Preparation and training–not metal detectors–make students safer, expert says

A school safety expert addresses the potential risks of increasing school security before developing a well-trained student body and staff.

Recent tragedies have led district leaders across the U.S. to consider better options to increase student safety in their schools. However, others question if “hardening” schools will be enough to put an end to mass shootings.

“Hardening” is the term used by lawmakers to describe the process of reinforcing a school for the safety of its student with physical hardware. This includes installing metal detectors, enhancing physical security and increasing surveillance.

Discussion between leaders and lawmakers has exposed the potential negative effects such efforts could have on students’ mental health and academic achievement. Research shows that implementing such systems could cause students to feel less safe at school. For example, the presence of metal detectors may provoke fear. In addition, students may feel that their privacy is being invaded.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, who has worked on lawsuits involving some of the nation’s highest-profile mass school shootings including Sandy Hook, Parkland and San Bernardino, shared his expertise on how districts should be addressing school safety.

Train students and staff

“The first and best line of defense is a well-trained and highly alert staff and student body,” says Trump. “The number-one way we find out about weapons, shooting plots and individuals who want to cause self-harm is from students who come forward and tell adults that they trust. Any security technology is only as strong as the weakest human link behind it.”

He says that school security and emergency preparedness, especially post-COVID, is lacking. Many schools don’t have the fundamental best practices in place to ensure school safety, such as active building and district-level school crisis teams and reasonable safety drills.

Address human factors

Trump’s experience as a civil litigation expert witness working on high-profile cases related to mass shootings has shown him that there is a common thread linked to many of these cases: the failure of human factors. These include people, policies, procedures and training. “It is a lot easier to throw up visible tangible things, such as more cameras, door locks or metal detectors and tell parents they have improved school safety than it is to show them the value of training, relationships and creating a culture of school safety within the school itself,” he says.

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Be prepared

The bottom line, according to Trump, is that schools need to do more to plan, prepare and practice. Schools must acknowledge and commit to putting school safety on the agenda and weaving it into school culture, even when there isn’t a recent crisis in the headlines.

“We are teaching school leaders simple things that they can do that don’t require a great deal of time or money but can make important differences in making their schools safer.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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