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School Safety and Security Seminar

The topic of school safety was a prime focus of this year’s Joint Annual Conference in Chicago. IASB hosted its first-ever School Safety and Security Seminar on Friday and offering a strand of eight school safety panels throughout the conference. The half-day seminar included expert presenters, most of whom had served on the state’s School Security and Standards Task Force.

That task force, established by law last year, has already completed its work and issued its final report and recommendations; the panel met regularly from August 2015 through June 2016. No new requirements or mandates are included in the report, but its specific recommendations were based on best practices in the field of school safety.

IASB’s representative to the task force is Deputy Executive Director Ben Schwarm, who organized and moderated the school safety seminar.

Schwarm said some of the task force’s report recommendations include:

  • A specific list of building and physical plant security measures regarding control and access of exterior and classroom doors, communications systems, and alarm systems
  • Continual review and implementation of the School Safety Drill Act and the school districts Emergency Operations Plan
  • Incorporating the “See, Hear, and Speak Up” framework into district security planning
  • Adopting the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operation Plans and the Sample School Emergency Operations Plan, both created by FEMA

The complete report can be found here.

Topics at the conference seminar included the School Safety Drill Act, school safety plans, building security, and how to improve school culture and climate to lessen threats and hazards. The seminar, which was open to school officials and local safety professionals, was sold out, Schwarm noted.

Discussion kicked off with coverage of requirements for school emergency safety drills, including those enacted recently under the School Safety Drill Act (105 ILCS 128/). Presenter Randy Braverman, director of campus security, Oak Park-River Forest SD 200, said all schools need to train staff and students on “hard lockdown” procedures, and to work with their local first responders, such as fire department and police representatives.

He suggested schools videotape their drills and building evacuations and then reviewing that footage to look for improvements.

Braverman said it is necessary to train on hard lockdown procedures at different times of the day, and with different populations, including even special needs students, and after-school sports and clubs. Parents can be trained via videos distributed and aired in the community and schools, he said.

During training lockdowns, schools should use their emergency lighting systems to test their adequacy. Meanwhile, school administrators can arrange for creation of pre-recorded emergency messages.

Some of the costs for the training and preparation can be defrayed through a variety of foundation grants.

Other presenters suggested that individual school buildings should collect supplies for a 12-hour lockdown to become self-sufficient in an emergency. It was suggested that schools amass a “go kit” of building maps, and instructions on how to shut off fire alarms, utilities, and more. The kit should also contain pictures of how to shut things off.

Both building evacuations and shelter-in-place procedures need to be planned in detail and drilled, presenters agreed. Bus evacuations also need to be planned and drilled, and conducted in cooperation with the school bus company in most cases.

School leaders are urged to require an annual review of their emergency response plans by a team to include building principal, union representative, school board member, local fire official, law enforcement, an emergency medical services agency representative, and the local emergency management agency.

Finally, schools were also urged to make reunification plans for sending students home. This is not as simple as it sounds, according to Braverman, as plans need to cover everything from counseling, and the possible need for language interpreters, to using off-site locations as the departure point, and the use of documentation on who is lawfully allowed to pick up any particular student.

Other important suggestions from seminar presenters included:

  • Prioritize school vulnerabilities, starting with high risk-high cost items, then high risk-low cost, and low risk-high cost items, followed by low risk-low cost items; then begin taking action on the low risk-low cost items. (Steve Wilder, CEO, Sorensen, Wilder & Associates, Safety & Homeland Security Consulting)
  • Become proactive in prevention of fires and other likely emergencies; remember that there are very few shootings, but 4,900 fires in schools each year   (Dave Tomlinson, Champaign Fire Department, and former school board member)
  • Change carbon monoxide detectors every five years to avoid false alarms. CO threats are one of the biggest cause of school safety problems at schools, officials said. CO detectors, rated for commercial use, have been required by law to be installed in school buildings since Jan. 1, 2016. (Dave Tomlinson, Champaign Fire Department)
  • When securing schools, two areas that require top consideration are secure communications and school building access control. No interior blocking device on doors is acceptable under state fire codes. (Paul Timm, president, RETA Security, security consultants)
  • Become proactive about psychological safety, looking at improving the school climate, student behavior, and applying risk assessment techniques. (Rosario C. Pesce, clinical assistant professor, School Psychology Department, Loyola University, Chicago)
  • Comply with current laws on bullying prevention and review policies on the subject, and to follow current law on exclusionary discipline of students, including suspensions, which can still be done, and expulsions, which are permitted if in the best interest of the school, cited at 105 ILCS 5/10, etc. (Katherine Swise, attorney, Miller, Hall & Triggs, LLC)

Safety panel sessions, which were noted with red safety triangles in the conference program, also covered best practices in emergency planning, working with first responders in school security and fire preparations, law enforcement considerations, school safety climate and psychology, rural preventions and responses to safety concerns, building safety features in design and layout, lessons from one safety incident and research into various safety incidents.


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