What is a School Safety Assessment and Why Should I Have One Done at My School?

    August 9, 2016

PhotoAs the president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, I work with school districts and law enforcement agencies on a daily basis on how to improve the safety in their schools. Most of the schools we help have already begun the process of “improvingthe safety of their schools. Some of those schools have made large expensive purchases on equipment or programs that are not solving all the issues that they assumed it would. When we ask why a product or program was purchased first, we usually hear, “A neighboring district bought one,” or “I saw that a school safety expert recommended that all schools have one.” (I will cover the so called school safety expert in another post.) Sometimes the purchased product is a fine product and an integral part of a comprehensive school safety initiative, but does not offer any help in improving the safety of the school that purchased it because it does not address that school’s specific current needs. For example, no amount of security equipment will overcome a school’s policy of leaving all of its entry doors open and not having a single point of entry.

Each school district and each school within that district have differing levels of safety and needs for improvement. I always recommend that every school have a professional school safety assessment performed before any large-scale safety improvements are planned or to get an accurate overview of the state of safety within your school or district. Once you have had a professional assessment by a credible school safety expert, you can establish an assessment follow-up program, completed by an SRO or school administrator, using the SchoolSafe APP (https://www.justnet.org/schoolsafe/) developed by the Justice Technology Information Center.

So now that we realize every school needs a school safety assessment, what is a school safety assessment?

A school safety and climate assessment is the strategic evaluation of a school’s safety policies, procedures, culture and facilities used to identify emerging and potential school campus safety issues. A school safety assessment is critical to a school’s overall safety and health, while providing an accurate view of both the district’s positive efforts and those that need improvement. During the assessment, key factors will be examined to ascertain their direct impact on the educational mission, student and staff safety, school climate, school attendance and overall campus security.

The Assessment will include comprehensive evaluations of:

  • Emergency Plans and Policies
  • Lockdown, Evacuation and Reunification Plans
  • Emergency Management Team
  • Security Operational Plans
  • Relationship with First Responders
  • Areas of Threat and Vulnerability
  • Security of All Buildings and Grounds
  • Staff Readiness
  • Training and Preparedness
  • Crisis Exercises and Drills
  • Prevalence of Bullying, Hazing and Harassment
  • Culture and Climate of Students, Staff and Parents
  • Emerging School Safety Threats

Following the completion of the onsite assessments, the school safety expert conducting the assessment should author a customized report for each school assessed, as well as the district. The report should go in depth into the resiliency and wellness of the schools, as well as highlight specific safety enhancements or target hardening recommendations.

When I conduct school safety assessments, my philosophy is that improving school safety does not have to be expensive. Whenever possible, I will provide numerous options for each area in need of improvement with an emphasis on no- or low-cost solutions. Once final reports are completed, the assessor should meet with school designees and make themselves available for an oral presentation before any desired guests and/or school boards.

With a professional school safety assessment completed and a regularly follow up assessment program using the SchoolSafe APP established, you will have an ongoing, accurate idea of the needs and priorities of your building and district. Having this information will prevent you from expending funds on a product that is not needed or low on the priority list and allow you to focus on improvements that will make substantial improvements to the safety of the school.

For more information on assessments or school safety assistance please contact me. Also, send questions to me for inclusion in an “Ask the School Safety Expert” feature to be posted on this page.

Sean Burke,
President School Safety Advocacy Council