In 2019, Lori Alhadeff channeled grief over losing her daughter Alyssa during the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, into activism. Over the past year, she pushed for Alyssa’s Law, which requires silent panic alarms linked to law enforcement in all public schools. Due to Alhadeff’s advocacy, Alyssa's Law passed in New Jersey, and may be written into legislature on the federal level, according to the New York Times. Not only did the law improve school safety, it called for many communities to reevaluate their safety efforts, a best practice called a school safety audit.
K-12 safety managers who are looking to field top concerns from the community and reassess safety needs can do so through an annual school safety audit. Alyssa's Law, for example, demonstrated how panic button alarm systems are a common-sense solution for schools looking to bolster security in an era of rising gun violence. Physical security measures, such as access control, have also been effective, and may be another element overlooked in current procedures. If school systems weren’t required to do an evaluation of which tools might benefit the community because of Alyssa’s Law, community safety would be more difficult to manage.
For many, a school safety audit may be a time to consider procedures which disproportionately target vulnerable students, such students of color or students with disabilities, and revise campus policy. In June of 2019, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took student activists criticism of school safety procedures which unfairly impacted black and hispanic students in the city into account, and updated new rules to limit arrests in schools for low level offenses, reduce the maximum amount of time for suspensions, and change how police interact with students in school, according to the New York Times.
K-12 safety managers should use a school safety audit to determine the strengths and weaknesses of their current safety and security practices, from physical security measures like security cameras and access control, to mental health resources, such as counselors or social workers.
How to Define a School Safety AuditLocal officials, in collaboration with school administrators and teachers, have a responsibility to create a comprehensive safety plan. By conducting a school safety audit, safety managers can get a better concept of their school’s safety and security, identify any areas for improvement, and disrupt practices which contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. The audit process is a proactive step toward creating a safe, secure, and inclusive learning environment.
The definition of a school safety audit might vary between school districts, however, there are common goals. For example, schools in Virginia are required to conduct an annual audit to develop new security solutions. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services offers a definition of a comprehensive school safety audit, requiring:
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice definition breaks down the essential components and purpose of an audit. Auditors should be looking to identify risks and potential weaknesses in current practices, and in order to better understand school safety measre, officials need to work across departments.
Annother K-12 school safety audit in Colorado included ten parameters for safety teams to follow. The school systems in the state were required to take the following steps to conduct a proper evaluation:
- Development and enforcement of policy
- Procedures for data collection and analysis
- Intervention and prevention planning
- Staff development and training
- Student involvement and engagement in safety procedures
- Parent and community involvement
- Role of law enforcement or SROs
- Training practices, such as cultural sensitivity training or lockdown procedure, for safety and security personnel
- Physical security for buildings or grounds
- Emergency response plan and appropriate lockdown drills
The Texas School Safety Center created a more in-depth template for schools looking to conduct a school safety audit. The K-12 Facility Safety and Security Audit checklist is designed to guide schools through the various facility audits while providing a format to evaluate and record date from these observations. The checklist contains a separate section for a variety of facilities, including main school campus, administration buildings, transportation, warehouses, maintenance, stadiums, natatorium/aquatics center, special event centers, or construction worksites.
In addition, the TxSSC recommends surveys or interviews be conducted of students, teachers, and staff ahead of any onsite assessments. The results should be summarized before onsite visits to help determine community needs, and be included in the finalized audit report. The organization also compiles data collection instruments to be used to gather information from the community during the security or safety audit. Next, an onsite visit with the principal or superintendent should be scheduled, during which it is strongly recommended the auditors conduct an intruder assessment. Every state and district will have individual needs, but for those looking to create a strategy for a school safety audit, the thorough systems in Virginia, Colorado, and Texas provide a strong outline.
Leveraging Technology To improve School Safety
A mass notification system can also play a role in the school safety audit process - for school districts looking to send surveys or set up interviews with parents or teachers, the system provides a reliable way to reach out via text, voice call, or e-mail. Respondents can easily fill out and submit surveys, or be reminded of an in-person interview time with administrators. Technology can play a critical role in improving security following a school safety audit. After making a formal assessment, schools may need to improve physical security or emergency communications, which with the passing of Alyssa’s Law and similar legislature, often includes a reliable way to reach first responders.
In compliance with Alyssa’s Law, a panic button app can provide a fast, secure way to reach law enforcement during an emergency. Compared to a physical panic button, which is placed under a desk or on a keychain, an app will ensure a quicker, more reliable response. Traditional panic buttons are often routed through an alarm company, which can waste precious minutes during an emergency, and don’t provide location data to law enforcement. As a result, first responders can arrive on campus without knowing the nature of the emergency or where the situation is occurring within a given facility. If law enforcement, firefighters, or EMS, must arrive on-scene without knowing what to prepare for, it can further slow down response.
A panic button app reduces response time through several critical features. First, the app informs dispatchers of the nature of the emergency, whether it is an active assailant, fire, or medical emergency, as well as the location of the call. Then, the app also allows teachers and administrators to correspond internally - for example, if a medical emergency occurs in a classroom, the teacher can simultaneously call for help and warn other classrooms not to panic and stay clear of EMS arrival. Teachers and students unaware of an emergency, or unsure how to react to first responders on site, can potentially further interrupt response.
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