School and college administrators, public safety officials, and resource officers share responsibility – and heightened scrutiny - for ensuring a safe and secure learning and work environment in American schools, community colleges and universities. The risks they face are challenging and complex, especially in the contentious political environment surrounding the debate about gun-based violence. Faculty, staff, parents, and students all want to be reassured that their schools and institutions have taken steps to reduce the likelihood of tragedies like those suffered in the all too familiar shooting tragedies that seem to have taken place all over the country.
A proactive emergency management program—planned cooperatively with first responders in the community—can help minimize the incidence of targeted violence, bodily injury, property damage, and liability. Sound programs are instrumental in helping schools and colleges stabilize, manage, and recover from incidents so they can get back to the fundamental business of education.
With the recent elimination of direct U.S. Department of Education grants, school and higher education safety and emergency management programs are increasingly supported, mandated and funded by state government agencies as part of gubernatorial-level efforts to protect education facilities, staff and students.
At the K-12 level, a model program in Nevada – Project S.P.A.R.T.A.N. (Schools Prepared and Ready Together Across Nevada) – is an example of a very proactive statewide coordination of, and support for a comprehensive approach to school safety. All Nevada school districts utilize a state approved standard online safety and emergency management platform, which was developed collaboratively with Risk Solutions International.
Unparalleled K-12 Emergency Preparedness Expertise
The K-12 Emergency Preparedness practice at Risk Solutions International provides schools with advisory and consulting services and technology solutions to their comprehensive emergency response and crisis management challenges.
Our professionals have worked with hundreds of public and charter school districts and pre-school systems nationwide. They have conducted safety, security and vulnerability assessments, developed more than 65 district-scale “living” emergency management plans, equipped tens of thousands of classrooms with emergency procedures guides, and trained school and community security and safety officials in hundreds of drills, simulations, tabletop, functional and full scale exercises.
They teach and conduct training classes in many areas of relevant subject matter expertise – threat assessment and management of targeted violence, crisis communication and media management, food safety and defense, NIMS and ICS, school security and the law, post-incident psychological recovery, pandemic and infectious disease planning and management, and more.
These professionals bring over 175 years of combined experience in K-12, governmental, and commercial emergency management; community policing; law enforcement; and anti-terrorism. They are experts in critical infrastructure protection, NIMS Compliance, large scale exercise design, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive (CBRNE), weapons of mass destruction (WMD) preparedness and custom training programs designed to meet or exceed FEMA/DHS standards. They maintain the highest professional certifications and credentials and have contributed to current national standards.
Our references, qualifications, and experience are on display in districts across entire states, education cooperatives and services centers, numerous large urban and suburban districts, smaller suburban and rural districts, huge pre-school systems, and state-wide charter school organizations.
We worked with FEMA and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) on a three day pilot training program -FEMA Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools - for all Nevada school districts. This training material is being made available by the EMI for all school districts nationwide, as a result.
Services and Solutions
Risk Solutions International provides K-12 school districts with a complete portfolio of services. Our plans, materials, training, and deliverables address the four phases of emergency management: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
Our solutions align with NIMS, ICS, and are NFPA 1600 compliant. They meet all federal, state, and local regulations—and are widely considered industry leading practices. They address all natural and man-made hazards, including destructive weather, gang violence, weapons and shooters on campus, chemical spills, pandemic outbreaks and biological releases, WMD, CBRNE, power outages, floods, and terrorism. Our services include:
Capabilities & Needs Assessments
Security & Vulnerability Assessments
Comprehensive “Living” Emergency Management Response Plan Websites
Visual Asset Manager™ - a viewer of floor plans, aerial photos of school facilities, photos of fire suppression, mechanical and utility systems so first responders gain situational awareness, floor plans, 360º shots, and IP-based CCTV feeds
Crisis Communications and Media Management Policies and Training
Behavioral Intervention Team Policies
Evacuation, Lockdown, Sheltering Procedures
Classroom, Bus Driver and Parent Emergency Procedures Guides
Orientations, Drills, and Tabletop/Functional/Full-Scale Exercises
Risk Solutions International produces state-scale safe schools conferences sponsored and funded by Governors’ Offices, State Homeland Security Departments, Emergency Management Agencies, and Departments of Education – as a way to amplify state programs and help them become more readily adopted.
Caution on Shooting Response
In the understandable rush to make our schools and colleges less vulnerable to acts of targeted violence, actions that may prove less effective than others are being promoted nationwide. Making schools into “fortresses” with metal detectors or armed guards, making routine access onerous, or asking faculty to assume incident management roles to which they may be poorly suited may not be effective and viable strategies in the long run.
While shooting deaths are always catastrophic, the chance that they will occur at any one location remains extremely small in the U.S. – as a percentage of the number of our schools and school districts. Over-attention to expensively mitigating active shooter scenarios can result in under-consideration of many other types of risks, hazards and threats that schools face – and that are far more likely to occur.
RSI believes that developing an all-hazards emergency management program and an incident command organization that periodically trains on the plan, remains the single best remediation and risk management action any school, community college or university can take.
See RSI's testimony to the Connecticut Bipartisan Task Force Subcommittee on School Safety here: Online Video
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools recently managed large direct grants to school districts and institutions of higher education through a competitive grant application process. The grants from this Office have been de-funded during the budget reductions in Washington, and the popular programs were eliminated.
In the absence of federal involvement, states should consider creating their own programs and standards, just as the State of Nevada has done so effectively. It is a viable way to “level” schools and school districts across the state by bringing them all up to the prescribed set of standards. To succeed, however, state mandates must be accompanied by the provision of adequate state funding.
The only remaining federal safety program available to school districts and their cities’ police departments is the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) “Secure Our Schools” grants. These grants require the law enforcement department to write the grant, while the grant funds (which must be matched by the sponsoring city) are to be used by the schools for security assessments, equipment and technology.
Designing Safe Schools and Campus Buildings
We often think of school safety in terms of behavior. But, before the first student walks the halls, an architect draws on paper or computer the design of the school and what will be the subsequent relationships of people to their buildings. The success or failure of that school’s safety to a great extend depends on the quality of design and the limitations of the construction budget. Operating a safe school takes a lot more effort and supervision at a poorly designed facility than in a well-designed and functional academic space with safety and security “architected” into it from the start – a practice called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).
The basic CPTED premise is that through the effective use and design of the built environment, there can be a reduction in the opportunity for, and fear of crime, resulting in the improvement in the quality of life. If we (collectively) can create the next generation of schools and college facilities to be built for the effective use of space with CPTED features, they will substantially reduce the opportunity for crimes to be committed there, and will reduce fear of crime within them, as well.
There is a relationship between the school environment and its relationship to violent and criminal behavior. Examples of potential problems include:
Campus borders are often poorly defined
Informal gathering areas that are out of sight
Building layout produces isolated spots
Bus loading areas often in conflict with car traffic
Student parking lots are often on outermost areas
Periphery parking creates conflict with the neighborhood
Parking areas are often obscured by plantings
Locker areas often create conflict & confusion and enable hiding of contraband
The overuse of corridors creating blind spots
Rest rooms are located away from supervision
CPTED is a powerful concept that may be used to improve the productive use of space and to make schools safer. Architectural features, structural enhancements and spatial definition can deter, detect, and delay potential violent offenders from entering school campuses and buildings.
The threats to a school are either going to be external (threats from outside influences and persons), or internal (threats from students, faculty, staff, workplace violence). CPTED can make a direct impact on reducing the outside external threat through use of natural access control, surveillance, and territoriality boundary definition, management and maintenance strategies. The internal threats can be primarily deterred through policy and procedure strategies and management techniques, and less through physical design. When a school has multiple entrances and many ground floor windows, the threat and vulnerability level increases greatly, and makes the facility and its occupants infinitely more difficult to protect.
Safe school design involves four key security layering/defensible space planning practices: site design, building design, interior spaces, and systems & equipment. Site Design addresses planning safety into landscaping, exterior pedestrian routes, vehicular routes, parking and recreational areas. Building design does so for building organization, exterior covered corridors, points of entry, enclosed exterior spaces, ancillary buildings, walls, windows, doors, roofs, and lighting. Interior spaces address safety features of lobby and reception areas, corridors, toilets and bathrooms, stairs and stairwells, cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms, libraries and media centers, classrooms, locker rooms, labs, shops, music and computer rooms, and administrative areas. Systems and equipment address alarms and surveillance systems; fire control, HVAC & mechanical equipment, vending machines, water fountains, elevators and telephone and information systems.
CPTED deals with a school’s relationship with its immediate surroundings, communicated through the edge connections. It addresses clear lines of site to the play, gathering, and parking areas for administrators; clear observation from classrooms and of vehicular traffic; surveillance points; exterior circulation patterns; traffic calming; spatial/temporal separation of safe/unsafe activities; covered circulation design to minimize blind spots and entrapment points; accessibility issues and main entry security; avoiding recessed entries; making sure doorway and corridor design coexist safely; and well defining formal courtyards and gathering places, where observation, lighting, accessibility, and safety are all design and management considerations. Safe school design addresses walls and hiding place they might create; window design for light, ventilation, and privacy, without easy entry; door security; roof access; strategically placed CCTV cameras; use of duress alarms in isolated areas; and integrating communication systems within the design.
Elements for the success of school security design include:
Effectiveness of security design and programs
Affordability of security programs and features
Acceptability of security technology and practices
Defining assets that are worthy of being protected
Defining threats to what is vulnerable to attack and loss
Characterizing the environment to balance the needs to the threats
CPTED considerations are important in this time of debate about school safety, gun ownership and mental health. Because many school buildings in the U. S. were constructed to achieve an inviting and open campus style, with multiple buildings, multiple entrances and exits, big windows and many opportunities for privacy, one unintended consequence is poor safety. Incorporating the principles and practices of CPTED in the design and remodeling of schools can contribute to the safety of the school while reducing the target hardening and the “fortressing” effects of a bunker mentality. Schools should not undervalue the importance of good maintenance, good construction, and good design in their approach to school safety.
The effective implementation of emergency management practices and operational continuity planning by both campus officials and local external agencies is both under heightened national scrutiny and more direct mandates. But the extraordinary challenges facing Higher Education institutions in ensuring the safety and security of their students, staff, physical plant and infrastructure are nothing new for risk-aware, progressive schools. After critical incidents occur, the maintenance of their reputation and the predictable continuity of their operations become equally important.
Risk Solutions International has developed emergency and business continuity plans for numerous large state supported public institutions, Ivy league schools, large private universities, urban community colleges, and religiously affiliated colleges across the U.S.
Services and Solutions
Risk Solutions International provides Higher Education institutions with a complete campus operational risk solution. As an independent, third party expert that manages to accepted industry standards, our assessments, planning methodology, materials, training, and technology help colleges address the four phases of emergency management across all types of threats and hazards. We help clients understand their total “operational risk footprint” including operational continuity and disaster recovery which, along with physical security concerns, affect their insurance costs and legal liability profile.
As an active member of the University Risk Management & Insurance Association (URMIA), Risk Solutions International’s services are fully compatible with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) standards. They meet all federal, state, and local regulations— and are widely considered leading practices. They address all natural and man-made emergencies which cause critical incidents, the effect these have on smooth educational and operational continuity, and the resulting crisis management issues relating to reputation damage and human recovery:
Independent Assessments & Benchmarking:
Campus Security & Vulnerability Assessments
Regional Threat Assessments
Crisis Preparedness Capabilities & Needs Assessments
Business Continuity/COOP Assessment Program
Online Safety/Security Awareness & Perception Surveys
Standards-Compliant Crisis & Emergency Plans:
Emergency Response Plans
Crisis Communications Plans
Classroom and Residence Hall Emergency Procedures Guides
Student/Staff Emergency Procedures Guides
Business Continuity/COOP Plans
Business Impact Analyses and IT Disaster Recovery Plans
Suite of Training Courses & Exercise
Drills and Tabletop, Functional & Videotaped Full Scale Exercises
Specialty Role Training for Security, Facilities, Faculty and other Departments
100% NIMS and ICS Aligned
Courses in Threat Assessment and Behavioral Management, Crisis Communications and Media Management, Food Safety and Defense, Post Incident Psychological Recovery
Business Continuity Plan Training
Market-leading web-hosted Emergency Management Plans
Visual Asset Manager™ - a viewer, manager and repository of aerial photos of college floor plans, facilities, photos of fire suppression, mechanical and utility systems, 360º photography, and IP-based CCTV feeds – that enhances the situational awareness of internal and external first responders.
Hosted Risk Assessment, Business Continuity Planning, Disaster Recovery and Incident Management Tools that bring the entire institution into compliance and balance - with each department having a detailed, perpetually-editable portfolio of plans online.