How can school superintendents, school board members and business managers distinguish credible school security consultants from a growing pool of overnight experts and opportunistic, less-qualified individuals offering school safety services?
This question was posed to me by a veteran local and state-level education administrator concerned by the growing number of people offering school security assessment services after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The person felt the scope and depth of expertise is questionable for many offering to provide expert advice on school security and emergency preparedness issues.
I have written web articles, professional journal articles and blog posts with tips on selecting school security consultants. But my latest conversation generated some additional thoughts that I shared based upon my observations over the past nine months:
- Police tactical experience does not automatically equate to preK-12 school security and emergency preparedness planning expertise. We have seen a number of well-intended individuals with law enforcement tactical experience giving questionable, risky advice to school administrators that fail to reflect age and developmental factors, special needs children (emotional, behavioral, mobility impaired, autistic, etc.), and other unique considerations for child-centered, school-centered settings. Since the Sandy Hook shootings, we have heard of ridiculous advice given by such individuals, such as telling elementary students to bring cans of soup to put in their desks to throw at armed gunmen. Hopefully these trainers/consultants have a lot of liability insurance, as should the school districts that employ their advice.
- Are potential school security consultants offering your district a lower price for assessment services, but also providing you with an inferior service and end-product? We have heard that some consultants may low-ball their proposed fees to lure school districts into a contract while failing to provide them with a full written report of their findings and recommendations. Consultants who offer low-balled prices typically offer lower-quality services, as their focus tends to be on booking a large number of jobs (making money by volume) versus booking quality jobs where they provide a quality work product. Such consultants may try to tell superintendents and boards that by not providing a full written report, they are reducing a district’s potential for liability. In reality, they may be increasing a district’s potential liability by failing to provide a written report (the only permanent record of their contracted services) and leaving the school district open to the risk of speculation, accusations and “he said, she said” contradictions that result from their failure to provide professional documentation of their evaluation and recommendations.
- Do potential school security consultants for your district make extraordinary claims or are they well-balanced, experienced professionals who have tackled real-life preK-12 security and preparedness administrative challenges? Listen to the marketing claims of some school safety consultants and you may be lead to believe that they worked for the CIA, policed the toughest streets of America, acquired Ph.D.’s and contributed volumes of scholarly research to their field, and traveled the world — all within three years of time. Take a close, thoughtful look at the qualifications and experience of school security consultants and firms under consideration: Do they bring to your district experienced professionals who have worked in preK-12 school administration positions and who had to make tough decisions in emotionally and politically-charged climates, or do they just bring their family members and friends as part of their consulting team? Do they claim to be on the road seven days a week, 52 weeks a year — suggesting that they rush from one job to the next instead of giving quality time and service to each client district, while failing to take valuable time away from the office for life-balance and quality time with their own children and families? Do they make questionable claims about their companies, such as claiming to be a “non-profit” or academic research center when in reality they may be little more than a for-profit consulting firm in disguise?
School leaders must do their homework. Read what is written by, and said about, consultants and consulting firms under consideration for hire by a school district. Focus on school security consultants with written references reflecting a track record of providing services based upon proven, tested and reliable best practices.
Make decisions in selecting school safety consultants in a manner as though the lives of your students and staff, along with your professional reputation, depend upon it. The fact is, they actually may!