Stay current: get updates at sCHOOL SECURITY BLOG
Order: ken trump's new school security and emergency preparedness book
featured service: Expert Witness & Litigation Consulting - School Safety
LATEST FROM KEN'S BLOG:
Buyer Beware: Risky School Safety Consultants Create Liability Risks
The Columbine High School attack in April of 1999, along with the series of school shootings before and after Columbine, triggered an onslaught of overnight school safety experts, charlatans, gadgets, and gurus seeking to financially capitalize on what they perceived to be a new "big bucks" market in the field of school safety. Fortunately, the majority of these "overnight wonders" fell to the wayside in the several years following Columbine since they were unable to garner credibility and sustain their newly formed business over any substantial period of time due to their questionable credentials and practices.
Unfortunately, periodic high-profile school violence tragedies still trigger new "overnight experts" popping up in the school safety field. Over the years we have seen big businesses with expertise in completely different fields outside of education and school safety, publishers whose expertise can be found in totally other unrelated professional fields, generic conference organizers, security product vendors with no experience in K-12 schools, and others rear their heads in search of relieving schools of their limited school safety dollars with questionable consultant services, publications, and products. Although they typically have no long-term sustainability in the educational school safety field, they unfortunately have taken far too many limited dollars away from unknowing and well-intentioned school administrators seeking legitimate services.
National School Safety and Security Services is concerned that overnight experts damage the reputation and credibility of the school security consulting profession. Unfortunately, we have seen everyone from former magicians to individuals who pull their questionably qualified family members into consulting businesses as school safety "experts." While the Copperfield and Brady Bunch brands have served America exceptionally well in the entertainment field, the safety of school children and teachers should not be put in jeopardy by the use of questionably-qualified consultants with a lot of hype but little substance once you get past the "smoke'n'mirrors" of their marketing machines.
School officials who make knee-jerk reactions in selecting school security trainers or consultants without considering whether or not they are really qualified may find themselves the target of public, media, and even legal scrutiny down the line for not having done so.
What should you consider when selecting a school security or emergency/crisis preparedness consultant?
- Closely Scrutinize "Post-Columbine" School Safety Consultants and other "Experts" Lacking Sustainability Over Time. Educators should closely scrutinize consultants and "experts" whose "expertise" and consulting experience in school safety began after the April, 1999, Columbine High School attack and/or following other high-profile incidents of violence against schools. Many overnight experts and trainers seem to pop up quickly after a high-profile school violence incident. Few of the "experts" who cropped up after April of 1999 are still operating a full-time, national school safety consulting business today. The shorter the time in the field of providing school safety consulting services, the closer the scrutiny which should be given by educators. Sustainability and continuity in providing school safety consulting services over an established period of time are key factors to look for in qualified, established, and credible school safety consultants.
- Are the Primary Concerns of the Security Consultants to Sell You Products? There are many sincere security vendors who want to work with schools to adapt technology to the school environment for the purpose of improving school safety. However, there are also an increasing number of vendors who are more concerned about breaking into the school market --- and into the school budgets --- with the sole purpose of making more money. The same applies to others pushing books, materials, and other products. School officials should scrutinize trainers and consultants to make sure that their hidden agenda is not to get in the door under the guise of a presentation or training session so they can sell you a litany of other questionably-beneficial products and services along with, or after, the presentation. See also our web page on warnings about school crisis plan templates.
- Law Enforcement, Military, Emergency Management, or other Security Experience Alone Does Not Automatically Equate to School Security Expertise. An individual may have had an outstanding career in law enforcement, the military, emergency management, or corporate security elsewhere, but that does not immediately make him or her a school security expert. Security in K-12 schools is vastly different from protecting nuclear weapons, government installations, utility companies, private corporate offices and plants, executive protection, etc. There are unique differences between securing assets in these various professions and in securing our children, teachers, and school facilities in a welcoming climate with unique school-community relations and politics. School officials should not allow impressive titles and careers in other fields alone to command respect and credibility as a school security specialist.
Part-Timers School Safety Consultants. Retired educators, current school police or security professionals consulting on a part-time basis, and others using school security consulting for some "extra cash" often have serious limitations.
While some currently full-time employed school security or school police officers dabble on the side in consulting to make some extra money, they typically have to go back to their full-time job after a few vacation or other days off and may not be available for follow-up needs of a school district. For example, many may not even be able to speak with their consulting clients during school hours since they most likely cannot do consulting work while working their regular full-time job. Likewise, while their firsthand experience in their primary district may be beneficial, they may lack the "big picture" perspective of full-time consultants with broader experience and knowledge of best practices and lessons learned in working with many other school districts.
Watch for "Borderline Backgrounds" and Misleading Qualifications. Look through the slick marketing
materials of big-business consulting firms to analyze the backgrounds of so-called "school security experts" more closely. See whether they actually have experience in school-specific environments, in security-specific capacities, and in working with youth and schools. Unfortunately, there are too many individuals such as former law enforcement officers and agents, former military officials, former educators, former emergency management employees, and others claiming school security expertise without ever having had full-time responsibilities working in school districts on school safety issues. In looking at the background of some individuals claiming school safety expertise, it would appear that their closest qualification to being associated with school safety is that they once attended a K-12 school !!!
Also give scrutiny to individuals who claim to have held multiple positions in a short period of time, especially top level positions in very short periods of time. If one consultant claims to have held multiple top titles in multiple organizations over a short period of time, might this not suggest that the person was resume-building, job-hopping, and/or a politically-appointed person who held no single position very long? Ask individuals not only what titles they had, but how long they held those titles. It is easy for someone to say they held a leading position in an organization, but it may be a bit more difficult for them to explain why they only held it for only a year or less, or perhaps why they changed jobs three or four times over a period of three or four years.
Educators should also be careful of questionably presented credentials and biographical descriptions lacking specifics. When someone's credentials say they "attended XYZ college," does this really mean they never achieved a degree? Also be leery of biographical descriptions loaded with comments such as "well known" or "well respected" or "well liked," but lacking any real "meat" in terms of actual professional school safety or other real work experience." It is nice to find people who are "highly passionate" and "exceptionally motivated," but this should be demonstrated in their work rather than constituting three-fourths of their resume or biography.
Also look closely for red flags in biographical statements put forth by suspected consultants. For example, do authors representing themselves as having a history of writing dozens of "books" actually mean that they wrote numerous short "booklets" or "pamphlets" versus real books? If they really did write dozens of books, over what period of time were they published (hint: very book authors, including the best of academicians, have actually authorized dozens of books in just a year or couple back-to-back year periods).
Approach these people and organizations with caution! If someone will misrepresent themselves and their organizations before you hire them, what will they do once you sign the contract? Do you really want them associated with your school???
"Experts" Whose "Expertise" Resolves Around One Crisis Event and other "Motivational" Speakers. Many "lessons learned" can be garnered from high-profile school violence incidents and other major tragic events. But unfortunately, some consultants and trainers have attempted to define themselves as school safety experts based upon having some connection to only one major tragedy of violence. This begs many school safety professionals to ask how some individuals have become school safety "experts" just from having been a part of --- or nearby --- one major emergency.
We have also seen a number of presenters charging schools thousands of dollars to tell dramatic personal stories and similar "performances" under the guise of "motivational" speakers. But is hiring such individuals the best use of limited school safety funds in today's world of educational accountability or can schools instead use these funds to get experienced, cutting-edge knowledge on how to prevent and manage school safety issues? For example, most school administrators can find someone on their own school staff who can stand up and tell personal stories of being bullied in school, experiencing fighting as a student, being sexually harassed in high school, overcoming learning obstacles, or being victims of other hardships in life which they have overcome.
Why should educators pay an outside consultant/trainer thousands of dollars when limited school safety money can be better spent on learning from experts who provide detailed analysis, critical thinking, cutting-edge knowledge and solutions, and practical strategies instead of personal drama stories or so-called motivational speeches?
Educations should ask themselves: When the "ooooohhhh" and "ahhhhhaaaaaa" drama from having individuals recant one tragic incident or perform dramatic presentations is set-aside, what are the real benefits in terms of prevention and solutions for our school? What real qualifications and experience do some "motivational speakers" and presenters have as long-term career school safety practitioners, experts, and consultants? Is this the best use of our limited school safety dollars?
Dr. Steve Sroka, a respected friend and internationally-known presenter, says it best about "motivational speakers": They make you laugh. They make you cry. And then they leave you wondering, "Why?"!!!
Beware of the "flip-floppers." Some self-proclaimed "experts" in school safety, anti-terrorism, and other fields appear to speak out of both sides of their mouths on school violence, terrorism, and other threats depending upon their audience and who they and/or their business corporations are trying to impress. Be cautious of individuals who "play to the crowd" and tell people what they think the audience wants to hear. Why should schools use their limited school safety dollars to hire a multi-thousand dollar presenter who tells them whatever they want to hear rather than what they need to know?
Our philosophy at National School Safety and Security Services has always been that what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. You may not always want to hear the truth we speak, but you will always be presented with honest and unwavering information. We tell you what we believe is in the best interests of school safety --- not whatever plays to the crowd and/or to the best interests of lining our consultants' pockets and the coffers of a big business corporation.
Scrutinize "experts" whose training and consulting primarily evolve around free government manuals, publications, etc., and consultants who charge thousands of dollars for what you could get for free in your own community. Why in the world would any school district pay thousands of dollars for trainers who come in and regurgitate the contents of federal and state government reports, academic studies, and other publications available to school districts for free? Unfortunately, it happens.
School districts should be leery of consultants whose primary rhetoric and slide shows have few, if any, original ideas beyond those already published in freely accessible literature already circulating for years in school safety, emergency management, government agencies, or other public domains. School administrators should be suspicious if individuals hired as private consultants appear to largely rely upon materials taken from government manuals and/or other information sources they may have had access to while working in previous capacities as government employees or by simply downloading them off the Internet. The same applies to those who do presentations strictly based upon a book they are trying to sell that someone could pay $30 to read, not $3,000 to hear a snippet about in an hour presentation by a consultant.
Many schools can also tap into local resources to provide what some consultants could charge thousands and thousands of dollars to provide to schools. For example, School Resource Officers and/or local law enforcement officers can provide presentations on drug abuse and sales trends, gang activity, concealed weapons demonstrations and personal safety, and other safety topics. Local mental health professionals can talk about bullying, early warning signs of youth violence, and other trendy topics.
Why pay "experts" thousands and thousands of dollars for something that your own in-house School Resource Officer, local police department, or mental health agency can do for free? If limited school safety resources are to be spent on consultants, it should be spent on those who bring original ideas, cutting-edge knowledge, insightful analysis, practical recommendations, and cost-effective ideas to our schools.
Check the Credibility, Track Record, Experience, and References of the Company and Staff Specifically in the K-12 School Security Field. Investigate the nature of organizations providing school security and crisis preparedness resources. Do not let fancy names or titles mislead you. Is their "non-profit" or "research" organization simply a cover for their personal consulting business? Are they using these titles and organizational classification as a misleading effort to enhance their credibility and convince potential clients that they are something that they are not?
Consultants and trainers affiliated with large companies whose mission and expertise are not exclusively school safety or are not remotely close to school safety should be very carefully scrutinized. Several large corporations with no K-12 school security history or expertise have tried to open up a new division in their big businesses to address school safety. Few, if any, have had a long track record of being successful in doing so, and most have little to no real experience and credibility as organizations having a full-time expertise in school safety.
Also make sure that all members of a school safety consulting firm have extensive school safety experience, not just the lead consultant. While some of the more visible individuals with a firm may be established in the field, look at the credentials of each consultant to make sure they have established experienced and credibility in school safety. It would not be uncommon to see one individual with decent credentials bring in family members, friends, and/or other political cronies as consultants to ride on his/her coattails, even though they do not have lengthy and quality firsthand experience working on the frontlines of school safety (or in some cases, even in a school)!
Make sure that companies who offer school security services are truly specialized experts in this field. Also make sure that they have a long-term, sustainable track record of providing consulting services far before recent high-profile school violence incidents.
Scrutinize the Academic Answers. There are also some academicians who, unfortunately, have shifted their "research" or academic interests to fit the hot issues of the times - and to follow the money. Individuals who have never had an interest or experience in school safety issues are now professing near overnight expertise in this area, including some who have remotely studied youth issues in other arenas and are now attempting to apply their backgrounds to school security. Some have never worked in K-12 schools and most have never solely focused on school security and crisis preparedness as their full-time career focus. Simply because some claim that they have "studied it" or "written an article about it" does not mean that they are immediately qualify them to be school security and crisis preparedness experts. Make sure that their experience reflects an understanding of K-12 school-specific security issues and needs.
Real school security and crisis preparedness specialists should have school-specific security and crisis preparedness experience, and school-specific services to offer. Education resources are limited and they should only be used for qualified, professional resources with the necessary experience and expertise to be of maximum assistance to our schools.
A truly competent, professional consulting business should be able and willing to identify itself up front! Truly established experts will have lengthy qualifications of frontline experience working in and with K-12 schools, established professional and legitimate publications in the field, well-established written references, high-public visibility in their field (conference presenters in their field, quoted in professional industry publications and other media, etc.), and related traits.
There are a number of qualified school safety consultants working at a national level in the United States. There are also far too many self-promotional, overnight experts.
See also our web page on warnings about school crisis plan templates.
See "Our Advantages" as one example of what to look for in a legitimate, top-quality school security consulting firm.
For information on selecting a school safety consultant, see:
2001 National School Boards Association article by co-authored by Ken Trump entitled, Buyer Beware: What to look for when hiring a school security consultant (.pdf file format).