School safety: Security assessments post-Sandy Hook shootings

Posted by on January 2, 2013

“Fast” does not equate to “best.”

This was my response in a communication with a private school administrator who shared with me yesterday that her school’s board of trustees had been pondering a school security assessment for three months, but then when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, they wanted the process expedited. Since scheduling over the Christmas break would be difficult for the school staff, she in essence checked the references of one of the first security consultants who personally answered the phone and contracted with that consultant.

Fortunately, we were not that consultant. If that is how this particular school’s board and administration makes decisions on school security, I’d prefer to stay far, far away. They sound like a “liability waiting to happen.”

We also know the security consultant who is sitting by the phone all of the time is obviously not out working with schools.

In the hours and weeks following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, we continue to receive inquiries from school districts seeking school security assessment services. While we don’t encourage “paralysis by analysis,” we do encourage school leaders to make informed, thoughtful decisions when selecting school security consultants.

What is a school security or safety assessment?

Our approach to school security / safety assessments is to provide educators an independent evaluation by experienced school security professionals of existing positive safety measures in their schools and recommendations for building upon those measures in a strategic plan reporting approach.

A professional school security assessment is more than a checklist template of physical security equipment measures that will end up in a report recommending that schools spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new equipment.

We look at a variety of issues in an assessment including:

  • School emergency and crisis preparedness planning
  • Security, crime and violence prevention policies and procedures
  • Physical security measures  including access control, communications capabilities, intrusion detection systems, perimeter security, after hours security, physical design, and many related areas
  • Professional development training needs related to school safety and emergency planning
  • Examination of support service roles in school safety, security, and emergency planning including facilities operations, food services, transportation services, pupil services, physical and mental health services, technology services, and associated school departments
  • School security and school police staffing, operational practices, and related services
  • Linking of security with prevention and intervention services
  • Personnel and internal security
  • School-community collaboration, school and public safety agency partnerships, and school-community relations issues on school safety

…and much more!!!

Security assessment final reports

Any safety / security assessment conducted by a professional school security consultant will culminate with a final report. Any consultant who even entertains the idea of not providing the client with a report would seem to be putting not only their client school or school district, but also themselves, in a high-risk position for potential legal and public relations liability down the road.

As experienced school safety professionals, we structure our reports to highlight the many positive aspects of safety, security, and preparedness in place in our clients’ schools. Educators and their school-community should know what they are doing right so they continue down that path. Recommendations are framed as steps to build upon those strengths and serve as a strategic plan for the school or school district to use in the months and years ahead.

The failure of a security consultant to provide a written report not only leaves no record of the service provided by the consultant, but also opens up the school or school district to speculation and false allegations of what they may or may not have been told by the consultant. A written report removes any doubt and, if done by an experienced school safety professional, will provide the school or school district with supportive evidence to demonstrate their commitment to school safety and a report that is a positive public relations tool to reassure the school community.

Consultants who provide “draft” reports can open up schools for claims of tampering, political influences, and/or controversy. We saw that recently in Bibb County, Georgia, where controversy arose in a local newspaper story questioning changes in a school security consultant firm’s report about a recommendation for the district to change it’s discipline policy. The district came under fire again over differences in crime and discipline data in the consultant’s reports. And later, the media raised questions of conflicts when the consulting firm’s vice president was hired as the district’s school police chief following a reported recommendation by the security consulting firm that the district fill the vacancy.

We conduct an exit interview with our client school district project coordinators to discuss our key observations. This affords them the opportunity clarify any facts, if need be. But we do not allow them to “red ink” a “draft” report and/or in any way position themselves where they could be accused of compromising the integrity of the assessment process.  In the end, the schools get a professional, honest, and independent assessment with opportunity for input all throughout the process, but without putting themselves or the security consultants in a position for public controversy like that in the Bibb County news stories.

Watch for red flags in selecting school security consultants

Over the years, especially after high-profile school shootings, we have encouraged school leaders to exercise caution in hiring school security consultants. We have provided a number of tips for selecting school security consultants. These tips have held true throughout the years.

We also encourage school leaders to obtain at least ten written school reference letters about prospective school security consultants from prior school clients. Names and phone numbers are one thing and can be helpful, but a written reference letter provides an additional layer of comfort and security to school leaders not familiar with a prospective school security consultant’s work.

Our firm is not the only firm providing school security assessments. There are other qualified individuals. But there are also too many high-risk individuals and companies that can lead their client schools to public controversy, rather than positive public relations.

Ken Trump

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3 thoughts on “School safety: Security assessments post-Sandy Hook shootings

  1. Broeck Oder says:

    Right on the money, Ken! I spent 25 years in emergency planning/management at a private school, and the “it can’t happen here, we’re SPECIAL!” mentality is probably the biggest problem at most private schools. The second biggest problem, I would venture, is that (prior to a news-making incident) administrators think that, because they are administrators, they are the “experts” on emergency matters. It was not only a problem at the private school where I work; I learned through my volunteer service on the Monterey County (CA) Office of Education emergency preparedness group that there were similar attitudes at other private schools. However, when something such as Sandy Hook comes along, then there is a brief flurry of panic to do “something” before the smug lethargy returns. Private schools cannot hear too often the “It CAN happen to YOU!” message. Thanks for highlighting it.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for your candor. Your points are spot-on based on some of our past experiences. Not all, but more than I’d prefer to see exist.

  2. John Henderson says:

    I agree that providing a draft report and accepting feedback before finalizing a report is bad practice for a consultant. The consultant’s job is to point out what is wrong and give options to fix it. The consultant’s job is not to manage risk for the school or whatever entity has requested the service. That is the Principal or CEO’s job. The entity is always going to be worried about cost and the inference will always be that the consultant adjusted the report’s findings because the client complained about money. Reports should be candid and provide real solutions to real problems and not be watered down by what the entity requesting the assessment wants. It is their risk to manage what you have provided in your report. There is nothing wrong with spreading cost over time to achieve what an assessment recommends if money is an issue. Planning and going step by step is very reasonable when cost is an issue. I don’t know how a school could be faulted for that, as long as they implement something according to the funding available.

    I also agree that schools and other entities seeking professional consultants must be very careful about who they hire. The best consultants have spent years in the business of security, which is different than years in the military or years in law enforcement. Although there are obvious linkages and benefits to both, security is a different discipline than military and policing on their own. Look a little deeper when a consultant relies strictly on advertising 30 years in policing, or the military and make sure you have an experienced and educated security practitioner.

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