03 Apr School Safety Insights I’ve Learned from K-12 Colleagues
By Derek Roh
As a former CIO of a K-12 school district, I know that funding is typically the number one obstacle for your district’s plans and goals. I also understand the challenge of determining how best to use funds once they are available to benefit students, staff, and citizens.
Many of you may be in this situation concerning the GaDOE’s Facility Security Grant of $30,000 per school. Each of you wants to improve the safety of your students and staff, but the multitude of options and the funding’s looming expiration (funds must be drawn down by June 30, 2020), create real pressures on everyone involved in the decision. I know that over these past few weeks, your focus has been on the transition to online learning and creating programs to care for your students. However, as you look forward to students returning to the classroom, preparing for that event may include determining how this grant can improve safety and security measures for your schools.
Through my work with CENTEGIX during the last few years, I have discussed safety plans and security concerns with a multitude of superintendents and security administrators across the southeast. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share insights gained from these invaluable conversations combined with my experience as a K-12 colleague. I have witnessed firsthand projects failing to meet our expectations due to various practical issues (e.g., staff not wanting or knowing how to use a tool, or technical constraints preventing a valuable tool from being fully available/usable).
Experts often divide school safety into three layers: Prevention, Protection, and Response. In recent years, districts have spent billions of dollars nationwide implementing modern technology to bolster their preventive and protective measures. Anonymous tip and social media monitoring applications have been deployed, and staff members have been trained to identify behaviors of bullied students or those who might become violent – all valuable preventive measures. Key protective measures such as fencing, access control, and even vestibules have proliferated in the last decade with a focus on keeping danger out. But no matter what you do to prevent and protect, we all know emergencies still happen. The critical question becomes how quickly and easily can everyone impacted respond when these emergencies occur.
While your staff, students, and responders are likely well versed in what to do in a lockdown (your drills reinforce this), the critical element is how quickly they know they need to lockdown. As Lori Alhadeff, who lost her daughter Alyssa in the tragic shooting at Parkland, said so powerfully: “Time equals life.” This perspective applies not only in an active shooter situation but in all emergencies: medical, severe weather, fights, etc. The sooner everyone involved can respond appropriately, the better your chances for a positive outcome.
Practical scenarios are the most effective way to analyze your existing notification capabilities. I have seen numerous superintendents and safety professionals be content with their current notification solution, and then quickly realize it doesn’t stand up to the rigors of real-world scenarios. If you’re using an app-based solution, how do you ensure adequate cellular and WIFI coverage throughout your campus(es)? How do you guarantee every employee downloads the app on their (likely personal) cell phone? Is it realistic to expect the device always to be readily available? Can the person log in, open the app, and choose the appropriate button while being verbally confronted, or physically assaulted, or addressing a medical emergency? We’ve all been frustrated waiting for a phone app to connect so you can watch a humorous video or Google something. Those routine delays can have massive implications in a life and death emergency. If you use wall-mounted panic buttons or IP phone-based solutions, there is a risk you can’t access them during a crisis, in addition to the loss of precious time if you can run to the fixed location to request help. For perspective, the American Heart Association states that survival rates for cardiac arrest patients fall 7-10% for every untreated minute1. “Time equals life.” Or, as we say at CENTEGIX, “Every. Second.Matters.” Your notification solution must stand up to real-life scenarios. No one wants to only “check the box” with their emergency notification solution.
Thankfully, technologies are available that save significant time in any school emergencies. You can empower every employee to quickly and easily request help from anywhere on campus via a wearable device. Next week, I will share additional insights for you to consider and questions to ask regarding your emergency notification capabilities. In the meantime, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your feedback and would love to answer any questions you might have.
Derek Roh served eight years as CIO of Baldwin Co Public Schools (AL), during which time he and his team received national recognition and awards. He managed his own consulting company for six years before joining CENTEGIX in 2018 to help leverage leading-edge technology to enhance safety in K-12 schools.
1 American Academy of Pediatrics – 2017