Conflict is inevitable, and there will be times when you have to deal with it, whether it’s an upset family member after an incident at school or a  distraught employee after a long day at the office. In many situations, it is critical to become less emotional and more logical. Many people find it easier to contain their emotions when others speak in a rational way, rather than with threats and anger. And that’s where de-escalation comes in.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. The actions that individuals take while in a tense situation play a vital role in success. These actions fall into three main categories, the first of which is setting the tone.

Setting the tone is important because the choices made during the initial stages of a tense or potentially confrontational interaction significantly impacts how that interaction evolves. This can include the words that are used as well as the gestures that are made. Those can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

At the beginning of an interaction, the words you use can dramatically influence the situation’s outcome, whether it’s the words themselves or how the words are being said.  If the situation allows for it, begin with a welcoming greeting. Polite gestures like offering a seat or something to drink can help lower the temperature.   If possible, inject an open-ended question about a topic that is not centered around the issue at hand.  Simple questions relating to things like the wellbeing of a family member, weekend or holiday plans, opinions on recent or upcoming sporting events, or even more mundane topics like the weather can also contribute to creating a welcoming environment.

Although it may be challenging at times, it is also essential to keep your voice’s tone appropriately modulated, even if those you’re interacting with do not.  Effective resolutions rarely are the result of screaming matches.

What is more important than the words you use and how you use them is demonstrating your willingness to listen.  Angry and frustrated individuals often want to be heard.  Start by eliminating distractions such as checking a text or email message, working on your computer, or allowing other staff members to interrupt the interaction.  Talking over people or interrupting them does not contribute to your efforts to demonstrate your willingness to listen.

It is also essential to maintain an awareness of your non-verbal gestures.   Striking a balance between being close to individuals while maintaining personal spaces contributes to your safety but still allows for the interaction to be conversational. Also, be mindful of things like facial and hand gestures, posture, or intense eye contact that can be perceived as angry or threatening.

All these actions can significantly contribute to maintaining a safe, calm, and constructive environment that will allow you to better demonstrate empathy to the individuals you interact with.

Tensions are high, people are stressed, and you aren’t quite sure how to respond to diffuse a tense situation at your organization. At SEC, we are hearing from a number of clients seeking guidance on how to de-escalate emotionally heated interactions. Many of these have arisen as a result of fatigue and frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask compliance, quarantines, access issues, and challenges with virtual learning are just some of the sources that have led to these negative and potentially dangerous exchanges. 

There’s no single response or technique that will work in every situation, but de-escalation is a skill that needs to be trained and understood to be effective when confronted with a high-stress interaction.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. There are several actions individuals can take to enhance the likelihood of achieving the goal of de-escalation. These actions fall into three main categories:

Setting the tone refers to the choices individuals make during the initial stages of any interaction. The words used, the gestures made, and the actions taken from the very beginning can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

Empathizing is important because, whether you feel the source of anger or frustration is valid or justified, you need to recognize those feelings are real. Demonstrating a sincere desire to understand more about those feelings’ root cause is key to resolving resolution.

Closing with options when attempting to resolve an interaction is always helpful; lead with solutions, positive alternatives, reasonable compromises, or access to individuals who may have a greater authority to resolve the issue. Regardless of whether the resolution attempts are received positively or negatively, closing also involves setting clear expectations about the next steps. If they are positively received, explain what and when actions will occur to solve or mitigate the issue. If negatively received, be clear and calmly explain the consequences of non-compliance or continued aggressive behavior.

It is essential to remember during high-stress interactions that safety is the top priority. 

Join us this month as we discuss the importance of de-escalation guidance and how your organization can use it.

Physical security at schools has become one of the most talked-about elements in childhood education in recent years. With the tragic rise in high-profile school shootings, and the often underwhelming ability to keep students safe in an emergency, a national debate has unfolded around how we keep our nation’s children safe. As a former Secret Service agents, we have found that many of the same principals of security that apply to protecting the President of the United States apply to schools. When it comes to protecting important assets, there are common principals that guide us to success.

What Does Good Security Look Like?

The United States Secret Service trains its’ agents to become the greatest physical security practitioners on the planet. Many people who see Secret Service agents flanking the President know they are experts in responding to emergencies, but overlook what is happening behind the scenes. The Secret Service is above all else experts in preventing emergency situations from ever unfolding in the first place. A flawlessly run Secret Service operation means those agents next to the President never have to lift a finger. Agents spend weeks and months in advance of any event running site assessments and building security procedures, preparing locations to be as safe as possible. The Secret Service is equipped with the most sophisticated of tools, but the general principles for emergency prevention are basic and easily replicable at schools and other institutions around the country.  

School Evaluations from a Secret Service Agent’s Eye:

At SEC we have conducted site assessments to evaluate hundreds of schools and found two problems to be most common:

  1. Too narrow a focus on physical hardware
  2. Too much emphasis on reacting to an emergency

Too narrow a focus on physical hardware

Schools are investing in powerful tools to keep their students safe. From camera systems to doors with sophisticated locks, there are countless products on the market. Some schools worry that because they can’t afford the latest technology they are leaving their students at risk. We have found that when schools put too heavy of a focus on investing in hardware, they can lose sight of their most important tool – humans. Technology is only as good as the people and policies governing them. A fancy camera system streaming to an empty desk is not effective. A sophisticated buzzer for the front door is just a super expensive doorbell if a human doesn’t perform some type of vetting before buzzing each person inside. Without tapping into your human potential, you are not getting the most value. Moreover, it is people who are best at preventative security; identifying warning signs, designing powerful security policies, mentally scripting an emergency scenario and training for the worst. People are you most powerful assets; invest in them before investing in technology. 

Too much emphasis on reacting to an emergency

The focus here is on “react.” The most effective security programs focus on identifying threats before they are threats and building policies to catch issues as early as possible. We can compare building your security plan to building a house. You could build your house with tinder and stock it with fire extinguishers to quell the inevitable fires, or you could build your house with concrete from the outset to make it more indestructible. Create your security plan with concrete, not tinder. Focus your efforts on preventing crises, not reacting to them. Good safety programs incorporate humans and technology, and start with robust, preventative policies and procedures. 

Treat Every Child Like the President

Our philosophy is to give the same consideration to our children as we do the President. This means taking lessons from the Secret Service and reinterpreting them for a school setting. By being prepared with security plans and putting special emphasis on human integration with physical security features, you can create a safe environment for your students. In the words of one of our former protectees, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Plans mean nothing, but planning is everything.”

9 Questions Parents Should Ask About School Safety

Today, schools and childcare centers are doing more than ever to prepare for emergencies. Parents have a right and a responsibility to be in the loop about the safety plans at their child’s school. From active violence to extreme weather, fire, police activity or bomb threats; schools are creating plans to respond to each individual scenario. Most schools take their duty of care for their pupils very seriously, but parents shouldn’t assume everything is being done correctly. Parents can respectfully approach emergency preparedness topics with their school’s administration by asking several simple questions:

  • Is there an emergency plan?
    • Parents should not ask to see the plan, as sharing emergency plans is bad practice, but they have a right to know that it exists, is regularly reviewed and updated, and is signed off upon by security experts. 
  • What type of training does staff receive?
    • Parents should ensure that the school is prepared for all types of emergencies, that it trains all staff regularly, and doesn’t let new hires slip through the gaps.
  • What is the schedule/cadence of drills?
    • Parents who are aware of the drill cadence and routine can help reinforce learnings with their child(ren) and continue the saftey and security conversation outside of school.
  • How are before/after school activities addressed?
    • As children spend more and more time on campus for sports, extracurriculars, and events, parents should ensure that the school’s security plan and procedures covers off-hours activities. 
  • What happens if the school is evacuated, and where should I plan to reconnect with my child(ren)?
    • During an evacuation, parents will be eager to get in contact with their child(ren). This includes knowing exactly where to expect reunification to occur. 
  • How do I securely access the school?
    • Security-conscious parents should respect that schools require robust security procedures to govern access to facilities. Parents who are aware of protocols can help this process run smoothly and efficiently. Moreover, parents can better plan for another visitors, such as a relative or babysitter, who may need to physically come to the school. 
  • How will the school alert parents in the case of an emergency?
    • Schools will often immediately notify parents during an emergency. Some parents may choose to customize how they receive alerts, such as adding the school’s phone or email address to the whitelist of a do-not-disturb feature or changing a ring tone to something unique. Parents may want to opt-in to alerts if the school offers different tiers of alert urgency.
  • What info/curriculum will be provided to students and parents around safety?
    • Issues of security can be confusing and upsetting to students, especially younger ones, and parents often like to contextualize or further discuss safety at home. This includes materials for parents who may want to get up to speed as well. How, when, and why this information is distributed is nearly as important as the information itself, and parents should be aware of what’s available and when it’s given to their child(ren). 
  • How is personal information handled?
    • Data security is a critical aspect of this broader security conversation, and parents should be aware of what information is stored, how it is stored securely, and how it is used. 

We recommend that parents approach this conversation seriously and with respect for the school and its administration. Almost all schools have spent time, effort and money preparing for an emergency, but many schools may still have work to do to complete the plan. Quality security doesn’t happen overnight; it is a product of collaboration, regular practice, and broad group awareness of the issues. Knowledge is power, and parent involvement can benefit both the family and the school.

To learn more about SecureEd’s services, contact us. 

As schools and childcare centers across the country embark upon the new school year, it is important for owners and administrators to take a fresh look at safety and security. In the midst of a busy school year, some of these checklist items can be put on the back-burner. Schools can use the summer months to refocus and consider: What should owners and administrators review each year to make sure their facilities are safe and secure? 

  1. Revisit safety and security policies

All good safety and security starts with robust emergency plans and policy. And while most schools have something in place, rarely is it dusted off and refreshed. The summers months, without the usual day-to-day distractions, is an ideal time to review these procedures. 

High-quality safety and security policies focus on both the goals of the security plan as well as the feasibility of implementation. By starting with what needs to be accomplished — whether that’s protecting students during the day, creating a safe space for after-hours extracurriculars or making the site ready to evacuate in case of a tornado — the policies will be built to fit a purpose. This exercise also often exposed important gaps in the security posture that might require urgent fixes. For example, has summer-time construction changed evacuation plans? Do new front desk personnel have the materials they need to be successful in access control? Do new classroom configuration demand updates to teacher training and awareness?

From a feasibility perspective, policies should be honest about what is achievable. There’s no point installing hundreds of security cameras if there’s no budget to hire a security officer to monitor them. There are ways of stretching your dollar and prioritizing if budget is an issue, but don’t let your eyes be bigger than your wallet. Invest as much as you can, but be smart with how that money is allocated. In cases where money is tight, be wary of fancy new technology. Training and preventative measures will get you further than installing new security equipment. 

Successful policies are also preventative rather than reactive. They focus on addressing issues before they occur, not after. To this end, focus your policies around things like access control and staff training and certification (including how to spot issues and dangerous behavior early, while interventions are still possible). That’s not to say you can neglect the rest. Policies should address all of the major primary response protocols: lock out, lock down, shelter-in-place and evacuate. Policies should go even further and should address how parents are informed of procedures, reunification after an event and the cadence of school-wide trainings. 

The list could go on forever and will vary school to school. The key takeaway is that your policies likely need a refresh, and if you keep them comprehensive, prevention-focused and with an emphasis on training, your school will be set up for success in the coming year. 

  1. Revisit safety and security equipment

Equipment, which possibly hasn’t been used since your last drill, ought to be tested before school starts. This includes alarms, locks, cameras, and any other technology that will need to work flawlessly during an actual emergency. While we strongly emphasize policies’ importance over physical hardware, hardware is foundational in a robust physical security posture. Imagine if there’s no one trained to watch your fancy security cameras, your panic button isn’t operational or your access control mechanism doesn’t have a speaker system (you’ve just paid for a very expensive doorbell, nothing more). The physical hardware must be tested over the summer, so it’s functioning on day 1. Moreover, this is a great time to replace broken hardware or add new infrastructure to patch any gaps. 

  1. Put safety and security at the heart of staff professional development

Summer is a time for professional development for many schools, giving teachers and staff an opportunity to improve their craft. By making safety and security a core component, schools empower their staff to act during an emergency in accordance with the school’s policies. This is especially true for new staff or staff who hasn’t gone through training in a while; it should be done annually at least. Consider getting your entire staff security certified over the summer. As the Navy SEAL adage goes, “under pressure, we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to our training.”

  1. Confirm relevant emergency information and contacts

People and roles change outside of your organization as well. Make sure you have the most up to date contact information for local first responders as well as offsite locations such as reunification sites or other security contractors. Have their hours changes? Are they still aware of your relationship if roles have changed? Are they up to date on your policies?

  1. Set a plan & schedule for drills and trainings

Schools are expected — often regulated — to conduct emergency drills throughout the year. Too often, these are squeezed in at the end of the school year to check a box. But these drills serve a critical function in ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible during an actual emergency. Students and staff must be up to date and regularly practice these drill for them to be effective. By scheduling these before the school year starts, administrators guarantee their people are prepared at any point during the year. Be sure to front-load the first several weeks of school with at least one of each of the main drills — evacuations, shelter in place, and lockdown. 

  1. Communicate changes to parents

Parents have the right and the duty to know what to expect in terms of school safety and security. This included how to access the buildings, what types of drills or trainings their child might receive, how schools communicate during an emergency and what to expect with regard to the reunification plan in case of an evacuation. This ought to be provided to the parents near the beginning of the school year. It will save time answering questions in the long run. 

Don’t wait until you’re underwater

Safety and security has never been more important, and a well secure school helps parents, staff, and students rest easy, as well as even being a competitive value add to your business. During the summer, administrators finally have the headspace to address such critical issues that otherwise get brushes aside during the year. Don’t wait until you’re underwater. Act now. 

For more information about how SEC can help your school get prepared before school starts, visit secureed.com.

Preparing kids for an emergency is like walking a fine line. Practice makes perfect, but many parents fear drills meant to prepare students for emergency lockdowns will introduce new fears to children and leave them feeling unsafe at school. So, should you conduct lockdown drills with students – especially younger students? The answer is a resounding yes. All schools should conduct drills to emergency lockdown drills and adapt them to meet the emotional and intellectual needs of their student body.

 

Elements of a Successful Lockdown Drill

Lockdown drills don’t have to be scary. For any age, a successful drill includes:

  1. A plain language alert that all staff, students, and visitors can hear and understand
  2. Participants making their way to a secure area of the building
    • Seek shelter behind a door that can be locked, barricaded and/or tethered
  3. Participants seeking cover and concealment within their safe space
  4. Participants silencing cell phones, closing blinds and shutting off lights
  5. Protocol to ensure everyone is accounted for

Lockdown drills should be conducted with regularity and variety.

  • Regularity – We recommend at least two times per year, or as required by local regulations
  • Variety – Conduct the drills at different times of day. Try to initiate drills when children are in different areas of the building;

Note that an explanation of the “why”—the reasons behind the drill is not critical to a successful drill.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Young Students (Childcare, Preschool, Elementary School) – It’s All About Protocol

Practicing for lockdown scenario with young children is all about enforcing proper movements and protocol, without going into details about the reasons for the drill. There is no need to introduce the idea of intruders or violence. Teachers can explain the drills as ways to practice being safe. Teachers should use plain language to explain what is happening and what the children can expect. For a fire drill a teacher might say, “Sometimes, in order to be safe, we have to leave the building quickly and quietly.” Teachers can use the same strategy for a lockdown drill and say “Sometimes, in order to be safe, we have to turn off the lights and sit in this corner of the room. Today we are going to practice.”

Teachers should clearly and calmly explain: what noise will indicate the start of the drill, where students should go, how they should behave during the drill, and what else will happen in the area (the teacher will turn off the lights, close the shades, lock the door etc.). With practice, students will become familiar with the protocol.

Teachers benefit immensely from practicing with students as they get the opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their emergency plan and can adapt to better prepared to keep the students safe (Did all of the students fit into the closet like as planned? Did any students stand out/present themselves as needing special assistance in future drills?) When emergency drills are conducted regularly and without a sense of danger or panic, they become routine.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Older Students (Middle School, High School) – Add the “Why”

Many of the same basic principles apply when conducting lockdown drills with older students – teachers should use clear language to explain what is happening and what is expected of the students. With older students, it can be beneficial and appropriate to introduce the “why” element to the drills and make the drills more realistic. Match your explanation of the “why” to the students’ emotional maturity.

Giving context to the drills can instill a sense of importance, and encourage students to take the drill more seriously.  Making a lockdown drill slightly more realistic can train students to react and follow protocol even when there is a sense of danger.

 

Conducting Emergency Lockdown Drills with Staff Only – Add an Element of Realism

During teacher training sessions, it is useful to conduct drills without the students. Schools can simulate emergency situations in much more realistic detail, giving teachers the opportunity to understand how they naturally react under pressure, and how they can improve. Teachers and staff will be the leaders during any real-life emergency situation and they should be trained to feel fully confident in their ability to react in a lockdown scenario.

 

Always remember – a plan is only as good as the people implementing it. In the event of a real lockdown, teachers and students will be accountable for carrying out the plan. Age appropriate training for all is critical to a successful response.

In the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas, SEC’s CEO Jason Russell spoke to Wood TV8 in Michigan about being prepared.

“It’s about having a plan if something goes wrong. We tell people in a situation where you’re being shot at, you need to look for two things: cover or concealment.”

Read and watch the full interview here: http://woodtv.com/2017/10/02/ex-federal-agent-have-a-plan-if-something-goes-wrong/

Processing events such as the attack Las Vegas that killed over 50 and injured hundreds more including many child victims is hard enough for adults.

It is even more challenging for children, who are often absorbing the same information as the adults in their lives but don’t have the context on how to react.

The key for children in any of these situations is reassuring them about the safety and protection they do have in the world while acknowledging their very understandable feelings.

Keep in mind that they are picking up information through the media and other sources, not just family. Children who become fearful of what could happen to them or their parents tend to internalize those feelings.

Here are some approaches you can take when addressing your child’s fear, anxiety or questions:
• Be careful not to invalidate your kids’ feelings by ignoring them or playing down what they are saying. Listen to them.
• Reassure them that there are many people protecting them, including their parents and police officers, to make sure bad things don’t happen to them.
• Consider limiting as much as possible your children’s exposure to media reports.

Also, you cannot discount how your reaction as an adult to tragedies such as these affects your child.

Adults feeling anxiety over attacks – especially in this case, an apparent ambush – can tend to make overarching statements such as, “you can’t go out in public” or “you can’t go anywhere.”

Those statements often can solidify your children’s own fears, so it pays to be careful about how you characterize your fears in front of the kids.

In many ways, what it comes down to is that kids will take their cues from their parents and caregivers. Remember that your words carry weight with children, so reassuring statements will have impact. And remind yourself that our children are watching, and that how we act can affect their reaction.

Officials in Baltimore, Maryland launched into emergency response mode after a chemical leak occurred in the area. Local news reported that Chlorosulfonic acid was released into the air during an incident at a chemical plant, causing immediate danger for the everyone in the area. The city responded by issuing a shelter-in-place advisory for residents within a one-mile radius of the spill.

Shelter-in-place describes the response to a non-human related threat and is distinctly different from “lockdowns” or “lockouts” which are issued when a dangerous person is in the area. Severe weather and airborne hazards spark shelter-in-place situations. Weather is the most common factor of shelter-in-place scenarios. Many schools routinely conduct shelter in place drills for weather related emergencies by having staff and students respond to the most structurally sound portion of the facility away from exterior windows and doors.

As was the case in Baltimore, schools may be required to shelter in place due to airborne hazard which are often the result of tanker truck and commercial railway spills, or accidents at factories or plants. Because the reason you may be asked to shelter in place may be very different, your school’s response needs to be tailored to each specific threat.

After the spill in Baltimore, city officials responded by quickly advising people in the surrounding areas to shelter-in-place. They activated social media accounts and the phone emergency alert systems to advise people of the danger. The alerts were effective because they were timely, concise and provided specific direction. One tweet read, “Due to @BaltimoreFire activity, residents in 21060 21225 & 21226 are being asked to shelter-in-place, close windows & limit time outside.” These alerts were crucial as they sparked emergency responses throughout the affected area.


If you learn your school is under a shelter-in-place advisory due to a hazardous release, would you be prepared? Schools should have specific shelter-in-place response protocols, customized to their building. Some general guidelines are:

Designate a location or locations with few windows that can fit staff, students and visitors.
Close all windows and doors.
Seal all cracks and vents using plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Have additional supplies including nonperishable food, water, first aid kits, battery powered radios and telephones in order to be able to communicate with concerned parents.
Shut off HVAC systems.
• Communicate to ensure everyone knows when the shelter-in-place begins and ends.

Releases of hazardous material spills can happen anywhere, so have a plan that you can efficiently execute to minimize exposure to staff and students. FEMA provides a comprehensive list that schools can reference for specific guidance. The California Department of Public Health, Know When and How to Shelter-in-Place for Schools is another good resource for schools.

Luckily, the shelter-in-place in Baltimore only lasted for an hour and there were no reported hospitalizations due to this accident. Still, it serve as a reminder that emergency situations of any type can happen at any time and school administrators and staff need to be prepared beforehand. Stay safe and have a plan. 

SEC’s experts believe that every person follows a specific path when responding to critical incidents or emergencies:

  1. Sense Danger
  2. Evaluate Response Options
  3. Commit to action

Step One, “sensing danger” seems straightforward – you can only respond to an emergency if you know that it exists. However, when it comes down to it, there are many roadblocks that can prevent people from sensing danger as quickly as might be possible. The faster people are aware that an emergency exists, the faster they can go through the rest of the response process and find their way to safety.

The five senses can be major roadblocks in sensing danger. How many times have we heard of someone confusing gunfire for “fireworks?” Historically, people have relied on their senses to alert them to danger – the sound of a gunshot, the smell of fire, the sight of a dangerous person. However, human brains are naturally predisposed to attribute sounds and other sensory observations to things more typical of daily life. This confusion can drastically slow down your response process.

Inability to share information can be another roadblock to sensing danger. Once one person identifies that an emergency exists, they can help other people by quickly sharing that information. If someone sees a gunman but has no way to share that information with the other people in their building, everyone else is at a disadvantage because they cannot begin to execute an emergency response.

The solution to effectively sensing danger is comprehensive alert systems. Unlike relying on your senses, an alert system makes it clear that danger is present. Alert systems can also disseminate information to many people at the same time. Institutions across all industries have set up alert systems. Think about severe weather alerts, alerts to suspicious activity on our bank accounts, or engine alerts on your car.

Schools have almost perfected their fire-alert systems. Schools have fire alarms that alert building occupants of a fire and automatically alert local fire departments of the emergency. All staff and students are trained to understand the alert, so when they hear it, they immediately sense the danger and can begin to respond in carefully crafted ways. It has been years since a child has died from a fire in a school building. Fire safety in school is proof that comprehensive alert systems do work.

While schools are increasingly well prepared for violent incidents including active shooter, fire preparation is generations ahead of where we are for violent attacks. We can take many lessons from the “fire-preparation” movement to apply to active shooter situations. Efficient alerts are one key concept.

In an active-violence situation, an effective alert will clearly and quickly inform others of the violence. Schools should utilize “plain-language” alerts (i.e. “Alert – there is a shooter in the building,”) or conduct drills to train students and teachers to immediately recognize alerts sounds. When the alert goes out quickly, people can begin to respond to the danger before they are physically confronted by it.

What specific alerts do we recommend? There are some great high-tech systems on the market, but many are not widely used or available. Your alert system does not need to be too elaborate or expensive. Phone PA systems, email, or text, are common alert systems, but keep in mind that these have their limitations. Many PA systems are not accessible by all, the speakers are not loud enough, and people don’t have the immediate enough access to phones and email to make those methods useful. Organizations can take lower cost steps by utilizing tools like boat air horns, coast guard whistles, or plain language voice alerts that can quickly be spread around a facility.

The key to a good emergency alert system is having a plan that is easily accessible and understood by all. How does your school plan to alert people in the event of an active shooter situation, or other emergencies? Develop a plan and share it will all stakeholders. If you need assistance developing a strong alert system, reach out to SEC.