SCHOOL SECURITY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS ASSESSMENT SERVICES
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Buyer Beware: Risky School Safety Consultants Create Liability Risks
The Columbine High School attack in April of 1999, Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in 2012, MSD High School 2018 attack in Parkland, Florida, and the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school mass shooting triggered an onslaught of overnight school safety experts, charlatans, gadgets, and gurus seeking to financially capitalize on what they perceive to be a new “big bucks” market in the field of school safety. Fortunately, the majority of these “overnight wonders” fall to the wayside in a few years after they hang out a shingle and are unable to garner credibility and sustain their newly formed business due to their questionable credentials and practices. But they can do a lot of damage before they fizzle out!
School officials who make knee-jerk reactions in selecting school security trainers or consultants without considering whether or not they are really qualified may find themselves the target of public, media, and even legal scrutiny down the line for not having done so.
What should you consider when selecting a school security and emergency/crisis preparedness consultant?
- The two faces of security vendors: Are the security consultants truly independent or are the primary objectives of the security “consultants” to sell you big-ticket security products, hardware, or technology? A growing number of security vendors are representing their salespersons (aka: “business development specialists”) as school security experts or hiring previously-established independent school security experts as the face of their sales business. School leaders must ask: Is the school security consultant trying to do business with your school district truly “independent”? Or does he or she have open or hidden strategic partnerships, alliances and/or financial backing from security product or hardware vendors that could influence their recommendations to your district for high-ticket security expenses?
- There are many sincere security vendors who want to work with schools to adapt their products, hardware, or technology and products to the school environment for the purpose of improving school safety. However, there are also an increasing number of vendors who want to break into the school market — and break into the school budgets — with the primary purpose of making more money.
- School officials should also scrutinize education association and other conference presenters (many paid for by security hardware, products, and tech vendor companies) to make sure that their hidden agenda is not to get in the door under the guise of a presentation or training session so they can give you a veiled sales pitch under the guise of training which is really to influence you to buy their products.
- Exercise due diligence to sort through the two faces of security salespersons posing as school security consultants and trainers. In the end, their companies pay them to promote and sell their products, hardware, and technology. Otherwise, they would not have a job with that company.
- Law enforcement, military, emergency management, or other security experience alone does not automatically equate to school security expertise. An individual may have had an outstanding career in law enforcement, the military, emergency management, or corporate security elsewhere, but that does not immediately make him or her a school security expert.
- Security in K-12 schools is vastly different from protecting the back alleys of our city neighborhoods, nuclear weapons, government installations, utility companies, private corporate offices and plants, executive protection, etc. There are unique differences between securing assets in these various professions and in securing our children, teachers, and school facilities in a child-oriented, welcoming climate with unique school-community relations and politics.
- Experience with age and developmental issues, special needs children and child-oriented settings is highly relevant and very different from working in these other settings. School officials should not allow impressive titles and careers in other fields alone to command respect and credibility as a school security specialist.
- Distinguish advocates, activists, and experts —and watch closely for opportunists. Consultants and speakers whose school safety “expertise” resolves around one crisis event and other motivational speakers may provide advocacy and motivation, but not necessarily broad and deep expertise.
- An expert is defined as one who has education, training, and experience in a given subject matter.
- Some “lessons learned” can be garnered from high-profile school violence incidents and other major tragic events. But unfortunately, some consultants and trainers have attempted to define themselves as school safety experts based upon having some connection to only one major tragedy of violence. They are what we call, “Single incident experts.”
- Advocates and activists have voices that should be heard, but their backgrounds, perspectives, and agendas may not also bring the scope, depth, knowledge, and experience of a true school safety expert who is competent to give school safety, security, and emergency preparedness advice to you and your school district. See more in our blog post on distinguishing advocates, activists, and experts.
- Check the credibility, track record, experience, and references of the company and staff specifically in the K-12 School Security field. Investigate the nature of organizations providing school security and crisis preparedness resources. Do not let fancy names or titles mislead you. Is their “non-profit” or “research” organization simply a cover for their personal consulting business? Are they using these titles and organizational classification as a misleading effort to enhance their credibility and convince potential clients that they are something that they are not?
- Closely scrutinize “post-incident” school safety consultants and other “experts” lacking austainability over time. Educators should closely scrutinize consultants and “experts” whose “expertise” and consulting experience in school safety begin after high-profile attacks. Few “experts” who pop up after high-profile incidents are still operating a full-time, national school safety consulting business several years down the road. The shorter the time in the field of providing school safety consulting services, the closer the scrutiny which should be given by educators. Sustainability and continuity in providing school safety consulting services over an established period of time are key factors to look for in qualified, established, and credible school safety consultants.
- Watch for the “Bait and Switch” sales tactic. Make sure that all members of a school safety consulting firm have extensive school safety experience, not just the lead consultant.
- While some of the more visible individuals with a firm may be established in the field, look at the credentials of each consultant to make sure they have established experienced and credibility in school safety.
- It would not be uncommon to see one individual with decent credentials bring in less qualified individuals as consultants to ride on his/her coattails, even though they do not have lengthy and quality firsthand experience working on the front lines of school safety (or in some cases, even in a school)!
- Make sure the consultant you get sent to your school is one with the actual school safety, security, and emergency preparedness expertise.
- Part-time school safety consultants. Retired educators, current police officers, military professionals, self defense instructors and others attempting to provide school safety consulting on a part-time basis can present schools with serious limitations. While teaching close combat tactics off-duty to school teachers may make the officer a few extra bucks, these individuals often fail to have preK-12 experience, liability protections and other depth of experience to be qualified school safety consultants.
- Watch for “borderline backgrounds” and misleading qualifications. Look through the slick marketing materials of big-business consulting firms to analyze the backgrounds of so-called “school security experts” more closely.
- See whether they actually have experience in school-specific environments, in security-specific capacities, and in working with youth and schools.
- Educators should also be careful of questionably presented credentials and biographical descriptions lacking specifics. When someone’s credentials say they “attended XYZ college,” does this really mean they never achieved a degree?
- Also be leery of biographical descriptions loaded with comments such as “well known” or “well respected” or “well liked,” but lacking any real “meat” in terms of actual professional school safety or other real work experience.” It is nice to find people who are “highly passionate” and “exceptionally motivated,” but this should be demonstrated in their work rather than constituting three-fourths of their resume or biography.
- Scrutinize the academic answers. Academic interest in various aspects of school safety have grown in the past decade. There are some recognized best practices and themes, although the research and literature is still in its relative infancy. There is not even common agreement on the definition of a “safe school” or “mass shooting.” Be critical consumers of school safety information but, most importantly, be consumers — read, study, learn, and then dig for more!
- Beware of the “flip-floppers.” Be cautious of individuals who “play to the crowd” and tell people what they think the audience wants to hear. Why should schools use their limited school safety dollars to hire a multi-thousand dollar presenter who tells them whatever they want to hear rather than what they need to know? Our philosophy at National School Safety and Security Services has always been that what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. But you will get the truth from us and we will tell you what you need to know.
- Scrutinize “experts” whose training and consulting primarily evolve around free government manuals, publications, etc., and consultants who charge thousands of dollars for what you could get for free in your own community. Why in the world would any school district pay thousands of dollars for trainers who come in and regurgitate the contents of federal and state government reports, academic studies, and other publications available to school districts for free?
Credible and truly independent school security and emergency preparedness specialists should have school-specific security and emergency preparedness experience, and school-specific services to offer. Education resources are limited and they should only be used for qualified, professional resources with the necessary experience and expertise to be of maximum assistance to our schools.
A truly competent, professional consulting business should be able and willing to identify itself up front! Truly established experts will have lengthy qualifications of frontline experience working in and with K-12 schools, established professional and legitimate publications in the field, well-established written references, high-public visibility in their field (conference presenters in their field, quoted in professional industry publications and other media, etc.), and related traits.
School leaders must exercise due diligence and be critical thinkers when selecting school security and emergency preparedness consultants.
There are many qualified school safety consultants working at a national level in the United States. There are an increasing number of security hardware, product, and technology vendors trying to sway well-intended but less informed school administrators to buy their goods. There are also far too many opportunists who present both safety and liability risks to school leaders.
School leaders: Do your homework!