Best Practices for School Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning

School shootings raise concern and dialogue on school safety in school communities across the nation.  Parents often press school boards and superintendents for information and improvements in their school safety plans, security procedures and emergency guidelines. School leaders must be prepared to proactively communicate about school safety and to do a “check-up” on their strategies to make sure what they’re doing is consistent with recognized best practices.


Five key strategy areas: 

  1. Training school administrators, teachers, and support staff (school resource officers and security officers, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, etc.) on school violence prevention, school security, school threat assessment, and school emergency planning best practices
  1. Evaluating and refining school security measures
  1. Updating and exercising school emergency preparedness plans
  1. Strengthening partnerships with public safety officials
  2. Creating enhanced crisis communications plans and social media strategies

Expanded points for five key strategy areas:

  1. Training school administrators, teachers, and support staff (school resource officers and security officers, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc.) on school threat assessment, school violence prevention, school crime prevention practices, school security procedures and awareness, and school emergency planning best practices.  The first and best line of defense is a well trained, highly alert school staff and student body.
  1. Evaluating and refining school security measures. Security is often equated with equipment such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras, police and security officers, and other physical, tangible measures.  While these measures are necessary and play an important role in many school systems, particularly large urban districts with a history of weapons-related incidents and concerns, equipment is only as good as the human element behind it.  Parents, the media, and others often call for metal detectors after a high-profile violence incident in schools. We have to remember that prisons have metal detectors, prisoner and visitor searches, and the most restrictive, punitive environments.  Prisons still experience incidents of drugs, sexual assaults, weapons, gangs, and even murders. When security equipment is used in schools, it must be viewed as a supplement to, but not a substitute for, a more comprehensive school safety program.A brief sample of basic school security measures include cost-free and lower cost measures such as, but not limited to, reducing the number of open doors, having functional communications systems, keeping trees and shrubs trimmed to promote natural visibility, and establishing procedures for accurately and timely reporting of school crimes. Security measures can be built into the design of new and remodeled schools.
  1. Updating and exercising school emergency preparedness plans
    1. Most schools created emergency/crisis plans after the Columbine attack in April of 1999.  Evaluations of school emergency plans nationwide consistently show that while schools have emergency plans and crisis teams named on paper, many plans are sitting on shelve collecting dust.  Gaps in emergency plans include questionable content in the plans, a lack of training of school staff on emergency plans, and a lack of exercising plans in cooperation with public safety partners.  A written plan sitting on a shelf is only as good as the paper it is written upo
    1. School emergency plans should address preparedness procedures such as lockdowns, evacuations, parent-student reunification procedures, mobilizing school transportation during the school day, emergency communications protocols with parents and the media, and mobilizing mental health services.
    1. School officials should meet regularly with their public safety partners: Police, fire, emergency medical services, and emergency management agencies to discuss safety, security, and emergency planning strategies.
    1. School crisis teams must be trained.
    1. Schools should have district-level and building level plans.
    1. School emergency plans should be reviewed (in cooperation with public safety partners) and updated at least annually.
    1. Schools must work with public safety officials to identify potential staging areas for media, parents, medical personnel, and others who will respond in an emergency.
    1. School emergency plans must be exercised in order to reach their maximum potential usefulness.  While full scale simulation drills are valuable in teaching important lessons, they are very time and labor intensive in their planning. Schools are strongly encouraged, however, to hold tabletop exercises with their district and building crisis teams, public safety and community agency partners, and other key stakeholders.  Tabletops, which can be done in a half-day or day of professional development training time, allow schools to work through hypothetical scenarios to see if the plans they have on paper would work in a real emergency.
    1. Schools should practice lockdown drills over the course of a school year as they do fire drills, tornado drills, and other drills.  Any drills should be practiced in a realistic manner, such as during lunch hours, not simply when it is convenient and least disruptive to the school day.  Schools must practice in the times and manner they would experience in a real emergency.
    2. Form school threat assessment teams. Create a threat assessment protocol. Train staff on threat assessment.

4. Strengthening partnerships with public safety officials:

  1. School administrators and crisis team members should meet regularly, at least twice a year, with public safety partners (police, fire, emergency medical services, emergency management agencies, Red Cross, etc.)
  1. Public safety partners should be involved in the development and updating of school emergency plans and tabletop exercises.
  1. Schools should number each entrance/exit door so first responders can easily identify specific entrances/exists when called to respond to an incident and/or to manage a tactical response.
  1. Schools should provide police and fire departments with updated floor plans and blueprints for their reference for tactical responses.
  1. Police are strongly encouraged to train and practice the rapid response to active shooter techniques.  Schools should make their schools and school buses available after-hours and/or on weekends so SWAT teams can practice responding to scenarios in these settings.
  2. Work with first responders to create, implement and train on school threat assessment protocols.

5. Creating enhanced crisis communications plans and social media strategies:

a.  Conduct an assessment of existing crisis communications plans. If you have no formal crisis communications plan, create one.

b.  Evaluate social media strategy. Many students can show you the mechanics of how to post on Twitter or Facebook. But does your district actually have a strategy for social media?

For additional information, contact Ken Trump.