Schools need more hardening to improve school safety. They need more safety drills, better safety products and more brave volunteers. I’ve been in the school lockdown business for eight years, and I’ve been in hundreds of schools across the country. Based on my experience, I recommend the following seven ways school districts can improve school safety against active shooters.
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- Law Enforcement at Schools
Hire a police officer and request that he or she parks their marked car near the front entrance.
- Open Entrances vs Man Traps
If you haven’t done it yet, install a man trap at the main school entrance.
- Standard Glass vs Ballistic Resistant Glass (Bullet Proof Glass)
Add ballistic rated glass to all exterior doors and classroom doors. Also, add ballistic glass to side lights where view into the classroom is possible.
- Standard Locks vs Reinforced Locks
Install locks that reinforce security. Put procedures in place that keep those doors locked while students are inside.
- Window Covers
Install effective, blackout window covers that are easy to use on all doors and windows leading to classrooms and exterior windows.
- Alter Current School Policies
Revisit and alter current school policies to make schools safer now, at no monetary cost to the school.
- Brave Volunteers
Solicit volunteers to monitor unauthorized access points.
Some of these steps will cost the school dollars but all seven combined will almost definitely save lives.
Law Enforcement at Schools
A police car in front of every school building in the USA is priority number one in my opinion.
The officer’s car should have dark tinted windows and should be parked near the front entrance. With tinted windows, a shooter will not be able to determine if an officer is in the car or not. This will likely deter the shooter from carrying out his or her planned attack. The School Resource Officer (SRO) should also have an app on his phone where he can see 360 degrees around the school.
I believe every school in America should hire a police officer from the community to patrol the schools regularly. The officer’s walking their “beat,” would be officers walking the hallways to make their friendly presence known all day, every day. This will also connect the SRO instantly with the students and teachers. The better the relationship between staff, students and the SRO, the safer the school will be.
Law enforcement has confirmed that when a room looks dark and unoccupied, an active shooter will likely pass it by. A shooter is looking for targets and would likely not give away his presence in the building by trying to intrude into a room that appears to be dark and unoccupied.
This is why an easy-to-use and effective window cover is such an important part of the lockdown process. An effective and easy-to-use window cover is key to keeping the room completely dark with no light gaps and is key for allowing the officer to quickly look into the room after the lockdown is over.
Open Entrances vs Man Traps
Schools across the US have been hardening their safety efforts for years. “Man Traps” at main entrances are common, and many schools have already installed ballistics resistant glass in these man traps.
Man traps are secure rooms at the school’s entrance where visitors are buzzed in and out by an attendant. Schools that currently do not have a man trap should incorporate this now.
Standard Glass vs Ballistic Resistant Glass (Bullet Proof Glass)
Even with ballistic glass in the man traps, schools typically leave many areas vulnerable to active shooters. Most schools have more than three or four access points where there are doors with glass. These should also be replaced with bullet resistant material.
Nevertheless, there are going to be areas that are impossible to lock down quickly. Better procedures need to be put in place for fast evacuation into safe areas. Areas where the windows are ballistic rated, have window covers ready and doors locked securely.
Standard Locks vs Reinforced Locks
Also important are reinforced locks versus standard locks. Standard locks might require keys to open or close a door, stealing precious seconds from students and staff trying to hide during an attack. With an active threat on campus, schools need to be locked down as quickly as possible.
There is no time to look for keys and sometimes no way to leave the classroom during an emergency. Quick and effective locks, such as reinforced locks help keep everyone safe wherever they are on campus.
All high traffic doors need to have glass on the door or alongside the door to avoid head injuries of someone standing on the other side. Schools can typically get away with a narrow panel of glass on doors in classrooms. In any case, all glass needs to be covered during an emergency.
There are several products on the market to address this issue but the effectiveness of a window cover also varies greatly.
For instance, the rolling style shade may be fire-rated fabric, is easily deployed, and is an inexpensive solution for schools looking to fulfill a mandated requisite, but even if it’s made over sized, it still doesn’t fully block visibility or light gaps into a classroom.
It needs to be hand rolled back to its original position after a drill or emergency, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Leaving this cover on the glass is a strict no-no in every district I’ve worked with.
A security window cover should also be easy enough for a small child, or a handicapped teacher to operate in an emergency. Currently, there is only one product in the market that is ADA certified.
It is a corrugated vinyl cover that operates like a shutter and forms a tight seal on the glass, allowing no light seepage. It is also fire-rated, made of lightweight plastic, and retracts to its original position immediately following a drill or emergency. Its only downfall is that it is more expensive to produce and slightly more expensive to install. However, in a life-or-death situation, the quality of a product makes all the difference.
Some products are made to quickly cover exterior windows during an emergency. These are also effective deterrents in addition to interior window covers. Because too many incidents could go wrong in a state of panic, every second counts. A product that deploys within seconds during chaos will save lives.
Alter Current School Policies
Altering current school policies could also save lives and will make schools safer now. This is probably the quickest solution as it an inexpensive one.
One change would be to require teachers and staff to keep all objects 12 inches away from a window. This is crucial because it allows window covers to deploy easily at a moment’s notice.
There are chain operated window shade systems that can make lowering all the shades into the classroom, or in the school for that matter, instantaneous with the press of a button on the wall.
Frequent lockdown drills are also key to school safety. Many veterans have said they’ve survived battles due to numerous drills. It was similar to going to work and just getting a job done without much thought to the reality of their situation. Frequent lockdown drills should work the same.
Finally, detecting changes in student behaviors or making it safe for a student to report what they see and hear will stop a mentally distressed student, or former student, from carrying out criminal activity later. Studies show that red flags are always prevalent before a threat is carried out.
The most cost-effective solution would be to recruit brave volunteers from the community to protect school entry points. Elementary schools and middle schools should recruit parents or local retirees to guard the access points in the school, between periods and before school starts. There should also be volunteers present during and after school activities.
As the issue of school safety continues to plague US schools, these seven tips are my best advice for a safer and more secure learning environment. In my opinion, these are the best seven ways school districts can improve school safety against active shooters for now.