Security in the Educational Environment


                In today’s reality of ever increasing tensions between various groups there is more and more concern about the safety of our nation’s number one resource.  Our children.  When they are with us as parents we feel much more confident about the situation since we feel in control.  What about when our children our not directly under our control and protection? 

The place where children spend most of their time, when not at home, is at school.  When we don’t have constant information about our children’s situation our mind tries to fill in the gaps. All too often our imagination is influenced by negativity in various news outlets and general feelings or fear of the unknown that can erode our confidence concerning our children’s safety. 

A professional and proper security plan can go a very long way to easing those concerns by replacing those feelings of apprehension with confidence.  Confidence that our children are in the hands of dedicated professionals who are proactive in their protection of our kids rather than reactive.  Too many organizations install security protocols and the personnel to execute them after the fact.  As an organization it is necessary that a school creates a plan in response to an event.  That brings little comfort to those that have to bear the burden of a reactive schools learning curve. 

These threats can be either internal such as student violence, bullying and infractions by school staff or external, perpetrated by forces outside of the school such as an unauthorized parent trying to remove a child from the premises without the child’s legal guardian’s consent.  Or worse, a deliberate attack on the facility or natural disaster.  Furthermore the threat can be either manmade or environmental.  We already discussed some of the man-made attacks earlier.  Some environmental threats would include fire, flood, earthquakes and other emergencies.  Though less nefarious than manmade threats, environmental threats can be every bit as dangerous. 

Pre-Incident Preparation

In order to be prepared to meet the challenges today we must have taken steps yesterday.  Proper planning prevents poor performance.  Coming up with a plan seems simple enough.  We plan every day in all manner of ways and in every sector of the workforce.  In most circumstances the planning process is very much the same.  The basic steps to creating a comprehensive plan to meet security challenges are:

·         Assessment

·         Planning

·         Training

·         Refinement

It is important to understand that the process is cyclical rather than linear.  It is not enough to make an honest effort to produce a solid plan by itself.  That plan must be continually reevaluated to ensure it is the best plan possible and that it keeps pace with changes in the threats posed, as well as the solutions available to combat them.  It also calls for the continual rehearsal of the plan to ensure that everyone knows it and that it generates results as intended. 

Balancing Operations and Security Requirements

Making a place of learning secure is easy.  It is highly unlikely anything would happen in a school surrounded by tall, concrete walls with no doors and students were in isolated, one person classrooms with no means to interact with one another.  But that school would not be able to be a school then.

 There must be a balance struck between the rasion d’etre of the institution and its security.  One cannot exist without the other.  A well-conceived and comprehensive security plan will operate in the open and be almost invisible except where it is intended to be readily evident.  Students, parents and staff can and should interact with their security professionals in much the same way they interact with each other.  There should be an absolute minimum of interference in the operation of the school due to security policy and protocols. 

All too often, when security becomes too inconvenient, those who the policy is intended to protect will actively circumvent security for the sake of convenience.  An example of this is people propping open an emergency door so they can get to their car and back without having to use the main entrance.  They see it as creating a shorter route for themselves but an intruder sees it as an opportunity to avoid the security of the main entrance.  

A professional security apparatus will not impede operations but enhance them, allowing those under its protection to concentrate on what they came to do in the first place.  Learn!

Creating an Atmosphere of Confidence

                A professionally conceived and executed security plan will create an atmosphere of confidence and safety.  A poorly conceived or executed security plan will feel oppressive and creates a “them vs. us” dynamic that can even create an atmosphere that feels less safe because it feels like you are under threat. 

One facility has its security personnel carry weapons openly and another facility has its security personnel wear a suit with no visible weapons.  Which would you prefer? 

The first establishment may very well call for such a show of force and as such has this in their security apparatus.  It does not, however, mean that the second establishment does not have security.  Though they may not show their assets it does not mean that the second establishment does not have an equal response capability. 

Putting on a show of force can often intimidate those being protected.  Security should enhance what is being protected, not detract from it.  This is especially true when the establishment is geared toward sensitive and surprisingly perceptive children.  Parents will always be assessing the situation around them and professional security creates a sense of confidence and safety in those parents.  Children then pick up on this and feel safe in turn. 

The hallmark of a truly professional security team is that they can provide that confidence and they can do it while not being over bearing or distracting.  Anti-vehicle barriers can be a fantastic and sometimes necessary security measure.  They can come in an intimidating form such as the dull gray concrete ‘jersey barriers’ with concertina wire or barbed wire installed on top to prevent people from climbing over them.  Or they can come in the form of reinforced concrete planters, painted to match the buildings it protects and filled with well-manicured holly shrubs (holly is extremely stiff and woody and the leaves are stiff and tipped with many sharp points).  They are equally effective but one will probably not even be noticed or identified as a security apparatus and would be an indication that a truly professional security element is at work here.  Balancing both the need to operate effectively while still maintaining security.

Making the most of resources

Not only do we have to balance security with the mission of the establishment being protected but we also have to take into account the resources available.  If we could we would spare no expense on ensuring our children are safe when they are at school (and when moving to and from!). 

The reality is that no one has unlimited resources.  This creates a need to get the most out of what resources are available.  It is common to substitute security personnel with technology such as cameras. 

A word on technology based security:  The center of any security plan should be people.  People actively take in and interpret information from their surroundings, assess, question and self-direct. 

Technology is a fantastic resource that not only acts as a force multiplier but gives other advantages not achievable by people alone such as detecting smoke over a wide area (or carbon monoxide in a small are) or seeing in the dark.  Technology is an enabler for the real security apparatus which is the security professional him or herself. 

An example is an organization opting for cameras alone rather than security professionals.  They are intended to be used in conjunction with security personnel (as a force multiplier) and/or to obtain evidence for actions after the event has taken place such as evidence in prosecution or to conduct an After Action Review. 

Cameras by themselves are often chosen by decision makers who have little experience or knowledge of security.  They drive by a secure area on their way to work and see the cameras but not the system behind them.  Camera systems are only a visible facet of an overall system. 

Another hallmark of a professional security plan is the ability to do more with less. A proper security assessment can identify not only major strengths and weaknesses but will also allow us to do the most with what resources are available.  All too often, lesser security professionals will over allocate resources in some areas, leaving gaps in others.  Security is not increased by massing all assets at the front door if no one is watching the back door. 

This is where technology truly belongs in a security plan.  A back door fitted with a call box or camera and a remote door lock would allow one person to control both entrances at the same time.  A camera on both doors would allow you to monitor both but control neither.

                A professional assessment and well thought out plan will maximize the effectiveness of resources allocated by ensuring coverage and creating as much synergy among available assets as possible.

Meeting the challenge

                Everything comes to a fine point when a threat arises.  Short comings become readily apparent and strengths are immediately recognized.  Ideally a proper security plan will dissuade human threats and mitigate natural ones.  If that fails, well developed, resourced and rehearsed emergency response plans and personnel will go a long way to reducing the damage done.  When this time comes an organization will find itself either assessing how effective their preparations were or realizing that the cost was too high to not have preparations in the first place. 

Christopher Charo is the Executive Director of Finance of Talos Secure Group, Inc.


Michael Grabski