Nuts and Bolts Fundamentals Missing in Many School Safety and Crisis Plans

Posted by on April 7, 2009

Missing nuts-and-bolts fundamentals in school security and emergency planning come back to haunt us when a crisis or high-profile security incident occurs.  We can prevent many situations with the proper training and time allocated to doing the leg work critical to meaningful school safety and crisis planning.

Want to stump a school crisis team?  You don’t need to ask complex questions.  Instead:

  • Ask them how they dial 9-1-1 from their school phones.  Must 9 be dialed first and then 9-1-1, or can they dial 9-1-1 direct without dialing 9 to get an outside line?
  • Do all faculty and staff members know the street address of their school if they are asked by a 9-1-1 dispatcher?
  • If your school’s walking evacuation site is a community church, do you have keys to get in the building if nobody is at the church when you arrive?
  • How long will it take to mobilize your district’s school bus drivers in the middle of the school day if needed in an emergency?  What if you need to evacuate multiple buildings at the same time? Have you drilled this to get a realistic feel for the amount of time between the school’s call and the arrival of buses?
  • Have students been trained not to open doors for individuals on the outside trying to get in the school?


These and other questions often draw blank stares and a bit of anxiety when we ask school crisis team members.

School support staff are also often an overlooked school crisis planning resource.  School secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, and food services workers are critical players in our day-to-day school operations, as well as in a crisis.  Yet we consistently find them under-trained and under-represented on school safety and crisis teams.

As the Columbine 10th anniversary nears, reflections on the  state of school security and school crisis planning grow.  In recent years, we have heard questionable proposals such as arming teachers, equipping kids with bulletproof backpacks, and training students to throw books at armed intruders.  We have also had security product vendors pushing their products as “the” solution to school violence.

Yet where we have really lost focus is on our people.   We need to return to the basic fundamentals of school safety so those on the front lines in our schools know what to do in crisis situations.

How would your school’s staff  respond to the above questions?   Are they really prepared?

3 thoughts on “Nuts and Bolts Fundamentals Missing in Many School Safety and Crisis Plans

  1. Don Hedges says:

    So very true. There are layers of barriers to get past in order to arrive at any meaningful change in our schools – Board members, superintendents, directors of schools, principals, staff, students, and parents. Having the upper eschelon on board with school safety is important for funding and a unified direction / vision, but if principals are not on board for whatever reason, safety will not improve. Most school districts experience “hit and miss” success with implementation due to this very issue – even school districts with full time personnel dedicated solely to school safety! It will take a culture change to make our schools safer – a paradigm shift. How this will take place is yet to be seen as this wheel turns slowly and sometimes stops due to complacency (huge problem in our culture). Efforts from professionals like Ken are certainly not in vain. Practitioners need to unite, push legislation, and be ever persistent with implementing solid low cost solutions to school safety issues. Most of these solutions I am convinced are right under our noses most of the time but we feel we have to bring in something new to attack the issue – something new with a big price tag. Many times these “something new” solutions that cost big money do not work, or they certainly don’t have the impact expected for the money. Practitioners like myself see this everyday. We know what it takes to improve preparedness and response…and most of the time it simply requires a few low cost changes, and changes in habit and perspective of those staff members who are the true first responders.

  2. charlie hammonds says:

    The million dollar question is How do we change the attitudes of our school staff. The “It wont happen here attitude is going to cost us many students and staff. Maybe it is time for enforcemnt laws to come into play. If we find doors proped open or failure to follow the plan possibly charge them with child endangerment. This is just a idea. I have tried to get this to happen without moving to this step but those of us in the schools every day will be the fall guys when the crisis happens. Just wanted to add my two cents Thanks for your forum.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks, Charlie. I appreciate your comments and share your frustration regarding changing attitudes.

      In over 25 years of school safety experience, there are days when I feel like the progress has been made in baby-steps. Some days, I wonder if it has been made at all. And then other days, I see areas where there has been good progress in at least changing the conversation and in many cases, changing the action which needs to follow the conversation.

      One of my colleagues, Chuck Hibbert, always says: We can’t change the climate if we don’t change the conversation. There is so much more work to do. We need school safety advocates who keep the conversation going in their local schools and keep school safety on the front burner.

      Thanks for contributing,

      School leaders have to realize that parents will forgive them if their test scores go down, but they will be much less forgiving if something happens to their children which could have been prevented or better managed.

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