School Safety Planning: MITIGATION
Prevention | Protection | MITIGATION | Response | Recovery | Rebuilding
In the world of school safety there are six different, yet equally important parts, when holistically applied create an adequate school safety plan to efficiently protect America’s children and our country’s educators while physically located on the grounds of their educational environment – and furthermore, accounting for each category of safety planning can assure proper protection against future liability concerns that a school district might have after a life-threat emergency has taken place. As you can see from the information above those six parts for school safety planning are PREVENTION, PROTECTION, MITIGATION, RESPONSE, RECOVERY & REBUILDING. For the purpose of our 3rd installment in our series dedicated to SCHOOL SAFETY PLANNING we will be breaking down the mitigation aspect of properly securing your educational environment during the inevitable threats that can take place on school property.
Many well-meaning and educated academics use the excuse that “nothing bad has happened in our district/school before so why should we worry about something happening now or in the future?” as the basis for not doing everything at their disposal in order to make sure that their schools are optimally prepared for the worst. For example, denial will not save anyone, not learning from the past will lead to unpreparedness now and in the future, and remaining at the status quo in relation to school safety will create an educational enviroment full of fear and anxiety as opposed to one of safety and readiness. In saying that however, we must all be very careful about how much blame is placed on the educational officials and the school districts after a tragedy happens because until very recently there has been little information and virtually no standards of safety and preventative tactics in place for an educator to use as the backbone of their school safety planning. Furthermore, in the world we live in today no matter how unfair it may be to ask our educational administrators to be equally life-safety minded as well as educational minded, we must start asking for just that.
In an earlier post we broke down what a life-threat emergency is and I think it’s wise to go over that definition again as the basis for further discussion into the mitigation aspect of an adequate school safety plan; A life-threat emergency can be defined as a serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly with the potential for grievous bodily harm demanding immediate action and intervention. A few examples of a “LTE” are an active-killer situation or act of terrorism, a suicide on school grounds, a drive-by shooting, the use of explosive materials within a school, excessive violence towards a person or group of school children and/or staff, a fire that causes grave damage, and also a natural disaster that impacts the daily functioning of an otherwise normal school day.
A life-threat emergency can be defined as a serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly with the potential for grievous bodily harm demanding immediate action and intervention...
Each category of school safety planning that we are bringing to your attention through this six part series has a deliberate purpose for its representation and a particular reason of importance pertaining to understanding how to plan accordingly for a myriad of potential life-safety concerns that a school could and will face during its life as an occupied building. In the two previous installments of this six part series we broke down the prevention and protection pieces of school safety planning, and now we’ll start breaking down the third piece of the puzzle known as mitigation.
When we speak of mitigation as being part of a school’s life-safety plans or overall school safety planning we are speaking about a couple aspects of mitigating a life-threat emergency, the first being about pieces of technology available to schools currently that help with locating and tracking a threat within a building, and with the second aspect of mitigation having more to do with understanding what your local law enforcement’s role will be in helping to bring a successful end to a life-threat emergency on your campus.
In the two previous installments of this six part series we broke down the prevention and protection pieces of school safety planning...
For the technology aspect of what is available to schools in order to help mitigate the effects of a life-threat emergency we will break down a few key technological enhancements that are currently used in schools today; we will then discuss how these pieces of technology should be used throughout school buildings to maximize the mitigation of a life-threat emergency. Next, we will provide insight into the emergency timeline for law enforcement's mitigation of an event, and finally we will provide you with some information as to the best ways to create stronger partnerships with your local law enforcement men and women.
Threat Locating/Tracking Technology:
- The goal behind this kind of school safety technology is to give law enforcement the situational awareness and actionable intelligence they need in order to arrive on scene with information about a threat regarding the description of a subject, the weapon/s the subject is carrying, the placement of the subject within a building in relation to innocent potential victims, and a virtual timestamp in real-time of the subject’s movement throughout an enclosed structure (which is often a foreign environment to the responding law enforcement). This category of technology uses several different methods/devices to retrieve the data necessary to relay the above life-threat information to responding officers and is almost always paired with a school’s live camera feed for final confirmation purposes:
a. Motion Based Technology:
- The use of positioned motion sensors throughout a school that when in alarm give law enforcement the ability to see physical blueprints of a school and match up movement within the physical structure to that of either a threat or that of potential victim. This information is then simultaneously used against a camera bank or individual camera feeds to gain final confirmation of the threat and where the threat is moving.
b. Shot-Detection Technology:
- The use of positioned shot sensors which activate and start relaying the location of a threat at the moment shots are fired within a building. This information is then simultaneously used against a camera bank or individual camera feeds to gain final confirmation of the threat and where the threat is moving.
c. Infrared Technology:
- The use of handheld or pre-positioned infrared devices which are activated on location or by law enforcement through a remote monitoring device which show heat images in great detail about a threat and the movement of people within a physical building. This information is then simultaneously used against a camera bank or individual camera feeds to gain final confirmation of the threat and where the threat is moving.
*Author’s Note: There are bonuses and drawbacks for each type of Threat Locating/Tracking Technology with regards to functionality and abilities and I have found that the most common type of threat tracking technology nationally has been in the form of shot-detection technology because of its cost-effective nature and ability to alert authorities without the need for a physical alarm, however, its drawbacks are evident in the degree that if someone is not shooting then the technology is useless – meaning, if someone uses a knife for an attack or a pipe bomb and/or moves throughout a building without firing a weapon intermittently then the authorities lose track of the threat. Motion based technology is making its way onto the scene because of the fact that it creates a non-stop tracking ability during a life-threat emergency, however, many times this solution to locating/tracking a threat is cost-prohibitive for retro-fitting a building but very cost-efficient when building a new structure. The best of both worlds would be integrating both types of technologies together in your building for optimal benefit. The use of infrared technology to locate/track a threat is currently used more for hostage situations and singular room strategies, and at this point has not shown proper validity to be used as a means for giving authorities a broad view of an entire emergency and the intelligence needed to justify the costs associated with its impracticality to help mitigate most life-threat emergencies.
Classroom Status/Communication Technology: - The goal behind this kind of school safety technology is to give Law Enforcement, EMS and all First Responders arriving on scene the situational awareness and actionable intelligence they need in order to have a complete snapshot of needs when responding to an emergency within a school. Not only does this technology give those responding to an incident the details necessary to quickly respond and act appropriately when on scene but it gives the administration inside of an incident the intelligence necessary to aid in the mitigation of a life-threat emergency. For instance, if those responding to a school and those caught inside of a school knows that there are wounded people in a particular classroom then once the safety personnel arrive they know where to go first for triage or evacuation purposes. If the school administrators know that they have wounded children trapped in certain classrooms on one side of the building and also know from another classroom’s alert located on the other side of the building that they are now under attack, the admins can now move safely towards an area where help is needed without the worry of being under attack in the process. This technology can be broken down into several categories of capability which we will go into now so you have a better idea of how this technology works, lastly we will break down the different modes for incorporating this life-saving technology into your schools: (These terms are self-explanatory but have deeper meanings and uses during a life-threat emergency)
a. Under Attack
- If First Responders arriving on scene know that a room is under attack then their plan can now involve knowing where the threat currently is and can plan to intercede accordingly.
- If First Responders know that someone is wounded in a classroom they can communicate directly with the room and help to mitigate the incident before evacuation is possible. Knowing the extent of the wounded within a school before arrival gives EMS and the local hospitals the ability to start planning accordingly for what kinds of injuries to expect upon arrival which will help to save lives.
- This is a term used for classrooms to report when shots are not being fired at their door or someone is not trying to gain entry into their classroom. This information is valuable because it lets First Responders have a better understanding of where the potential threat could be within a school, and it also helps with quicker evacuation after an incident has taken place. If a classroom is deemed “safe” at the moment and then alerts “under attack” at a later moment then the First Responders have more valuable intel as to the placement of the threat.
Different ways this technology can look, feel and be used:
a. Physical call boxes located within a classroom
- The use of physical call boxes within a classroom are highly beneficial because of their ability to allow two-way communication with dispatch and administrators. A call station within a classroom can have visual components added to it along with two-way audio capabilities when in alarm. The way these call stations work is that they are connected though a hardline with automatic “911” calling capability or can be used through an entire Life-Safety System which stays connected to dispatch 24/7 whether there is an emergency or not.
b. App based communication ability
- In this case there is no need for the installation of new products within a school seeing as the ability to communicate with dispatch and first responders can be done through a pre-loaded emergency app on the teacher’s smart phone, tablet or computer. The app gives two-way audio communication ability to a classroom and in some cases can provide direct video connection through the use of its camera device already built into a smart phone or tablet.
c. Through Mass Communication Systems
- Good mass communication systems already have built within their framework the ability to have two-way audible communications with an administrator’s office as well as visual confirmation abilities when desirable or functional. Mass Communication Systems are generally used for intra-school related needs but also have the added benefit of being connected to Law Enforcement during emergency situations.
*Author’s Note: There are significant cost barriers to implement physical emergency call boxes within a school when a retrofit would be the practice, however, when building a new school the cost barriers are alleviated and worth the investment. App based communication ability is growing in popularity because of the lesser costs associated with programs providing its capability, however, these app based systems for phones, tablets and computers are still not at a place where I feel confident in their ability to do much more than alert out of a building that an emergency is taking place. Communicating through Mass Communication Systems appears to me to be the most cost-effective and cross-functional way to communicate during an emergency the status of classrooms throughout a school building.
Fire/Toxic Gas Detection:
- Fire & Toxic Gas Detection is now an option in today’s world of technological advancement. The important aspect to think about here is that everything fire & toxic gas detection related will have to be supplemental to already existing fire code based fire detection products and precautions. However, the market is full of companies who can identify, locate, track and even put a fire out before the sprinkler system has to be used. The fire world doesn’t promote these products as much as it should for a myriad of reasons, but I think we can all agree that knowing a fire has started and being able to remotely put it out, or knowing that toxic gases are in the air and being able to be proactive about that are both good things for schools to have and know about. I am seeing this technology to locate and track a fire and depict the particulates of toxic gasses in the air be housed in camera units and separate installable pieces of hardware that can connect to an existing fire panel or be part of a life-safety system that is supplemental to your existing fire system.
- This is a relatively new term in the world of school safety and it refers to the ability law enforcement now has in some cases to interdict and even stop a threat happening inside of a building from outside of a building during their en route travels to mitigate a life-threat emergency. Countermeasures can range from ceiling-based fire suppression systems to the ability to remotely lockdown parts of a school through electronically controlling inside doors and perimeter access points from local dispatch centers. As the future continues along we will see life-safety systems start to incorporate different styles of countermeasures throughout their planning and implementation phases for schools. I am excited to see the new technology coming out every week that can be defined as countermeasures and I look forward to writing much more on this topic in the future. However, for the purpose of this particular post all that is needed to know is that technology is reaching a point where law enforcement can be inside of a building and fighting back against threats through countermeasures before they ever arrive on scene physically.
2-Way Dispatch Communication:
- Another exciting advancement in life-safety technology is the ability school administrators and law enforcement now have to use the school as a total communication device during a life-threat emergency. In some schools across America it is now possible for your local dispatch center to have remote access into their school’s PA system and mass communication tools in order to communicate directly/indirectly to a threat or directly/indirectly to classrooms as to the status of the emergency in real-time or as to the needs for evacuation or lock-downs to go into place. Like the countermeasures section listed above this particular technology is advancing rapidly and the capabilities that go along with communication during an emergency are exciting and will be covered in more depth in a later post from OKDI.
...Communicating through Mass Communication Systems appears to me to be the most cost-effective and cross-functional way to communicate during an emergency the status of classrooms throughout a school building.
Insight into the emergency timeline for law enforcement's mitigation of an event...
- In a later post we will discuss the overall timeline for Law Enforcement response to, and mitigation of a life-threat emergency in much more detail, but for the purpose of this post in our series dedicated to school safety planning we will give a brief overview of how response from law enforcement works when something “bad” happens in your backyard.
1. Alarm comes in
- In most cases if a life-threat emergency happens on school grounds the first mode of communication used to signal there’s a problem is calling “911” after an emergency has already started (National average for a call to come out of a school is between 1 & 3 minutes after the emergency has already started). This call often comes from multiple sources (people under attack, teachers hearing shots fired, administrators fearing the worst etc.) with many different calls happening at once which begins the process of response to an event by Law Enforcement, however, it also represents the first chance that the “good guys” lose complete control over a situation, mainly because dispatch is constantly receiving out of date information from callers which does little to aid in the mitigation of an event happening in your school once the initial alert is sounded. Remember, every call that comes in to dispatch and then gets relayed to Law Enforcement en route is based around information that’s from the past, and in a life-threat emergency the past, even if just 30 seconds old, most likely does little to shed light on the current state of an emergency.
2. Alert goes out
- As dispatch receives the first distress call from a school that something “bad” is happening they put an all alert out over the airwaves for every “good guy” available to respond to the emergency. Once the “good guys” get the call they push the limits of speed to race towards the emergency, however, the average national drive time for Law Enforcement to an emergency is between 7-15 minutes, and in rural areas the drive time can be even longer due to a smaller number of deputies on the road and the distance it can often take to get from one end of the county to the other end where the event is taking place. During this drive time the people inside of a school are on their own to protect those inside of a building – in some cases there will be school resource officers on premise but in larger schools or even larger campuses it may take the SRO upwards of 5 minutes or longer to reach the seat of the emergency, and if the threat is not out in the open the SRO will have to clear rooms as he moves along to find the “bad guy” to put him down which can make the pursuit even longer than most people think.
3. Response is underway
- The “good guys” are driving 120mph or faster to get to your school, all the while getting piecemealed information about the state of the emergency from continuing incoming calls to dispatch. If there is an SRO in the school he/she is making their way on foot to respond as fast as that person can get there.
4. The “good guys” show up
- Once Law Enforcement get to the scene they stage immediately in an area close to an entrance way and begin their entrance attempt known commonly now as “first man in.”
5. The “good guys” make entry
- In some cases we have seen that the “good guys” have no way to gain entrance into a school so they are stuck outside waiting on staff or administrators to allow them entrance. In the best case scenario the first cop on scene has the ability to get into the school through the use of their key-fob and will immediately begin using their 5 senses to move towards the threat. The only real way for “good guys” to find the threat is through listening for shots fired or screams coming from hallways. In many cases the officer entering the building is not making entrance in the area of the emergency currently so they must make their way throughout the building hoping for signs that point towards the threat.
6. The “good guys” end the emergency
- As the first cop in searches for the threat, he/she will eventually find the subject in question and will without hesitation put them down. In many cases the “bad guy” will take their own life once they feel that Law Enforcement is close, in worst case scenarios the “bad guy” will fire back at the “good guy” creating a shoot-out or will take hostages into place to create even further damage to life.
*Author’s Note: As we can see from the above basic timeline of response to, and mitigation of a life-threat emergency by Law Enforcement, continuing actionable intelligence coming from within the building about the situation is desperately needed to cut down on the time it takes to find the threat and put it down before further loss of life happens. We see the national average via a timeline for an active-killer event is 6.5 minutes in length from start to finish. If a school does not have a few minimum physical ways to protect the people inside of the building and alert the “good guys” quicker than calling “911” then the death toll will be much higher in count than it needs to be. In the Sandy Hook Massacre, if they had safety glass at their entrance and better doors and locks throughout their building it has been concluded that loss of life would not have taken place (Reference back to the earlier PROTECTION post in this series to find ways to add more physical safety measures to ensure the safety of those inside your school in the event that a life-threat emergency was to take place in your educational environment)
How can I as an administrator bridge the gap with my local Law enforcement and vice versa?
- Across the country there is a large gap in communication between the folks who teach our kids and the folks who protect our communities. As an administrator of a school it is your duty to have a working relationship of trust and inclusivity with your local Law Enforcement so that if an event does happen at your school the local officers in your area are well acquainted with the layout and protocols of your school upon arrival. Never forget that the cops are the “good guys” and if you feel as a school official that there is tension between your educational environment and your local “good guys” then invite the leadership of your community based departments into your school for a meet and greet opportunity and bridge the gap. If at all possible, as an administrator, involve your local Law Enforcement in the creation of your emergency response plans on a yearly basis and then invite the “good guys” to be part of regular safety drills that take place on your campus.
- As Law Enforcement, you must understand that educators are very protective of their spaces of learning and they fear that by bringing you on campus and giving you access to their building that they could be putting certain troubled students in harm’s way by introducing you to them. If you are a police chief or a sheriff or the chief deputies of either, reach out to your educational officials in the community and invite them to lunch to express your desire to be there for their school in any way they need. The bridge between schools and cops can be built over coffee and a handshake of understanding. Our communities deserve more cooperation between those who teach our kids and those who protect them.