Educators around the country should be applauded for their tremendous amount of thought and effort to achieve the goal of having more and more students successfully return to in-person learning. Throughout this process, what has been obvious to us at SEC is that, in order to accomplish these re-openings and meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to COVID-19, most schools have had to make significant adjustments to their normal operating policies and procedures. Many of these adjustments were implemented in order to meet social distancing recommendations, improve facility ventilation and air circulation, and restrict access to only required or essential individuals. What is not as obvious is whether administrators have had the ability to fully assess the impact these adjustments may have on any of their pre-COVID-19 operational policies and procedures.

SEC recommends that administrators take some time to audit their current operating and emergency policies and procedures and examine them in relation to their pre-COVID practices. By asking three simple questions, school leaders can identify whether any of these changes have created security gaps that need to be addressed.

  • What is the same?

  • What is different?

  • What, if anything, needs to be adjusted as a result?

The following are examples of findings from recent site assessments we have conducted, illustrating this point:

  • School #1

    • What is the same? –  Exterior and interior doors need to be secured during lockdown and violent intruder scenarios

    • What is different?  – Classroom doors that were previously both closed and locked when classes were in session are now left open to reduce contact points and to enhance air circulation

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Staff members need to be instructed to keep classroom doors in a locked and propped position to facilitate the efficient securing of staff and students if necessary

  • School #2

    • What is the same? – Floor maps indicating primary and secondary evacuation routes are posted in every classroom

    • What has changed? – Red one-way stickers have been installed on hallway floors to assist with the adherence to social distancing recommendations

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Guidance needs to be developed and communicated on whether the new pedestrian traffic patterns need to be adhered to or can be ignored during evacuation drills or scenarios

  • School #3

    • What is the same? – The school needs to designate both a primary and secondary relocation site

    • What is different? – The school’s secondary relocation site, the neighboring assisted living facility which has implemented restricted visitor rules, can no longer be utilized

    • What needs to be adjusted? A new secondary relocation site, such as the local community center or another suitable facility, needs to be identified and designated

Our hope is that, by conducting this simple self-assessment, school leadership can identify any new physical security gaps created by the implementation of the recommended COVID-19 protocols. Closing these security gaps, while adhering to the latest health protocols, will go a long way toward making your school environment as safe as possible.

More and more schools around the country are beginning to resume in-person instruction after having only virtual instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a welcome development because the negative impact of the “lost” school year will likely be felt, and not be fully understood by students and educators, for years to come. To get to the point of re-opening, much of the focus and effort of administrators and teachers have understandably been centered around health and safety issues and making sure the appropriate protocols and resources are in place.

What concerns us at SEC is the intense focus on this one threat, COVID-19, which may result in an insufficient focus on more traditional threats schools face. These threats that were present prior to the pandemic will remain as schools open post-pandemic. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, we have already seen instances of violent events occurring in schools that have recently re-opened.

While we know that working to protect students, staff, and visitors from the spread of COVID-19 will be and should be, the priority for school administrators throughout the country, we also believe that it is important to ensure they (1) revisit and (2) maintain the appropriate prevention and response strategies for the myriad of other threats that can be experienced in educational environments.

To assist with this, over the next few weeks, SEC will be providing practical guidance, suggestions, and reminders related to those strategies. Our focus will be on the same exact areas we examine when we conduct our in-person school site assessments:

  • Emergency and Operating Policies and Procedures

  • Physical and Technical Design Features

  • Emergency Equipment and Training

For each of the elements within these three areas, we will have you ask yourself three simple questions in relation to reopening:

  • What is the Same?

  • What is Different?

  • What Needs to be Adjusted?

Be on the lookout for more detailed information about these strategies. If you have any questions or if you would like to learn more, please reach out for a free consultation.