How to Improve School Security and Safety: The 5 Step Approach

According to the CDC’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, about 6 percent of U.S. students had skipped school at least once during the 30 days leading up to the survey because they feared for their safety—and their fears may not be unfounded.

In the first half of 2018 alone, at least 42 people have been killed and 77 injured due to school shootings. Additionally, more than one-fifth of students report being bullied, and 45 percent of high school students reported the presence of gangs on their campuses. In a perfect world, those numbers would be zero. So how do school administrators ensure the safety of their students?

  1. Define the problem
  2. Identify threats and preventative factors
  3. Develop and test prevention strategies
  4. Advocate widespread adoption
  5. Continue to measure and adapt

Improving School Safety: The 5-Step Approach

1. Define the Problem

First, understand the school's internal and external environment regarding security and safety. A school may have many different potential threats to consider, including issues with violence, but the unique characteristics of its region, country, and demographics may also have an impact on how the school functions and how campus community members interact.

Prior to developing a security and safety program, school administrators should gather data to determine which specific issues to address and where protection and prevention efforts are necessary.

2. Identify Potential Threats and Protective Factors

Once school administrators have assessed the types of threats present in their schools and communities, the data collected can be analyzed from a risk-based perspective to identify common factors that influence the operational approach, protective measures, and weaknesses in security.

Identify incident trends to understand vulnerabilities, then start thinking about protective factors already in place, such as walkthroughs by local police officers, security procedures, technology, and training programs.

3. Develop and Test Prevention Strategies

Use the information gathered in the first two steps to create informed security strategies. Shaping security and safety plans based on a school's specific problems, risks, and protective factors allows for a more targeted, effective approach to incident prevention, detection, and response.

Implement the new strategy—but don't stop there. It may not work as well as expected. To make a long-term positive impact, continuously measure performance, test the strategy, and build on it based on newly-identified risks and improvement opportunities. Take corrective action when necessary.

4. Advocate Widespread Adoption

For security strategies to be effective, it is vital for everyone to be involved. Work within the leadership, the school, and the community at large to communicate goals, encourage adoption of security programs, and promote reporting methods. This will involve training staff, removing roadblocks for universal adoption, and distributing plans and protocols to stakeholders.

Too often, people take security and safety for granted. Remind everyone that effective programs exist and find creative ways to reward those who participate—because the only way to ensure better school security and safety is successful ongoing adoption of these programs.

5. Continue to Measure and Adapt

Building a safe school is a continuous process. As with any program or initiative, if a security program isn't measured against baseline statistics, it's impossible to know for sure if it's an effective use of school resources.

Collecting and analyzing data can help school administrators discover underlying causes of violence, highlight areas for improvement, and determine the most effective prevention methods. Ultimately, using research to form, test, measure, and adjust school security and safety efforts is the best approach to building a safe school community.

How to Implement Change

Many security and safety measures are already in place within American schools, including security cameras and controlled access to buildings during school hours—but without an effective strategy for reporting and responding to suspicious activity, these measures may not be enough to effectively prevent incidents.

Subscribing to this five-step program helps school administrators maintain standard security procedures and foster community-wide awareness of those policies. Consistency and familiarity help minimize confusion, reduce mistakes in dangerous situations, and increase the probability of successful outcomes.

Many schools hire school resource officers (SROs) to address school security—but administrators still play an important role in establishing the five-part lifecycle. They should set clear goals, enforce policy, and provide input and support in the development and implementation of any security program. Along with gaining insight, developing new strategies, and building awareness, the five-step approach for improving security and safety in schools involves implementing the right technology and training programs.

Leverage Tools and Technology

Incident reporting software tools can be valuable assets to school administrators in every stage of the five-step approach. Reporting tools enable faster detection, prevention, and response. Benchmark analysis tools and comparative data can help measure progress and address a variable security landscape.

However, school administrators and security personnel often implement incident reporting software that is not equipped to effectively track security incidents. Successful outcomes require the adoption of a comprehensive incident reporting and security management solution.

Look for a fully, integrated security platform that offers streamlined data collection, reporting, and analysis. The best solutions enable school staff and security personnel to focus on prevention, without sacrificing visibility or inhibiting ongoing intelligence efforts.

Develop Training Programs

Successful security and safety strategies require a combination of physical and technological training. Proficiency in both improves the outcomes of dangerous situations, because the practiced response becomes instinctive and better coordinated.

Additionally, the community is more likely to use reporting tools and follow procedures when they're well-trained on how to use them. When school administrators highlight the tools and training programs available and promote a culture of participation and awareness, students and faculty become more invested in the program's success. This will not only lead to improved overall safety but also to increased academic success across the board.

The safety and academic success of students are closely linked. When school administrators create an environment where security and safety is a priority, students will be less likely to fear for their personal safety while at school. Having a better sense of security frees up their attention to focus on studying, making friends, and participating in sports and extracurricular activities.

How To Improve School Security and Safety with Strategy and Software

In the United States, student exposure to traumatic events is not new or rare. Even if a traumatic event has yet to occur at your school, that doesn't mean it can't happen—and prevention should always be the number one priority. The bottom line is: focusing on school security and safety is critical.

Improving school security and safety is a matter of adopting the five-step approach, and then supporting the initiative with school-wide safety training and a comprehensive suite of reporting tools. To increase security measures and prevent incidents, develop a better understanding of your school's unique vulnerabilities, implement community-wide security and safety procedures, and supplement those policies with training and technology.