whenever resistance is encountered. The benefit of this is that the survey provides the ability for schools to preview how specific security solutions can potentially improve their preparedness for - and protection against - gun violence.
Which security solutions need to be integrated into a plan of action vary according to the results of the survey and the school's individual circumstances. Therefore the guide provides a selection of options for consideration in Appendix A, and discusses the benefits, costs, and training requirements for each. Suggested solutions vary from door blockers and gunshot detection systems to emergency notification solutions and app-based panic buttons. No single solution is appropriate for every school, and the DHS acknowledges the complexity of hardening the K-12 community to be more resilient against gun violence and maintaining an open learning environment.
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