Masters of Utilizing CPTED to Improve School Safety, Security, Climate and Culture

©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020 Magnolia Middle School in Mississippi serves as an excellent example of how architects with a high degree of expertise of the utilization of crime prevention through environmental design can create safer and more welcoming schools.
©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020
Magnolia Middle School in Mississippi serves as an excellent example of how architects with a high degree of expertise of the utilization of crime prevention through environmental design can create safer and more welcoming schools.


©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020
Thoughtful utilization of CPTED in school design can reduce the types of hidden and difficult to supervise areas that are the locations of many sexual assaults, acts of vandalism, deaths from medical emergencies, drug overdoses and homicides.  The open stairwell and extensive use of magnetic holdback devices on stairwells and main hallways dramatically reduce the risk of death in schools.


©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020
The thoughtful utilization of visuals creates a greater sense of connectivity which improves school climate.  As demonstrated in multiple peer review studies, school climate is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of homicide in K12 schools.  While CPTED does not replace physical security measures, law enforcement and security personnel, policies, technology, hardware, mental health services, and other important options to enhance security, it is a powerful life-safety tool that can help prevent even heavily secured schools from feeling like prisons.  I wrote the original draft of this blog on my return flight from a keynote more than a year ago and it, like a dozen other blogs, was not finished and posted due to the massive workload we have experienced.   I am excited to finally get this blog out as I think it is still very timely.  Every time a see a new school designed to look like a fortress, built with poor sightlines and other dangerous concepts, I wish more school officials and architects were familiar with crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) that proves why it is so effective.

I have been blessed to meet many gifted and inspiring advocates for school safety when I keynote conferences.  I feel particularly blessed to have met someone whose work I have been admiring for a couple of years now.  He is the architect who designed a K12 school that best epitomizes the use of the principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) I have ever seen.

As a very slow convert to CPTED, I have become a huge proponent of this research-based approach to safer as well as more welcoming schools.  CPTED can help architects and school planners create beautiful, more secure schools without degrading school climate and culture in the process.  In fact, the thoughtful application of CPTED can increase security while helping to improve school climate and connectivity.

For several years, I have been showing photographs that I took while conducting a site visit to Magnolia Middle School in Moss Point, Mississippi when I present and when I work with clients.  If I could recommend only one school for architects and school officials to visit to see a superb example of how CPTED can be used to create safer schools that are also beautiful and welcoming, my choice would be Magnolia Middle School in Moss Point, Mississippi.  As I was showing photos of the school during a keynote for the Learning SCAPES School Design Conference in Chicago last year, I happened to mention, as I have at many other architectural conferences, that if anyone in the audience was responsible for this superb design, I would be honored to meet them.  As I was answering questions from participants after my presentation, I had the opportunity to do exactly, that.  Gary Bailey AIA from Dale Partners Architects informed me that he was indeed the architect who designed this amazing school.  As I told Mr. Bailey, it was truly an honor to get to meet someone who was such a gifted practitioner.   Though I keynote a lot of school architectural conferences, I feel fortunate to have been able to connect to Mr. Bailey.  I shouldn’t be surprised that someone who does such high-end work with CPTED would attend the SCAPES National Conference to continue to learn his craft.

When I visited his website after the conference (http://www.dalepartners.com/about-dba), I learned that Mr. Bailey is a very successful architect whose firm has designed an astounding and increasing number of the schools built in Mississippi in recent years.  His work and his success demonstrate that architects who understand how to apply CPTED can be quite successful from a business standpoint while dramatically improving safety for tens of thousands of students and school employees for decades to come.  Mr. Bailey and his colleagues will never know how many fights, sexual assaults, acts of vandalism, incidents of gang violence, and perhaps even homicides will not occur due to his skill and expertise.  His work will also help many students stay in school and graduate because he has worked closely with his clients to craft welcoming schools where students feel more comfortable and engaged.

I have been truly fortunate to meet so many incredible teachers, school leaders, school resource officers, mental health professionals, coaches, school bus drivers, attorneys, engineers, architects and others who have made our nation’s schools far safer than they were when I was in school.  I experienced severe bullying, being robbed at knifepoint and attacked with a box cutter as a student in the 1970’s when violence was so prevalent in our schools.  A highly competitive 24/7 media, social media, and the Internet make it easier for those with products, services or ideologies to sow fear with alarmist disinformation and wildly inaccurate data developed to sell using fear.  Thankfully, many professionals like Mr. Bailey have been helping schools become safer and more effective places of learning in spite of the hype spewed forth by those who regardless of intent, are doing great damage to our schools and thus hurting the students who represent the future of our nation.

 

 

 

Biting Off More Security than You Can Chew

©Michael Dorn Safe Havens International 2020

School officials should exercise care to implement school security enhancements they can sustain with fidelity.  One commonly discussed option for the prevention of school shootings is the use of airport and courthouse style entry point metal detection.  While excellent metal detection equipment is relatively inexpensive, staffing, security, X-ray screening equipment, and security measures to support effective entry point weapons screening of this type can cost between $500,000 and one million dollars a year for a large high school.  For this reason, alternative approaches to weapons screening such as demonstrably random numerical sequence entry point screening and randomly selected classroom and school bus occupant screening can be more practical and, in my experience, are often more effective.

While we have been seeing many of the same harmful patterns that we saw after the tragic attacks at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School in the wake of a series of five major school attacks in the 2017-2018 school year, we have noted an even more pervasive and troubling trend during the past two years.  While many schools and districts have implemented considerable positive life-safety enhancements, some of the reactions to these terrible events have resulted in a considerable amount of damage to school safety across the nation.  This damage has resulted from demands from the public that school and public safety officials “do something” to stop school shootings without proper evaluation, consideration of reliable national school fatality data, and a comprehensive view of risks to safety and security.  

The negative effects of poorly developed and implemented active shooter training programs that became common after the Sandy Hook attack have caused significant degradation of school emergency preparedness in many schools.  As I have mentioned in other writings, we are seeing increasing evidence that these types of training programs can be quite dangerous.  However, in addition to the severe problems from emotively driven active shooter training approaches, we have been seeing intensive pressure for schools to implement security measures that people hope can ensure that a school shooting cannot possibly occur.  As there are no such security measures in any setting let alone in K12 schools, this is placing tremendous and potentially dangerous pressure on school officials.

One particularly prominent and concerning tendency of this type is the pressure to implement extensive target-hardening, security technologies, and emergency communications systems without the human resources to support them. 

For example, many school districts have been under considerable pressure to implement entry point metal detection by a public that is typically unaware of the actual costs required for adequate supportive security measures.  For example, security X-ray technology required to reliably and effectively screen bookbags, purses, musical instrument cases, and other hand-carry items can be staggering.  This is even more difficult for large K12 schools due to the challenges created by the need to screen massive numbers of students in short time spans each morning.  In addition, perimeter access control technology and most importantly, the significant ongoing budget required for personnel to accomplish reasonably reliable entry point metal detection are very costly.  For many of our nation’s larger and more complex middle and high school campuses, running reasonably reliable entry point metal detection during the daytime and all evening and weekend hours the facilities are open, personnel costs can run from between $250,000 to $1,000,000 per school per year depending on a variety of factors such as local labor costs.  As with an airport or courthouse, if screening is not conducted during all hours of operation, it is very easy for a student to defeat the screening process.  For example, a student or non-student can enter a school and hide a gun to be retrieved later while an evening event is being held but no security screening is being conducted. 

One of our primary concerns is that school officials may agree to conduct entry point metal detection or other security upgrades without receiving the funding to support them that is needed to make them work with reasonable reliability.  This inherently results in problems the technologies were purchased to address taking place in spite of significant expenditures.  In many cases, the discussion and resulting litigation moves from “why didn’t you use metal detectors” (or a variety of other security technologies) to “you were incompetent because you spent X dollars and still had a shooting.”  In my experience, thoughtful explanation of the resources and thus funding that will be needed to effectively support the security upgrades combined with a tactful but clear message that while there are ways to reduce risk, but there are no 100% reliable ways to absolutely assure that violence will not occur in any setting is not only honest but critical for success.  As an example, I have tried to help parents understand the limits of even well-funded, professional and extensive security measures, repeated breaches of White House security by multiple intruders over the years demonstrate that something as seemingly simple as keeping an intruder out of one of the most heavily secured and budgeted facilities in the world has been challenging. 

Regardless of the type of enhancement being considered, we caution school officials to take care not to attempt to implement approaches that may make people feel good in the short term but require resources beyond those available to implement with fidelity.  The cost of appeasement to urgent demands in the short-term can be dire when unrealistic approaches are revealed as a facade of security in the long run.  My advice is to thoughtfully develop a comprehensive and sustainable approach to school security while not biting off more than you can chew for short-term pacification which creates great risks of long-term failures.

Light at the end of the tunnel – Safe Havens Resumes Efforts to post regular blogs and to create new free resources.

As anyone who follows our blogs knows, we have only been able to post six blogs since the February 14, 2108 tragedy at Marjorie-Stoneman Douglas High School. The massive and unprecedented surge of requests that has still not abated has resulted in our senior staff and many of our analysts becoming exhausted.

After 18 months of a seven-day a week schedule with average workdays of 12-18 hours and less than one day off a month, I decided that our leadership team could not continue working at this pace no matter how much it pains us to decline the opportunity to work to make schools safer. As one of my doctors at the Mayo Clinic explained it to me, I had two choices – I could “slow down” or I could “stop”. Though it has been truly painful, we were forced to begin declining more than 75% of all requests for new assessment projects, keynote presentations, consulting projects, and requests to serve as an expert witness starting about eight months ago. As a result, our leadership team is now getting at least a few days off each month.

While we have 62 dedicated analysts, Phuong Nguyen and I personally work on and provide oversight for all Safe Havens projects. While we plan to hire an exceptional executive-level project administrator to help us provide oversight to ease our heavy project load, we have also decided that we must scale back on our overall project load. This will allow us to focus more time, energy, and budget on developing a variety of school safety resources, tools, and train-the-trainer programs to increase the number of individuals who can share our concepts. We are currently evaluating a combination of live and distance learning concepts to make these programs more accessible.

We are still very heavily engaged in expert witness work for two major court cases, three massive school safety projects for large districts, some smaller assessment projects, and a number of conference keynotes. We have just been approved for a second contract extension to continue to assist the Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) as they continue to move forward in their significant upgrades in emergency preparedness and the implementation of the nation’s first Enterprise Risk Management Department as recommended in our Phase I report, rapidly approved by the School Board of Broward County, and in keeping with the Greater City Schools report recommending that the nation’s 70 largest public school systems adopt ERM in a 2016 report. Since we were unanimously selected by the School Board to conduct the nation’s first comprehensive school safety, security, climate, culture, and emergency preparedness in the wake of a mass casualty school shooting, the tragedy at MSD High, our work to assist the BCPS has been and will remain our single biggest priority. Having provided post-incident assistance for 19 of these types of tragedies in U.S., Canadian, and Mexican K12 schools, we have never seen a school district attempt to make such a major overhaul of their school safety efforts. We feel compelled to expend every ounce of energy we can whether for the services we have been contracted for or the hundreds of thousands of dollars in pro bono work our analysts have donated to the BCPS.

Conducting school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessments for more than 1,000 K12 schools in less than 18 months, while providing post-incident assistance for six active shooter and targeted school shootings and delivering more than 50 keynote presentations, writing a 600-page university textbook, and completing many other major projects has been incredibly tasking, even with more than 60 dedicated personnel. We love what we do but hope we never see such demand that we have to decline requests to assess a school district of more than 600 schools, dozens of mid-sized and large public school systems, and even more small public school systems, faith-based schools, independent schools, and charter schools. Our hearts hurt every time we have to advise a school or public safety official that they will have to wait a year or more before we can assist them. While an astounding number of school officials have agreed to wait 8-12 months, most do not have the ability to do so.

We plan to begin posting increasingly more regular blogs and starting in the summer, resume our work on new free guides on various school safety projects. We thank our loyal readers for their patience with us as we have had to delay adding new content to our website, releasing free guides and training videos and of course, releasing only six blogs in 24 months.

We appreciate how patient everyone has been with us and we plan to work hard to provide practical and useful blogs and free resources in short order.