Safe Schools: Don’t let your guard down on these 7 items

From fire drills to hand sanitizers to visitors, potential hazards are lurking within every district

In the blur of school day, the amount of safety checks and balances for a school district to maintain is staggering. COVID-19 considerations, getting children on buses, clearing hallways during emergencies and keeping classrooms clean … are just a few that can make the task daunting.

Schools across the U.S. that have reopened in some fashion have done a remarkable job ensuring facilities are largely safe and free from incident, according to security experts who took part in a recent virtual session on school safety hosted by Allegion.

However, even a month into the academic year, complexities still exist. In order to keep schools safe, they say, calculated and robust strategies will be necessary moving forward.

“In this COVID emergency, what must be must be considered is the all-hazard response,” says Guy Grace, Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). “We need to empower those students and those staff. They have a lot to be worried about with COVID, but then we also need to make sure that they’re empowered to be able to respond to the other emergencies that were there long before COVID was and suddenly appeared.”

Seven areas that shouldn’t be overlooked

Both Grace and Paul Timm, a board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP) and a nationally acclaimed expert in school security who is vice president at Facility Engineering Associates, took aim during the discussion at several watch list areas that schools should consider to stay safe.

From COVID-19 protocols to everyday safety measures, they offered up these tips on keeping schools running smoothly, before and after Safe Schools Week 2020:

  1. Maintain social distancing and change procedures: The fire drill probably won’t be everybody going through just a couple different egress paths. We might have to stagger it. We might have to do it by section. We might have to introduce new egress paths. We’re not going to stand shoulder to shoulder in a rally area. We’re certainly not going to crowd into a locker room if it’s a tornado drill or something like that.  We’re not going to in a lockdown drill, put them against a wall shoulder to shoulder.
  2. Safely store hand sanitizers: Many of them are flammable. You don’t want to put those that have alcohol and are flammable above a carpeted area or above an outlet. We’ve already seen big problems with fumes and combustion, and the storage of large quantities. Many of these are governed by state codes. You want to pull in experts and those who can provide guidance.
  3. Provide education around safety: This a good opportunity for schools to polish up their online learning programs and create videos and other helpful aids to educate students. Staggered training, staggered drills. This is also a good time to come up with alternative educational programs.
  4. Be prepared for an all-hazard response: The likelihood of an active shooter situation is probably not diminished. It’s not really high in the school, but it’s something we need to consider. But the natural cause emergencies such as thunderstorms, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes – that whole gamut of all hazards – has not disappeared. So, we need to empower those students and those staff.
  5. Be mindful when holding outdoor classes: The issue here is not just monitoring. Have we even thought about reverse evacuation? Have we thought about what we would do with drills if there was an emergency? … When teachers are taking kids outside in any class, they should be marked with some kind of safety vest, they should have a whistle to be able to get people’s attention over the noise, and they  should have a radio, so we can be in immediate communication with one button. And also that we have emergency supplies. Just because we got a chance to go outside and the weather’s been nice is not an excuse to say let’s forget about basic safety and security. In fact, we should be a little bit more aware. If you’re outside [especially in a rural area] you also have to be aware of the creatures that may come onto your school grounds. You need to have a plan a good plan to deal with those emergencies.
  6. Monitor the weather: If you have outside school activities, you need to be very proactive on your weather monitoring. In some places where a thunderstorm could appear or a tornado watch or warning, we need to be prepared for on any given day.
  7. Don’t let your guard down on guests: Even though visitors have restricted access to the schools, visitor management is still necessary. Maybe there’s a little less traffic coming through, but they’re coming with masks. We can’t even tell facial expressions, much less identity sometimes. I like the fact that a lot of visitor management software providers have screening questions that can be asked right there, from a medical standpoint, and health standpoint, or maybe just from a visitor management standpoint. I also like the fact that most of those systems have some kind of an emergency [trigger], like a panic button. So if you do get somebody coming in and you’re feeling uncomfortable, instead of having to pick up a phone and say, this person is making me feel uncomfortable, you can just hit that. And it’ll notify some people in the building who can come and help.

Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for District Administration. He can be reached at [email protected]

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