Preparing Schools for Spring Tornado Season

Spring Tornado Season and Schools

We are about to release the March issue of School Safety Monthly. This issue is focused on ways to prepare schools for natural disasters. Steve Satterly was kind enough to conduct research and to author articles for this issue. My son Chris and our editor, Morgan Billinger, have also done an exceptional job of editing and formatting this month’s issue.

Effective ways to prepare schools for tornadoes

There are a number of concrete steps that school officials can take to reduce the risks associated with tornadoes and other natural disasters. While this month’s issue of School Safety Monthly will address natural disasters as a whole, this blog will be focused on ways to reduce the risks related to tornadoes.

Steve Satterly has not only extensively researched schools and tornado safety, he has done so because he has first-hand experience with a tornado damaging his school as an administrator.

When I asked Steve for a few key areas that school officials can consider for the Spring Tornado season, he provided the following key points:

Make sure everyone knows their safe areas

Satterly points out that just posting sheltering diagrams is not enough. He suggests that teachers be trained to know all tornado sheltering areas in their school. This is important because teachers and other staff may need to shelter students who are in transit when a tornado warning is received or a tornado is detected in the area.

Meet with your local EMA Director to go over your tornado plans

Your local emergency management agency (EMA) can be a valuable and free resource. Emergency managers are typically well-versed on the all-hazards approach and can often provide valuable information and assistance.

Practice your plans

While written emergency protocols can be important, training staff on the written plans and affording them a chance to practice implementing them is often even more important. Utilizing a drill process that requires individual staff to make the decision to implement the appropriate emergency protocol for a scenario they have been presented with can dramatically improve the ability of school employees to make appropriate and prompt decisions under the often highly stressful conditions of an actual crisis event.

Communicate with your community

Making a reasonable effort to effectively communicate what you are doing to better prepare students and staff for tornados can be very important in establishing and maintaining a high level of trust. Parents who are informed that school officials take the risks of tornado seriously are less likely to panic if a tornado touches down in the community during school hours.

For more information on this timely and important topic, be sure to check out the March issue of School Safety Monthly.

School Security Cameras: Friend or Foe?

Are School Security Cameras a Good Fit for Your Schools?

Many of our school security assessment projects involve client requests to either evaluate their current school security camera systems. A number of these projects involve questions of whether a school organization should install security cameras in schools that lack cameras. Like many of the school security technologies we are asked to evaluate, there is not a correct and absolute answer for school security cameras. There are a range of competing safety, security and emergency preparedness needs that should be evaluated in relation to one another. This can make it rather dangerous to assume a one-size-fits-all approach which assumes that every school needs additional security cameras, fencing, metal detectors, or security personnel.

For example, during a recent school security assessment project, we determined that the client did not have a viable student threat evaluation approach or suicide prevention strategy. We found numerous instances where relatively inexpensive upgrades could significantly improve safety, security and emergency preparedness. For the cost of a few dozen good quality security cameras, almost each of these significant opportunities for improvement could be addressed. At the same time, our team determined that a million dollars worth of security cameras would likely not reduce danger as much as these less expensive strategies. Though we advised the client that a new security camera system would be well worth the cost, the priority for funding should go to the other opportunities for improvement.

In other cases, our analysts have found school security camera upgrades to be a high priority option for consideration. While many people question the value of school security cameras, our experience has been that they can help dramatically improve school safety, security and even emergency preparedness when they are utilized properly in many situations. For example, our analysts found that a large public school system in an affluent community with a low crime rate would benefit from a new security camera system for its high and middle schools because administrators were spending an inordinate amount of time investigating situations involving interpersonal conflict between students.

One important point relating to school security cameras is that they often capture the truth. This can be a major asset for schools with good supervision and where staff follow school security procedures. At the same time, school security camera systems are often very good at documenting instances of poor student supervision or unsafe school parking lot traffic conditions. When school security cameras capture blatantly dangerous situations, captured images can quickly turn into “exhibit A” during litigation or in media coverage of a school safety event. In addition, there are cases where security cameras can capture distinct segments of activity that are not representative of the overall situation. Rather than portraying the truth, these instances can result in an inaccurate and sometimes damaging picture of safety at a school.

For these and other reasons, we advise our clients to work diligently to utilize excellent security camera technology when possible. We also advise them to be sure to expend a reasonable effort to achieve positive human safety, security and emergency preparedness practices whether or not they have funding for good security camera systems.

School Safety Litigation: A New Lens

This is the initial case file for a single-victim school shooting case.  This litigation was settled soon after a school safety expert witness for the defense was suddenly withdrawn from the case.  He was withdrawn soon after plaintiff’s counsel raised significant questions about his credibility.  This case illustrates how complex school safety litigation can be.
This is the initial case file for a single-victim school shooting case. This litigation was settled soon after a school safety expert witness for the defense was suddenly withdrawn from the case. He was withdrawn soon after plaintiff’s counsel raised significant questions about his credibility. This case illustrates how complex school safety litigation can be.


School Safety Litigation Provides a Unique View

I have reviewed several thousand pages of depositions and other documents relating to school safety lawsuits during the past month. Though I decline the majority of requests to serve as an expert witness, I do accept a few cases each year. The cases I accept are typically large and complex requiring considerable attention to detail. For example, one federal civil action against an independent school resulted in a four week jury trial. The case involved allegations of severe bullying and sexual assault.   The case file came up to my sternum when resting on the floor. I was deposed for eight hours by an attorney assisted by four other lawyers. The school’s headmaster was deposed five times and plaintiff’s counsel spent an estimated $3.1 million litigating the school. After deliberating for about 90 minutes, the jury found in favor of the school on all seven allegations.

Reviewing school safety incidents for these types of cases is extremely demanding. Competent expert witnesses carefully review their case files. Though arduous, the process is incredibly revealing. Many of these cases involve terrible tragedies that can provide valuable lessons. One of the main reasons I accept cases as an expert witness is to learn how to better help our clients reduce the chances they will experience safety incidents. These experiences also help us aid our clients in reducing their liability exposure.   Reviewing the questions asked by attorneys and the answers provided by the people they depose is extremely informative. Looking at a case through the lens of both defense and plaintiff’s counsel also affords a unique perspective. Seeing a case from these divergent angles is different from what we see when we conduct school security assessments or from the viewpoint I had investigating incidents and testifying in court as police officer.

These experiences help us to help our clients see a different take on both the how and the why of their efforts to make schools safer. Learning from school safety litigation can not only prevent future litigation, but can make our schools safer.