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 from that time through the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in 2012, triggered an onslaught of overnight school safety experts, charlatans, gadgets, and gurus seeking to financially capitalize on what they perceive to be a new “big bucks” market in the field of school safety. Fortunately, the majority of these “overnight wonders” fall to the wayside in a few years after they hang out a shingle 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.
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 seeking to exploit 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.
Experienced school security consultants are 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-like magicians and Brady Bunch family 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-Incident” 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 begin after high-profile attacks. Few of the “experts” who crop up after high-profile incidents are still operating a full-time, national school safety consulting business a couple years down the road. 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 Big-Ticket Security Products or Hardware? Is the school security consultant trying to do business with your school district truly “independent”? Or does he or she have hidden strategic partnerships, alliances and/or financial backing from product or hardware vendors that could influence their recommendations to your district for high-ticket security expenses? 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.
- 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 the back alleys of our city neighborhoods, 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 child-oriented, welcoming climate with unique school-community relations and politics. Experience with age and developmental issues, special needs children and child-oriented settings is highly relevant and very different from working in these other settings. School officials should not allow impressive titles and careers in other fields alone to command respect and credibility as a school security specialist.
Advocates versus Experts: Consultants and speakers whose school safety “expertise” resolves around one crisis event and other motivational speakers may provide advocacy and motivation, but not necessarily broad and deep expertise. Some “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. Speakers from this background can provide advocacy and motivation for school safety, and a glimpse into their own unique incident and lessons, but this does not automatically bring broad experience and deep expertise needed to analyze individual school district challenges or the knowledge of school safety applications beyond their unique individual experience. 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? What real qualifications and experience do some “motivational speakers” and presenters have as long-term career school safety practitioners, experts, and consultants? Dr. Steve Sroka, a respected friend and internationally-known presenter, says it best about about many motivational speakers: They make you laugh. They make you cry. And then they leave you wondering, “Why?”!!!
- 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? Is the “expert” school safety firm lopsided with one real school security expert and the rest are his or her family members and/or friends who have never worked in a school?
- Watch for the “Bait and Switch” sales tactic. 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 front lines 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.
- Part-Timers School Safety Consultants. Retired educators, current police officers, self defense instructors and others attempting to provide school safety consulting on a part-time basis can present schools with serious limitations when they are not part of an established, full-time school safety consulting firm. While teaching close combat tactics off-duty to school teachers may make the officer a few extra bucks, these individuals often fail to have preK-12 experience, liability protections and other
- 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. 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? 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.
- 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.
- Beware of the “flip-floppers.” 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.
- 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?
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 expert who present both safety and liability risks to school leaders.