Mixed Messages – Many School Officials Overwhelmed by Conflicting School Security Recommendations

During a very large school security assessment project, we had a series of meetings with a number of public safety agency representatives, education leaders, and representatives of teachers and other categories of school employees to obtain feedback.  One extremely important finding that arose is consistent with what we have heard in many different school security assessments in most regions of the country.  School superintendents, building administrators, teachers, and a variety of public safety officials reported that they have experienced considerable confusion because educators are constantly being told conflicting things by different school security experts and different public safety officials.

One superintendent was concerned that he had repeatedly been told to change lockdown procedures as local police attended different seminars hearing different information from different speakers.  He reported that it was extremely challenging to change lockdown protocols five or six times in a period of one or two years.  If we put ourselves in the shoes of a school superintendent, we can understand how difficult this is.  For example, a school superintendent who complies with the instructions to make these changes may have to:

  1. Spend time revising their plans five times in two years.
  2. Spend money reprinting 1,800 emergency plans for teachers.
  3. Dedicate time to issue the 1,800 plan components to the teachers.
  4. Dedicate precious and extremely limited staff time to re-train 1,800 teachers.
  5. Experience a loss of confidence of teachers who cannot understand why their leaders and public safety officials cannot make up their minds about life and death matters.

This makes it even more important that school safety, security, and emergency preparedness concepts be carefully vetted before they are implemented.   Our experience has been that these types of situations can often be avoided by:

  1. Asking if the suggested approach has been properly evaluated to provide evidence that it will actually work.
  2. Carefully vetting new procedures with fire service, emergency management, and law enforcement officials rather than with law enforcement officials alone.
  3. Utilization of the problem seeking approach where planning teams conduct a group activity where they use a scenario where the concept has failed as a starting point and the group has to figure out why this could occur.
  4. Carefully testing new concepts in a manner that is reflective of how they will actually operate.

Taking the time to vet new school safety concepts is worth the time and energy required.  Thoughtful vetting using these approaches up front can prevent considerable difficulty in the future.


About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.