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What is the Solution to Improving School Security? The short answer is - it depends.

On February 14, 2018, 17 students and teachers were killed at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, by a gunman, a former student. As authorities were still trying to piece together the events of that day, calls came from every sector of society and political perspective on how to keep this from happening again. Everyone seemed to be clamoring for the one or two solutions to attack the problem - the one or two solutions that could be applied everywhere, at every school, to ensure this does not happen again.

There is no doubt or disagreement that this conversation needs to take place. But, maybe we can we take a moment to take a deep breath and think this through. Is there a one-size-fits-all approach that will adequately mitigate threats and reduce the risks to students, faculty, staff, and visitors at our nation’s schools?

Yes and no. There is no universal practice, system, rule, law, or tactic to secure each and every school. But there is a universal approach in how we address school security and campus safety. It starts with a thorough and proper security and safety assessment of each individual school in order to develop programs, plans, procedures, and training to adequately prepare for, respond to, and recover from a multitude of security and safety threats to a school.

Every school is different. Each is distinct in its physical construction, campus design, student population, student demographic, and security acumen of faculty and staff. Each is also unique in its geographic location, local resources, police response times, and what natural hazards may be nearby. Simply put, what may work for the large, inner city school may not be needed or may not be practical for the small rural school.

A Story of Two Schools

Let me compare two schools we have worked with to show how the uniqueness of a school can drive the solution:

School One is an elementary school in a largely developed suburban area of a medium sized city with excellent resources and funding. The school has a student population of just over 800 with a student/teacher ratio of approximately 15:1. School One consists of two conjoined buildings on a very secure two-acre campus surrounded by a fence with very strong physical security and access controls coupled with very stringent visitor control procedures. Police response time in the event of an incident is less than five minutes.

School Two is a small K through 12 school in a very rural area challenged with scant resources and a very small budget. School Two’s student population is just under 300 with a student/teacher ratio of approximately 9:1. This school is comprised of over a half-dozen separate buildings spread out among a large multi-acre campus. The campus has no fencing, almost non-existent access control, and although visitor control procedures are in place, the openness of the campus makes keeping out unauthorized people a challenge. Police response time, hampered by the large geography of the county and scarce police resources, can be as high as 20 minutes.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Clearly, whatever risk mitigation and prevention strategies we implement at School One will not be practical at School Two. For example, recent conversations about school security have included the recommendation of installing metal detectors and armed security, possibly in the form of more School Resource Officers (SROs). For the purpose of this discussion, let’s explore this particular proposal in the context of these two schools.

Metal detectors at School One would certainly decrease the likelihood of a weapon being brought in. But is it practical? Have you been to a school during arrival? School One has one main entrance. Let’s install our metal detectors there. First question is, who staffs the metal detectors? SROs? Contract security guards? Teachers and staff? What are your screening procedures? How will you scan all those backpacks and lunch boxes?

Now imagine funneling hundreds of elementary school children with their backpacks through one entrance with one or two metal detectors? Have you ever stood in line at the TSA checkpoint at the airport? Imagine all those people are now children ranging in age from 5 to around 12. Now imagine the scene outside the school as numerous busses and parents in their cars are lined up outside, depositing even more children onto the sidewalk outside. This is not to say metal detectors are not a viable and may be a necessary solution for School One, but, it obviously affects things such as student arrival procedures, parent drop off procedures, traffic control and crosswalk safety plans, etc. is not as simple a solution as some would like to think.

What about School Two? Well, here, metal detectors are not even practical. Multiple buildings spread throughout the campus makes this solution not only logistically but financially impossible.

Prepare, Respond, and Recover

Security and risk management can be boiled down to three parts. Each school must implement programs, plans, policies, practices and procedures in order to properly prepare for, respond to, and recover from various critical incidents. Proper school security and safety planning is much more holistic and requires integration and interoperability of several policies and processes. For example, simple security and crime prevention strategies using the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) not only reduces the risk of crimes such as theft, burglary, and assault but also can reduce the risk of wandering or eloping students, stranger abduction and vandalism; it is also an excellent building block for active shooter response.

Individual Assessment – the First Step

Because each school is unique, each school needs a tailored program designed as a result of a comprehensive assessment to determine risk, needs, and practicality of recommended solutions. That, in a nutshell, is the only universal answer to school safety and security: assess the school, assess the school population, assess the school’s location, assess the school’s resources, and assess the needs.

Because, what can be done to improve school security? It depends.

Conclusion – Case in Point

On June 4, 2018, The Broward County (Florida) League of Cities’ School And Community Public Safety Task Force, which was formed as response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, issued its “Initial Report And Recommendations” which can be accessed HERE.

In its Executive Summary, the Task Force’s report states in part:

The February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resulted in the deaths of 14 students and 3 teachers, another 17 students and teachers who were injured as a result of gunfire, and many who were traumatized and continue to endure the mental and physical scars. This massacre spotlighted an urgent need to address a number of school and com

munity safety issues in Florida. . .

In the wake of the massacre at MSD, the Task Force recognized at the outset that there were agencies, commissions and consultants analyzing the details surrounding the events leading up to, during and the aftermath of the massacre. The mission of the Task Force was to gather a broad array of representative stakeholders for potential changes and/or strategies (emphasis added) intended to enhance school and community safety in Broward County, Florida and provide sustained evaluation of the implementation of such recommendations based upon what was known generally.

The solution to school security is not one-size fits all. Each school is unique, with its own distinct challenges and its own group of stakeholders. Therefore, the solutions need to embrace the individuality of the school as well.

If you would like to know more about ORS’ tailored approach to school security and the specific case studies mentioned here, drop us a line at

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