Are schools wasting limited money on questionable security vendor products?

Posted by on February 25, 2015

Since the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School, far too many schools have been looking for the one practice or device that will guarantee school safety. Not surprisingly, many service and product vendors have tried to meet that desire. While few vendors have been successful in meeting that need, a large amount of school safety dollars have been thrown at vendors —too often with little meaningful and long-term results to show for it.

Classroom door breaches: Fears versus realities

One area of focus and debate is the locking of the classroom doors during a lockdown. There has been an intense perception and accompanying fear that someone will break down a locked door and enter the classroom. This has yet to happen in a  preK-12 active shooter setting, but this little fact has not taken priority focus over knee-jerk reactions to emotion.

To meet and sometimes exploit this fear, vendors have developed several different barricades for classroom doors. Several of these products present threats in themselves, if misused. For example, several of these barricades could provide the ability to lock out everyone, including staff, if used by someone with mischief on his or her mind.

A number of potential scenarios come to mind. A student already in a classroom has an emotional outburst and a weapon, and puts the barricade on the door while holding the teacher and class hostage. A student forces another into an empty classroom, applies the barricade and sexually assaults the student. And the list goes on…

Too often a “solution” to one problem presents another problem. Schools safety leaders must consider the likelihood of risk. One question to ask in the risk analysis is, “What event is more likely to occur in our environment?” An examination of data will help with this analysis and will likely lead to the conclusion that the chances of misuses such as those cited above and others outweigh the risks of an active shooter.

One security “solution” can create other security problems: State rules door barricade violates building code

The value of doing such an analysis, guided by data and the knowledge of those with actual preK-12 school security experience (which often does not include product vendors), is that school leaders may prevent wasting limited tax dollars that can be better focused to reduce risks in a more meaningful way.

One example of putting the cart before the horse just came to light in Ohio where a local school district and parent group found out the hard and expensive way. A vendor’s product is designed to be sold to secure a classroom door, i.e., a barricade. The school, with the support of parents who purchased the devices, announced to the community the purchase by their parents and their intention to use the devices.

A local interpretation of the fire code led to a decision that the devices violated state fire code. The school district appealed the local decision, only to have the state building officials in a 4-1 vote to reject the school district’s appeal for a variance of code. One good lesson here is to confer with and fully engage local first responders before spending money on a “solution” that, which deployed, may create other and/or greater safety risks.

This state ruling also opens up a whole can of worms for other questionable tactics being recommended and implemented in a number of schools across the country. Most notably, the Run-Hide-Fight and ALICE training models seen in a number of schools have advised educators to block classroom doors with desks, chairs and other items. It is logical to conclude that if state officials believe security vendor barricade devices on classroom doors violate state code, the same may apply to tactics taught in Run-Hide-Fight, ALICE and similar models. Stay tuned…

Think through the “how” without being distracted by the “Wow!”

Too often schools are looking for the magic solution when, in fact, there is none. School safety requires a careful analysis of fact and proper threat assessment and planning. This cannot be purchased from a product vendor or ordered on-line. It requires work and commitment to student and staff safety, and a focus on critical thinking and the human side of school safety.

Local first responders are schools’ first partners in school safety. Educators need to also think beyond the advice of their first responders into the realm of established best practices in school safety and for other potential implications of security “solutions” being sold by vendors. While schools may not always like the answer they receive from local first responders and experienced preK-12 school security professionals, these are good places to start to look before leaping.

Doing so may save your school district a lot of money, liability risks and embarrassment.

Chuck Hibbert

Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services

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