Common Sense School Safety

If we want to reduce the number of victims of gun violence, we need to accept that different environments will require different measures. Fortunately, reducing school shooting incidents may be one of the simplest to mitigate.

Increased security measures in our nation’s schools can be implemented without turning schools into a prison fortress, contrary to the impulsive hyperbole offered by opponents to the idea. Corporate America has implemented many of the same measures over the past few decades, which has drastically reduced the number of incidents at office facilities across the country.

No solution eliminates all risk, but measures that are both realistic and reasonable can eliminate risk significantly without creating additional problems of their own.

Perimeter Barriers

Most people immediately think of walls or fencing when they hear about perimeter barriers, and while they can certainly be components of it they aren’t the only options. Natural barriers can also be very effective. It could be retention ponds, landscaping stone, or even just dense and thorny shrubbery. None of these barriers completely prevent access. They do, however, make it more difficult for unauthorized persons to gain access. When used with other layers of physical control, they can be very effective — such as combined with structural barriers like ornamental fencing — they may actually improve the property’s otherwise institutional appearance, as well.

The function is not necessarily to stop pedestrian passage, but rather to slow it down and make it a significantly less inviting access point. Moreover, it can be designed in a way to encourage pedestrian traffic to a more controlled point of access. While this may not be feasible for every school, particularly urban schools, it is not an unreasonable measure for schools which do have greenspace. If these types of features are attractive and functional enough for our homes, they should certainly serve the same purposes for our schools.

Access Control

Most commercial facilities around the country utilize some form of access control. These systems have become more affordable and offer a number of options from keypads to fobs to cards. These systems would allow for schools to not only control the access of exterior doors, but also maintain a record of exactly who is coming in and out of the building at any point in time. They could also be installed on interior doors where facilities deem it appropriate as well. This would allow teachers and staff to enter at any exterior point chosen by the administrators, while the student body is directed toward specific entrances.

Understandably, it would not be feasible to provide students with cards. Many would get lost or could easily be passed onto others, not to mention the ongoing cost and labor involved in maintaining so many cards. The function of these systems in the school setting would be to remove or greatly reduce the chances of doors being left unlocked manually by staff or students who might exit through them.

Access control systems have no negative impact on building aesthetics, and in many cases can be installed in ways that they are incorporated into building materials that make them nearly unnoticeable until one is close enough to use them. When these systems are combined with exterior cameras, it provides secondary confirmation of who has entered the building.

Automated Technology

There are several ways in which technology can be incorporated. Camera systems focused on perimeter barriers could include motion detection that automatically secures any unlocked entry points, rings the school office or administrator, or even sets off strobes on the exterior of the school to alert that a barrier has been breached. A multitude of options are available for the use of systems like this.

In the case of the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, the shooter began firing a weapon outside of the school. Gunshot detection systems like ShotSpotter could be tied into the school’s access control systems and immediately alert local law enforcement at the detection of a gunshot within range of the school. This is another measure that adds no negative aesthetics to the schools, but can be very effective in accelerating response time to a threat before it enters the school campus.

Security

School Resource Officers are an important component of any school security plan. Schools would benefit greatly from having officers onsite, monitoring a single point of entry for students, or multiple officers at any additional points of entry designated by the school.

Involving local police departments in the school district’s planning is crucial. Not only can police help to proactively identify vulnerability points, but they also can gain in advantage in reactive response if there is an incident at the school.

It is also important to consider that resource officers serve as more than a security measure. These officers develop relationship with students and can often help to prevent destructive behavior in troubled students by engaging them proactively before an incident evolves. They get to know the student body and become a source of trust for students to approach if they hear of something they are concerned about, or are aware of another student potentially in a dangerous hardship.

None of these measures are absolute, but each of them provides for an added layer of protection. When combined, together they will greatly reduce the chances of an incident at the school.

Of course all of these things require financial resources, but these do not have to come in the form of tax increases. They require fiscal responsibility at the direction of school boards to appropriate existing funds in a way that prioritizes student safety. There may be state or federal grants available. Philanthropists and community fundraisers may help to reduce the financial burden. All of these risk-reduction steps may also may reduce insurance premiums for schools, offsetting some of the cost.

We are a country that is very generous to foreign states. While there is importance in that, our first priority should be protecting our own, especially the youngest and most vulnerable. These measures can easily be implemented with the redirection of funds. If lawmakers and community members are serious about school safety, these measures require little thought. They do, however, require determined action and commitment. An added benefit of implementing these concepts in our schools is that materials, manufacturing, installation, and ongoing maintenance can all be done locally or regionally, which offers an added benefit to jobs and local economies across the country.

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