Marc Connolly, SEC’s Executive Vice President, goes through our latest series of blogs and explains why heightened focus on COVID-19 can leave your school vulnerable to other threats, and how to mitigate those as well.

As we started to return to conducting in-person site assessments, it was interesting to hear how often responses from school leadership involved them describing how things were done prior to COVID-19 and how things were being done differently now that school had reopened. Some of these differences were relatively small, but many were fairly impactful.

So as more and more of our educational clients are returning to in-person learning, we thought it was important to suggest that you take the time to identify any differences in your school operations caused by the introduction of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, assess the impact of those differences, and make necessary adjustments to mitigate any vulnerabilities that may have been unintentionally created by them.

In the first and second posts on this topic, we recommended focusing on assessing emergency and operating policy and procedures as well as physical and technical design features. In this post, we will discuss assessing your emergency drill protocols and emergency equipment.

In relation to emergency response drills, we recommend that as soon as it is practical and feasible, you attempt to resume your regular drill schedule. The intense focus on mitigating the threat posed by COVID-19 should not detract from your ability to mitigate other threats. Conducting regular and well-executed emergency drills is an effective way to contribute to that. Prior to conducting any emergency drill, it is important to determine if any new health and safety requirements impact previously recommended response protocols. For example, would social distancing requirements impact the recommended spacing of staff and students during a lockdown or Shelter in Place drill? If the answer is yes, it is important to determine and communicate differences between drill response protocols and actual event protocols.

In relationship to emergency supplies and equipment, probably the most impactful thing that can be done is ensuring staff members re-familiarize themselves with both the location and content of the supplies. One of our more common site assessment findings is that a school will have suitable emergency supplies, but many of the staff members do not know where they are stored. Additionally, we recommend a quick audit be conducted to see if any items need to be replaced or refreshed.

Our hope at SEC is that, by conducting these simple self-assessments relating to operating and emergency policies and procedures, physical and technical design features, and emergency drills and equipment, school leadership will be able to identify any new 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.

EUnless your school has recently been built or renovated, it is highly unlikely that its existing physical and technical design features were chosen and installed with COVID-19 in mind.  They were most likely chosen to facilitate the safe and efficient carrying-out of normal activities that take place in educational environments.  As we all know, though, there has been very little that would be normal or common this past year.  So, if you are carrying out some of these activities differently since reopening, SEC recommends you attempt to determine whether these differences have had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the existing physical and technical design features.

SEC believes the best way to accomplish this is to, first, catalogue the activities that are being done differently than they were pre-pandemic. Then, just as we recommended in our most recent post relating to the auditing of emergency policy and procedures, ask yourself the same three simple questions:

  • 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? – All school entry points should be visible on camera monitors.

    • What is the same? – All school entry points should be visible on camera monitors.

    • What needs to be adjusted?  – Additional exterior and interior cameras need to be installed so these new entry points can be effectively monitored.

  • School #2

    • What is the same? – Effective access control features need to be in place in the front lobby to assist in ensuring the safety and security of the students and staff.

    • What is different? – Biometric fingerprint scanners create an additional contact point that can contribute to the spread of the virus.

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Transitioning to biometric iris scanning technology or touchless entry mobile applications should be considered.

  • School #3

    • What is the same? – Students and staff should be able to be efficiently and effectively alerted to emergency situations.

    • What is different? – More classes are taking place outdoors where the public address system cannot be heard.

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Additional exterior speakers need to be installed so students and staff can hear emergency notifications when participating in outside activities.

 

Our hope at SEC 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.