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.

 

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.

Handling a highly tense and stressful interaction can be tricky. That’s why, over the past few weeks, SEC prepared a series of emails and blog posts regarding de-escalation. De-escalation is a skill that needs to be trained and understood to be effective when confronted with a high-stress interaction or situation.

Need a refresher of what we covered? Read our de-escalation blogs:

SEC is happy to announce that we have added a couple of additional services regarding de-escalation, including a 90-minute training, available in-person or virtually. Be on the lookout for even more de-escalation services from SEC in the near future.

If you would like to learn more about de-escalation and the techniques to best achieve your desired outcome, beyond what is covered in the emails and blog posts, please reach out to us directly, HERE.

Now that the tone has been set and you have demonstrated empathy, the next step in de-escalating an emotionally charged interaction is to close with options and expectations.

When attempting to conclude the interaction, if available, attempt to lead with attractive solutions, positive options, reasonable compromises, or provide access to individuals who may have a greater authority to resolve the issue.

If those options are unavailable, it is important to clearly and calmly explain why you cannot be of assistance, such as being bound by legal requirements or organizational policy directives.  

Regardless of whether the attempts at resolution are received positively or negatively, closing also involves setting clear expectations about 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 in calmly explaining the consequences of non-compliance or continued confrontational behavior.

As always, it is essential to remember during high-stress interactions that safety is the top priority.  Achieving the goal of de-escalation requires the willing participation of ALL the parties involved.  Unfortunately, some people, despite your best efforts, will choose not to participate. Once you recognize that the interaction is unlikely to improve and actually may worsen, it is important to have a strategy in place, such as asking for assistance from another staff member or even calling law enforcement, in order to end this interaction while maintaining your safety.

But setting the appropriate tone, displaying empathy, and being sincere in your efforts to achieve resolution all enhance the likelihood of keeping potentially contentious interactions calm, safe and productive.

High-stress situations and interactions where tensions are mounting can result in a spillover of emotion, such as anger or frustration. De-escalating a situation requires the participation and consent of all involved. There are several actions individuals can take to enhance the likelihood of achieving de-escalation.  These actions fall into 3 main categories, the second of which is empathize.

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. Respecting those feelings as well as demonstrating a sincere desire to understand more about the root cause of those feelings are key steps towards working towards a resolution.

The first and most important step in demonstrating empathy is to listen.  It is difficult to solve a problem or fix an issue if you do not know what the problem or issue is. Taking the time to listen allows you the opportunity to obtain a greater understanding. In many instances it can serve as an emotional release valve for the person with whom you are engaging. Sometimes people just want to be heard.  

When it is appropriate to respond, summarize what they said using your own words or injecting keywords or phrases that they just used. This not only helps to bring more clarity to the subject but is also an effective way to demonstrate you really heard and understood what has been said.  

If the opportunity presents itself and it is appropriate, which it will not always be, utilize bridge-building phrases such as “I understand your frustration” or “I am sympathetic to your problem.” Phrases like these can help to start shifting the dynamic of the interaction from two opposing sides to one unit working together.

Explaining can also play an important role in empathizing. Providing an explanation as to why an action was taken or a decision was made allows for additional clarity and demonstrates respect for the individuals with whom you are interacting. Reactions to these explanations may often not be received positively. 

It is important to remember empathizing and agreeing do not necessarily go hand in hand.  Effectively demonstrating empathy does, however, help lay the foundation for you to have the ability to close out the interaction by providing options for resolution while setting expectations for future interactions. 

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.”