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Five signs your school needs a better safety program

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Do your students feel safe and secure while they’re at school? The same question can be asked of your teachers, administrators and other employees who spend their workday on the school grounds. There have been enough tragedies in the news over the past few years to create an environment of concern at schools across the country. This is not a good environment in which to learn, to teach or to work.

Yet how can you be sure that your school is prepared for the possibility of an active shooter or other emergency? In reality, true readiness requires more than a single action to be taken. The best approach to take is to create a layered safety and security program covering multiple bases including prevention of risk, identification of threats, response to incidents in progress and communication with first responders. This last point is especially important, as it can greatly reduce the possibility of harm should an emergency occur.

Here are five signs that your school needs a better safety and security program.

1. You haven’t made a plan

A security program is more than just a list of technologies and tactics. No matter how good each element in the list, your population is still at great risk if you haven’t built a specific and individualized plan for your school.

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Every school has its own configuration, including the size, shape and location of the facilities, surrounding roads, infrastructure and other factors. For this reason, it is not possible to use a one-size-fits-all solution to create and maintain a secure environment on the school property.

Your plan should address both critical emergencies and basic safety and security protocols. It should also include procedures for training and testing staff and students.

2. You have no emergency alert and communications system

During an emergency, students or school personnel need to communicate as quickly as possible with first responders. The 911 system provides an alert but often falls short due to the length of time it takes for officers to reach the site of the incident.

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The best emergency alert system for schools provides abundant real-time information for first responders. Be sure to consider all the features of any system before choosing it for your school. Look for firearm detection, live access to cameras, remote door locking and other vital features.

3. You’re not running drills

Not knowing what to do or where to go during an active shooter or other emergency situation can greatly increase the negative outcomes. It’s not enough to simply give people written information or even to run through the actions once or twice. Regular drills – at least twice a year – are an essential element of your security planning program.

Drills should include lockdown procedures, situational awareness and run-hide-fight protocols, along with use of your emergency communications system. Repeating the actions they need to take will help students and staff remember what to do when it matters most.

4. You don’t have a visitor management system

No one should be on the school premises if they are not authorized to be there. The use of ID badges at school helps to ensure that every individual on the grounds and in the building has been screened and approved. The wearing of ID badges also makes it easy for students and staff to know when they see an unfamiliar face that they do not represent a threat.

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With a school visitor management system, you can check in and verify every visitor to the school. Building a custom watch list that integrates with this system enables you to flag anyone who has been identified as a potential threat, and deny them entry to the school. Automatic alerts can be sent to authorities through the visitor management system to add a layer of protection.

5. The school has no relationship with law enforcement

Your local law enforcement authorities can offer support and resources on many levels. They may even offer free and valuable advice, including helping you develop your initial security plan, managing emergencies and more.

Ideally, your emergency alert and communications system will integrate directly with a corresponding system in place in the district. This way everyone will be familiar with the software and its use, and your school can work together with responders to ensure all stakeholders are prepared. This will help minimize risk and save lives in an actual emergency situation.

In a true emergency, there is typically a great deal of chaos. At the same time, every second matters in mounting a response. By taking the necessary steps to create a robust safety and security program, you can help to minimize the negative impacts of an active shooter or other emergency event. It is never too soon to begin planning for the best possible outcome.

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Examining the Role of SROs

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Where do the responsibilities of a School Resource Officer begin and end? Typically, today’s SRO is a law enforcement officer trained to maintain security in schools. Often employed by a local police department or sheriff’s office and funded through law enforcement budgets, SROs are generally considered by schools and communities to be equivalent to a police presence within the school environment.

Since the 1950s when the first school-based law enforcement programs were launched, they have become widespread throughout the country. Between 1997 and 2003, the number of SROs grew from 9,400 to 14,337 – an increase of 52 percent. By 2012, there were more than 10,000 SROs, working in 40 percent of American schools, mostly middle and high schools. But is a “resource officer” the same thing as a “police officer?” And is policing students the best use of this staffing?


Providing Better Resources for Students

Students in the middle school or high school environment have many stressors in their lives. For some of them, school is a safe haven from a difficult home life. For others, it is the center of their social world with all the pressures of the teen years. Many students are struggling with issues ranging from (and beyond) mental health, bullying, peer pressure and poverty. When a young person is continually experiencing that kind of stress, they may act out in a number of ways at school. Depending on how they are handled, their actions could be the beginning of a lifelong negative pattern of behavior – or the beginning of a positive and nurturing relationship with caring adults that helps them learn to make better choices.

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To make the latter into reality for more students, the presence of School Resource Officers provides an opportunity to offer a vital array of supportive services to students. By building honest trusting and trusted relationships with all students across socioeconomic, ethnic and racial groups, the SRO can help to create bridges between students and school administration, mental heath agencies, social services and other support organizations. These are the kinds of resources that keep all students safer, both in school and at home – something that can change the direction of a student’s life for the better.

How SROs can Prevent School Violence

Creating relationships of trust pays dividends in the other direction as well. When students trust their School Resource Officers, they are more likely to tell them if there is a known threat at school. Students often know when another student is planning an attack at school. Whether it is through social media posts, conversations in the hallways or the gossip pipeline, usually it is the other students who are first and most aware that one of their peers is showing signs that they are engaging or about to engage in risky behavior. Yet they may be afraid for a number of reasons to inform any adult or figure of authority about the growing threat to that student’s, and other students’, safety.

From Proactive to Reactive: Making a Difference in an Emergency

Leading active shooter drills and training exercises is an important part of ensuring the school population is prepared for an incident. The SRO should take a primary role in these drills to keep students and staff on track and engaged, and to help maximize comprehension and readiness. The federal government supports this type of training program, and it is a key element in making sure your school is as safe as possible.

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Even with the most diligent program for preventing school violence, there is always the possibility that your school will experience an emergency. Should this happen, the SRO becomes a first line of defense in minimizing the risk to students, staff and others. This is where their extensive training in law enforcement response, along with their personal bravery and heroism, can allow them to help neutralize the threat and minimize harm even before the arrival of first responders.

Even so, the faster first responders arrive, the more lives will be saved. Today’s technology enables SROs, students, teachers or school staff to use an app or panic button to contact the local connected law enforcement agency with immediate information about the situation. Officers can be dispatched rapidly and provided with vital data such as the location of the shooter, along with live camera views and real-time updates.

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The job of a School Resource Officer can be highly stressful even on a normal day. With the peace of mind allowed by better communications technology, they can focus more on what matters most – building close and trusting relationships with students. In this way they can truly fulfill their mission: providing a resource for schools to help students thrive, learn and fulfill their potential.

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Why Schools Need Better Emergency Communication Software

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As schools begin to reopen and return to regular hours with the gradual decline of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about school security will once again become a primary concern on the part of parents, students, teachers and administration. There is little doubt that at some point in the future, there will be another active shooter putting lives at risk. Schools need to make sure now that they are prepared, both for this and for the many other emergencies that represent a threat to their populations.


There is no question about the fact that the faster first responders arrive on the scene of an active shooter incident, the less harm and loss of life will occur. Equally important is for those police officers to have as much information as possible about the unfolding incident and the scene. This includes knowing the location of the shooter, where to find any wounded individuals, what door to enter to reach those areas most rapidly, etc.

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Typically, the police response to an active shooter event begins with a 911 call. While the 911 system provides a vital support mechanism across the country, for a situation in which a person enters a school with a weapon, it can fall short. The average police response time to a 911 call is 18 minutes. The average school shooting lasts only 8 minutes from beginning to end. In that brief time, many lives can be lost, many others irreparably damaged. In fewer than six minutes, 17 individuals were fatally shot and 17 others wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas school. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, 26 people were lost in 12 minutes.


In an emergency like this, even a single minute lost in response time represents an immense threat. A better way is needed to let schools communicate quickly and efficiently with law enforcement and other first responders.

Better emergency communications software for schools
The best communications app for schools in an emergency will provide support for every stage of the incident and response, ideally as follows:

  1. Initial incident report or detection of emergency situation
    If an enrolled user makes a report through the app, the software automatically transmits a physical location along with the user’s profile, including any medical information and emergency contacts.
    A report may also be automatically triggered by the detection of a weapon via an integrated video surveillance system
  2. Authorities alerted
    Law enforcement, first responders or other authorities connected via the software are notified of the situation and provided with initial information
  3. Assessment and response optimization
    Dispatchers assess pre-populated information about the facility including entry points, physical environment and number of students and staff. They can also relay interactive campus maps, photos of the site and room layouts and other useful data. This information helps responders en route determine the best and fastest actions to take once they reach the site, including which door to use to enter the facility.
  4. Live camera feeds
    Officers can view live camera feeds in real time, with zoom functionality, enabling them to watch the developing situation and make tactical adjustments as needed.
  5. Mass notification to the school
    Once responders have been activated, all parties involved receive a notification with further safety instructions. With a PA system integration, authorities can even speak directly to the shooter to help de-escalate the situation, or issue campus-wide audio alerts to direct students, teachers and staff away from the shooter and to safety.
  6. Remote lock and unlock of doors
    Through an integration with electronic access control, authorities can use the software to lock or unlock facility doors. This makes it possible to enter through the door closest to the location of the shooter, saving precious minutes in neutralizing the threat.

Start making your school a safer place today
Faster response saves lives in an emergency. When law enforcement is provided with detailed information about the unfolding incident, they are even better equipped to respond quickly and efficiently, making the best decisions about where to go first and how to help most.


There is no level of threat higher than that of an armed individual on school premises. With dozens or hundreds of students, teachers and staff in the classrooms, offices and hallways, an active shooter has the opportunity to cause tremendous harm in a very short time. Whether you are a parent, a student or an administrator, the time to take action is now.

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Should Your School Resource Officers Carry Weapons?

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While most of the safety concerns in the education sector these days revolve around protecting staff, students and visitors from virus transmission, the other types of risk facing schools and campuses have not disappeared. Violence on school grounds, including school shootings, will continue to affect the education community and take a toll on the peace of mind of students and their families.


Many schools have hired school resource officers to help protect teachers, students and staff. Some of these individuals are former law enforcement officers; others are certified security guards or private citizens. While there is much discussion about the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers, one frequent question is whether or not they should carry firearms or other weapons while on duty.


Here are a few factors that can help you decide if your school or campus should arm your school resource officers.


Check state laws regarding armed school personnel
First and foremost, you need to research your state laws regarding armed security personnel on educational campuses. Some states allow for school resource officers to be armed on a school property, and other states’ laws prohibit civilians from being armed on a school campus. No matter what your security objectives are, you are exposing your school to risk if you are on the wrong side of the law when it comes to protection.


Consider what kind of training is required for school resource officers
Training requirements and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Some states oblige school resource officers to carry a certain class of license. They may also need to go through annual training to maintain the license and certificate to carry a firearm. These regulations are in place to protect schools, students, staff and the security officers themselves. By ensuring that your guards are trained, you can help to minimize risk – not only during any type of incident, but every day that people are present on the property.


Should Your School resource officers be Law Enforcement Officers?
When you hire current or retired law enforcement officers as school resource officers, you can be more confident that they have received extensive training in the use of weapons during the course of their employment. Even so, you need to confirm that they take whatever tests or certifications they need to remain qualified on an annual basis to carry a firearm.


You should also take into account whether or not you already have any off-duty police officers on your school grounds or campus. While some local police departments make officers available to schools in their jurisdiction, other departments are understaffed and cannot spare any additional officers for this purpose. In those cases, arming a security guard may be one of your only options for armed protection on site. Traditionally, armed school resource officers cost less per hour than a law enforcement officer, so it may be a more cost-effective way of protecting your school or educational campus.

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Insurance and risk
One of the most important factors to address is the risk and liability that comes with arming your security officers. The presence of a gun is no guarantee that you will be able to de-escalate a situation, or deter violent individuals from committing crimes. Plus, educational facilities and other crowded public areas often are not practical for an officer to discharge a gun, because he or she will be increasing the risk of casualties. Law enforcement officers train diligently to evaluate the pros and cons of discharging a firearm in any scenario, an extremely difficult situation even with proper training.
You will also want to give consideration to the insurance policies required for school security staff.

When a firearm is discharged, the potential resulting insurance claims are huge and often exceed the normal insurance limits. Because of this, it is important to maintain a much higher limit of liability when you choose to arm your guards. You must be prepared for the possibility that if someone is wrongfully shot, they may sue both the officer and your school, who employs the officer. The potential for a costly settlement should not be overlooked in making your decisions.


Making your decision
Each school or educational campus is different. Your school administrators should weigh the benefits vs. the risks and liabilities of arming security officers before you make a decision.


Some schools may decide to go with a combination of a few off-duty police officers and armed school resource officers, while other schools may decide to go with all off-duty police officers or all armed school resource officers.


This is a decision that should be discussed with owners and/or administrators of private and public schools (all types of educational campuses) as well as legal representatives for each.


One final thought on this topic is the psychological impact that arming school resource officers could potentially have on the administrators, teachers, students, and the parents. This should be discussed with your entire school community, making sure that all stakeholders know their thoughts have been heard. Some may disagree strongly with the idea of bringing weapons into the education environment. Others may feel more safe and comfortable knowing that there are armed security officers on campus, helping everyone to concentrate on their primary mission: education.

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Surviving an Active Shooter Event using Run, Hide, Fight

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There are few things more terrifying than the idea of being caught in an active shooter event. Whether it takes place in a school, a shopping mall, an office building or another type of facility, the presence of an individual with a firearm presents the highest level of risk.

In a situation like that, you would be likely to find it difficult to think calmly or make the most sensible decisions about where to go or what to do. Active shooter events are chaotic, full of uncertainty about where the shooter is located, how many shooters there might be and the best way to stay safe. A person’s capacity to make sound decisions during that kind of danger-filled confusion is very much diminished. In the turmoil of the moment, it would be easy to make a mistake that could cost a person their life.

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For those reasons, the concept of “Run, Hide, Fight” has been developed. It gives people a fairly simple 1-2-3 process that is easy to remember, even in the fight-or-flight stress of the moment. In this way, Run, Hide Fight can help to save lives during a shooting event. Numerous organizations across the US have adopted this approach, including the majority of Big Ten schools, and it is advocated by the Department of Homeland Security.

How does Run, Hide, Fight work?

The first moments of response after realizing that there is an active shooter on the premises are highly stressful. This should be where training kicks in. By preparing, learning the basics of run, hide, fight and practicing on a regular basis, it’s possible to lessen the threat of an active shooter. Here is what you need to know:

1. Run away from the shooter
If you can get away from the attacker, go. Don’t worry about taking your phone, your purse or any other items with you – just get as far away as you can, as fast as you can. Do help others escape with you, if possible, but keep moving whether or not others agree to follow. Remember that getting away is your top priority. Once you are in a safe location, call 911 or use any panic apps you can access to alert authorities and provide information on the incident.

2. Hide from the shooter
If it is impossible to escape safely, your next best option is to hide from the attacker. You want to become completely invisible so that they do not know you are there. You’ll have already determined potential hiding spots as part of your run, hide, fight training. Now decide quickly which is the best option, and move quickly and quietly into that space. Make sure your phone and any other devices you have are completely silent. Turn off lights and close window blinds and shades. Lock any doors between yourself and the shooter, and get behind whatever solid objects are available. Many articles advocate the use of barricades to keep an attacker out of a safe space. This is a determination you will need to make yourself. Overall, barricades can be a dangerous option since they also make it impossible for first responders to enter the space.

3. Fight the shooter
This is an absolute last resort only. If there is nothing left between you and the attacker – no other option – you can attempt to stop or immobilize them. If you are going to fight, find whatever you can use as a shield or a weapon. Chairs, fire extinguishers, books and other objects can be used or thrown to distract or disable the shooter. Several people working together are more likely to be successful in putting an end to the attack.

Fighting back against a person holding a lethal weapon is extraordinarily dangerous and should only be considered when there is literally no possibility of evading the attacker.

Run, Hide, Fight during the COVID-19 pandemic

For many people, one advantage of remote learning and working is the temporary respite from concern about on-site incidents of all kinds. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have moved much of their safety focus from protection from attackers to protection from viruses. However, there are still millions of individuals going to work in stores, schools and other facilities where an incident could occur.

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If you should be faced with an active shooter event during the pandemic, the principle of run, hide, fight is still valid. Your immediate safety from harm is dependent on your fast action. In this situation, you do not need to worry about social distancing or wearing a mask. If you are not already wearing a mask, do not take the time to put one on. Your life and safety are the most important thing at this moment. Once your situation is secure, you can take the necessary steps to ensure you are following COVID-19 protocols.

How to practice Run, Hide, Fight

Every school, office and facility is unique. Get to know yours. Know where the exits are located, the various routes you can take to each exit, which doors lock etc. At every organization, a team should be set up to create the protocols for an active shooter drill. One individual should be responsible for ensuring the entire population practices run, hide, fight on a regular basis. It could be the School Resource Officer (SRO), a security director or the office manager.

A safer future for schools

Fortunately, statistics show that the chances you will ever be involved in an active shooter event are extremely small. Still, it is always wise to be prepared. Beyond practicing run, hide, fight, it is essential to have the right technology to communicate with first responders in the event of an active shooter. By taking these important steps, you will be better prepared in case the unthinkable happens.

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Protecting Houses of Worship in an Emergency Incident

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The religious landscape in the United States is remarkably diverse. There are, according to the 2010 Religion Census4, more than 230 different denominational groups – from the Amana Church Society to Zoroastrians – and close to 350,000 congregations. Over 150 million individuals adhere to these groups, and could be in attendance at a house of worship on any given day. While congregation numbers tend to be small in rural areas – typically 100 members or less, there could be 10,000 members or more in congregations in larger cities and their surrounding suburbs5.

In many houses of worship, the most sacred area of the building is called the sanctuary – a word which is also defined as “a place of refuge or safety”. By definition, and no matter what a person’s faith, everyone should be able to feel safe and secure inside a house of worship.

However, religious buildings have been the target of many acts of violence in recent years.

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In fact, in January 2017 the Anti-Defamation League reported that threats to synagogues have increased, along with an increase in anti-Semitic assaults on college campuses.1 In 2019, there were over 1,400 religion-related hate crime incidents reported.2 And while numbers have been rising, these occurrences are not new. Based on data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), an American consulting group estimated that in each of the 17 years from 2000 through 2016, there were approximately 480 incidents of serious violence at places of worship in this country.3 Further, since NIBRS-reporting agencies only cover about 20% of the nation’s population, the national-level numbers can be assumed to be considerably higher.

The danger to people attending services, as well as those people working in houses of worship, is exacerbated by the fact that these facilities present a soft target to criminals. Churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious buildings are typically designed to be open and welcoming to all individuals. While this is central to the mission of the groups they represent, it also creates a vulnerability. Without any requirement of authority or need to present valid credentials to enter the facility, criminals can easily enter and pose a threat to the large numbers of attendees and workers inside.

Why Safety Software is Better than Calling 911

Given this reality, it’s important to take steps to protect people in churches and all other houses of worship. Once an active shooter or other criminal has entered the premises, it is not enough to call 911. Studies have shown that on average it takes 18 minutes for police to respond to a 911 call. When there is an active shooter intent on harm, that is far too long. In an emergency, every second counts, and lost minutes can mean lost lives.

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Even beyond the speed of response, it can take additional time for police to locate an active shooter or other criminal within the facility. Houses of worship often have multiple open areas, hallways, etc., where an assailant could be. Even if it only takes one or two minutes to find them, many more lives could be lost. The best safety software for houses of worship must go beyond simply alerting first responders. Ideally, it will give them a range of vital information about the location of the attacker, the best entrance to use to reach them quickly, maps of the facility to help guide response and more.

Your house of worship safety software should also enable police or other first responders to remotely lock or unlock any doors needed to access the facility or contain the threat. Integration with the public address system will allow them to speak directly to the congregants and to the assailant, further mitigating risk in the situation.

A house of worship should be a safe haven. It is the responsibility of the facility managers and leaders to ensure that their community has a secure refuge where they can find peace and practice their faith.

  1. https://www.asisonline.org/globalassets/get-involved/councils/documents/best-practices-securing-houses-of-worship.pdf
  2. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2018/topic-pages/location-type
  3. https://www.dolanconsultinggroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Serious-Violence-at-Places-of-Worship-in-the-US-Looking-at-the-Numbers.pdf
  4. http://www.usreligioncensus.org/images/ACP%2020120501.pdf
  5. https://cdn.fedweb.org/fed-91/2/Houses%2520of%2520Worship%2520Security%2520Practices%2520Guide%25207%252023%25202013.pdf
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Why Every Second Matters in a School Emergency

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In 1968, the three-digit phone number 911 was established to provide everyone in the United States with a universal number to use to contact first responders in case of an emergency. While early adoption was slow, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), by the end of the 20th century, almost 93% of the population had access to the service.

While calling 911 in an emergency is a vital resource, there is one way in which it can fall short. Some emergency situations are so critical, every single second lost in response time is critical. At those times, the loss of an additional minute can be measured in many more lives lost as well. In a situation like this, it simply takes too long from the moment when the emergency is reported via 911 until the moment officers arrive on the scene.

To illustrate this, consider that a 2020 NSSPA (National Safety Security Protection Association) study showed that the average school shooting lasts 8 minutes from beginning to end. The incident at Parkland lasted less than six minutes, during which time 17 individuals were fatally shot and 17 others wounded. The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School fatally shot 26 people in 12 minutes, and likely would have continued had first responders not arrived on the scene at that time.

Compare these timelines to the fact that, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association, the average police response time to a 911 call is 18 minutes – and it becomes crystal clear that a better way is needed.

The problem is compounded by the fact that active shooter events are chaotic in nature. Typically, shooters move from room to room and hallway to hallway around the school. They could even move between buildings, or from interior to exterior areas. Because of this, even if a 911 call includes specific information about their whereabouts, it will have changed by the time police arrive at the school. This leaves responders with tremendous uncertainty about where to enter and where to go first. Even in a small school, not knowing where to find the shooter could result in many additional lives being lost. It could also put the first responders at much greater risk if they do not know where the shooter is located.

Neutralizing a shooter is not the only job of first responders. Wounded students and staff members need immediate attention to reduce loss of life. The faster they can be reached, the better the outcome will be for them. The location of any injured individuals is vital information that must also be communicated to police and medical personnel arriving at the scene of an incident. The best way to save time in a school emergency is to alert first responders using a dedicated app or panic button that communicates directly with the closest police precinct. This way, officers will receive instant notification that a shooting is in progress at the school. Such a mechanism is so important that it has been mandated by Alyssa’s Law in New Jersey and Florida, with legislation pending in additional states.

The ability to alert officials immediately of an active shooter is vital, but it is only a first step in saving critical minutes. Ideally, your app or panic button will be part of a software application that provides a wealth of information to responders. At a minimum, this would include what type of emergency it is – an active shooter, a bomb threat, a student threatening self-harm or another type of emergency – along with contact information for the individual who reported the event, so that responders can communicate with them directly.

As they approach the school facility, police will benefit greatly from information concerning the layout of the school including a full floor plan. At the same time, they should be provided with live camera views of every surveillance camera on the premises with associated map information indicating where that camera is located on the floorplan. Together, this will inform them of the location of the shooter as well as which entrance to use to approach and neutralize them as quickly as possible. The ability to unlock or lock doors through the app is a critical element of this capability.

Speaking directly to an active shooter can disrupt their progress and potentially save additional lives as first responders are approaching the scene. The best panic button app will have the ability to integrate with the school’s PA system to accomplish this as well.

There is much discussion surrounding the best ways to put an end to the tragedy of school shootings. However, until a solution is found, the best approach to minimizing harm is to enable the fastest possible response, while giving responders as much useful information as is feasible. A notification app that provides this will speed entry time, aid in locating the suspect, and provide first responders with critical tactical high ground in any crisis.

This perspective is shared by The National Sheriffs’ Association. “The importance of short notification times in these situations cannot be overstated. Shaving even seconds off the notification and response times can result in vastly different outcomes in these situations.”

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Back to school after Covid-19: new and old concerns

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Helping students adjust to in-person school after Covid-19

For students, teachers and parents alike, this has been a difficult school year. While no family has faced the exact same challenges as any other, many have had to adapt and struggle through a variety of adverse circumstances. It is a testament to the resilience of our population that most have done as well as they have, given the extraordinary situation we have all faced in 2020.

With all of the obstacles we have had to overcome this year, there is still another looming ahead: returning to school.

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Right now, there is no way to know exactly what this will look like. While it may be a straightforward return to the way things were before the pandemic, chances are great that there will be a new paradigm for school attendance.

Learning at home: six issues students have faced

As the population returns to in-person school, parents, teachers and other leaders will have to help some students re-adjust and cope after several months of dealing with the following issues.

  1. Tech shortfalls
    One tremendous issue for some students is the lack of necessary technology to keep up with classes and schoolwork. This is a secondary problem created by poverty in many cases. With classes being taught on Zoom and other video platforms, students need up-to-date computers and a good internet connection in order simply to attend. There have been stories of young people having to sit in the parking lot of fast-food restaurants or libraries in order to access a good wi-fi connection – a situation which is unreasonable in any case and made more so when temperatures drop in the winter. Homework assignments, study aids and teacher interaction outside of class also depends on an internet connection and a good computer.

  2. Missing meals
    Many students rely on school attendance to meet fundamental needs. Unfortunately, for some that includes meals; there are students who receive both breakfast and lunch from their school. Families living at or below the poverty line have had the added stress of this additional financial burden, and some students may be experiencing a gap in filling their nutritional needs.

  3. Domestic trauma
    The need to stay at home has also put a spotlight on the tragic reality of domestic abuse, which has risen in 2020. This affects student, parents and teachers as they may be witnessing abuse or experiencing it themselves. Even just living in a house where the threat exists creates a highly stressful day-to-day environment; stress which can manifest itself in both physical illness and the inability to focus on education.

  4. Loneliness
    For students whose parents have been required to work outside the home, there is also the problem of enforced solitude. They may be on their own in the house for many hours. This can also be true for students whose parents work at home in another part of the house. The pandemic has created widespread isolation, which is not a natural state for many students.

  5. Lack of social development
    The pandemic has also made us more aware of how much we rely on the benefits of attending school in person. For example, young people develop important social skills through the interactions they have with other students each day. Zoom or other video classes cannot match this level of engagement, since it goes well beyond the classroom setting to encompass chatter in hallways, at lunch, and before and after class.

  6. Educational gaps
    From a more scholastic perspective, students may also lose ground somewhat during this time in their ability to focus on education. When they attend school, they are in that environment for a full 6 hours each day, though of course there is time for socializing as mentioned. At home, between classes they could be playing video games, climbing trees or sleeping – there is no official structure in place beyond what already-stressed parents are able to enforce. The same issue exists for their overall ability to follow rules, which may be suffering.

Back to school: what will be new, and what will not

Going back to in-person school will present some important changes in day-to-day activities. At the same time, some already-existing threats that may have been temporarily overlooked will once again move to paramount importance.

  1. New policies
    When students, teachers and administrators do go back to a full school day, there will be some important differences. New policies are now being put into place to help maintain health and safety of the school population. Even once there is a free or affordable vaccination available to everyone, these policies are likely to stay in place for a period of time. Everyone may be required to wear masks throughout the school day, and certain activities may be curtailed in order to enforce social distancing. There could also be a requirement to verify that you have been vaccinated before returning.

  2. Existing security concerns
    Before the pandemic hit, there were already many serious issues faced by school districts. In-school violence, active shooters and other security concerns have not disappeared, and are likely to move back into the headlines once students are back in class. It is vitally important that schools continue to take measures to improve their ability to respond quickly to an emergency. The threat of disease may have pushed some of these initiatives to the back burner. It is crucial that they be addressed now, before the promise of in-school learning becomes a reality again.

Download now: Ten-Step Guide to Safer Schools

It will surely be a relief to parents, students and teachers to be able once again to enter the school building each day. When that becomes reality, we must be prepared to keep everyone safe and secure in every possible way.

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How Social Media Can Help Schools Deal with Threats

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Social media has become a large part of our daily lives. Research shows that we spend nearly 2.5 hours on social networks and social messaging every day1. About 69% of U.S. adults use at least one social media site, and the average American Internet user has more than 7 social media accounts.

Anyone under the age of 25 is a “digital native”, meaning they have grown up with the Internet in their lives. For that group, social media use is much higher than it is for adults. According to Pew Research data, 45% of teens say they use the internet “almost constantly,” and 44% say they go online several times a day. Roughly half (51%) of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 say they use Facebook, followed by YouTube, Instagram, or Snapchat.

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat (along with other channels) are used in a multitude of ways. Users can share vacation photos or political views, find others with similar hobbies or interests, or follow individuals and brands of interest. They can also use the networks to communicate their personal points of view and plans – and threats – to whoever is listening.

In recent years, schools have been the targets of social media threats. According to the report Violent Threats and Incidents in Schools by the Educators School Safety Network, there were more than 3,380 threats of violence in K-12 schools in the 2017-2018 school year, a 62-percent increase over 2016-2017. Social media was the most common method of delivery.

Sometimes, social media threats turn out to be baseless. For example, five Alliance High School freshmen were charged with making false threats to their school after openly discussing plans to carry out a shooting on social media. The students later told investigators that the conversations were meant as “a joke” and they had no plans to hurt anyone.

Other times, however, it has been shown that social media threats have been the beginning of an actual plan for violence. There have been numerous incidents where it was discovered that the perpetrator had posted disturbing or violent messages on social media that should have been red flags.

How should school officials handle social media threats?

First, school administration should create and communicate social media usage guidelines for when students are on campus and at home, with education about what kinds of language, images and posts constitute a threat.

Next, students should be taught to communicate any school threat they see or hear about to school administration, no matter whether they believe the threat is legitimate or not.

At this point, every school will need its own protocols for determining what action they will take to mitigate the potential risk indicated by the post or posts. As experience and the news has shown us, perspectives regarding what constitutes an appropriate response vary widely between schools, districts and states.

The best way for a school to prepare for risk

Because there is no way to know with absolute certainty whether an attack is coming, every school needs to be prepared for the possibility that one could occur.

The proliferation of social media usage into our lives has added a new dimension into securing schools. Creating, and adhering to, a social media and school security strategy can help keep students, teachers and staff safe.

Get the safety tech your school needs. Apply today!

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Improving communications to minimize risk in an emergency

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Lessons learned from 9/11 help minimize risk in an emergency

It is now well understood that the lack of a coherent communications system contributed to the severity of the outcome from the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. There were more injuries and more lives lost on that day because first responders and civilians on the site did not have the information that would have helped them to survive.

It was already known that there had been communications shortfalls inside the Towers that limited responders during the 1993 bombing. On that day, 2-way radios did not work properly inside the stairwells and other areas of the buildings. In the wake of that event, radio repeaters had been installed. However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, the repeater system had never been fully activated and was mostly unutilized that day.

Even if the repeaters had been fully functioning, there were other problems. Firefighters,NYPD officers and Port Authority Police on the scene were using different radio systems operating on different frequencies, leaving them largely unable to connect or communicate with one another. As a result, there was little understanding of what was happening in different parts of the building, or what those outside the building were observing. In addition to hampering the rescue of civilians, the shortfall also resulted in caused many first responders never receiving evacuation orders, and perishing when the Towers collapsed.

Communications between 911 dispatchers and civilians around New York City also fell far short of what was needed that day. The system was simply overwhelmed. In the first18 minutes after the North Tower was struck, more than 3000 calls came into the 911 system. On duty to receive those calls were only about 285 Fire Department, Police Department and Emergency Medical Service dispatchers and operators throughout the city. Beyond being inundated by the volume of calls, none of the operators had enough information about what was occurring on the scene to be able to provide useful assistance to the callers. Some of the callers were inside the Towers, wondering if they should try to evacuate or remain in place – and were told to stay put. Some callers wereeven placed on hold, sometimes more than once.

The lessons learned in the wake of this tragedy should have been able to help us in better preparing for others that occurred in the years after 2001. However, it is a grim truth that every tragic incident is different, making it difficult to understand the full scope of the issues and challenges that may arise. It is also true that in the unfolding of each individual event, there is typically a great deal of chaos, making it even more difficult to mount the most effective response that will minimize risk.

This is certainly the case for active shooter events. Most schools, houses of worship and other mass gathering venues have multiple entrances, hallways and floors; many have several buildings on the premises. Shooters typically move around the facilities throughout the duration of the incident. An initial 911 call may or may not include information about where within the school the shooter is located, but this information willbe useless several minutes later. First responders arriving at the scene may have little to no intelligence about what has transpired, where the shooter is currently located or where there are injured people who need medical attention.

During an active shooter event, every second matters. The extra minutes it could take for officers to find and neutralize the perpetrator could mean the loss of additional lives. With the superior technology we have today, readily available to both places of mass gathering and law enforcement agencies, it is possible to provide first responders with awealth of vital information. This includes live camera views, mapping of the premises, locking and unlocking of doors and more. Today’s technology also enables use of the PA system to address the perpetrator and all the individuals on the premises.

All of these resources give first responders communications capabilities that far outreach those being used on 9/11. With this technology in place, law enforcement agencies can take the lessons learned in the past, and use them to help save lives in the future.

Learn more about today’s life-saving communications technology