School Security Assessments – Why Evaluating Climate, Culture and Emergency Preparedness Can Also be a Life and Death Matter for Public, Private, Charter and Independent Schools

Our analysts are currently working on more than thirty school security assessment projects for public, parochial and independent schools.  When reviewing the requests for proposals (RFP’s) and requests for qualifications (RFQ’) for these and other projects, we have noted that school officials have often been emphasizing school security.  When describing the scope of work for their school security assessment, there has been a pronounced tendency to focus on school security protocols and technologies.  While these aspects of a school security assessment are very important, our best opportunities to prevent the loss of human life in schools can often be found in other equally important areas.  For example, we have seen numerous instances where major incidents including mass casualty school shootings have taken place after a heavy investment of school security technology following a school security assessment that was too narrow in scope.  For school security technologies to work more reliably to prevent violence, the culture and climate of a school should be assessed along with school security technologies and policies.

Perhaps our best opportunities to reduce the mass casualty loss of human life in schools involve a careful assessment of school crisis preparedness.  As we review past incidents, there are striking examples of the loss of human life when individual school teachers, custodians, administrators, and other personnel were not properly prepared to take life-saving action fast enough.  For example, all 95 deaths in the deadly 1958 Our Lady of Angels Sacred Hearts School fire could have been averted had the monthly fire drills been conducted differently.  Sadly, most schools are still using 1958 style fire drills where staff are not required to make decisions and to communicate as they may be required to do in the event of a fire, tornado, earthquake, medical emergency, or an act of violence.

Including assessment processes to evaluate culture, climate and emergency preparedness in school security assessments can significantly improve these valuable efforts.

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.