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.”

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. 

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations with family, friends, and schoolmates. Is your school planning any parties or plays or concerts this season? No matter how you are celebrating, your school will likely be welcoming a higher than usual number or guests. How can you keep your school secure during the chaos while maintaining the holiday cheer? Let’s break down security protocol based on the event.

Holiday guest preparation can largely be broken down into two categories – classroom events like class parties, and full school events like school concerts.

 

Class Parties

If your school invites parents to join in on class parties, there may be an influx of parents that arrive during the same time. With a little preparation, you can welcome all of these parents without compromising your entryway protocol. All parents should still enter through the main, locked door and check-in before heading to the classroom. Assigning extra staff to man the entry can keep parents moving quickly and avoid a build-up in the lobby. You might also consider asking parents in advance to indicate whether they plan to attend the party so you can prepare name tags or badges to streamline the process. It is also always helpful to remind parents of entry protocol before the event so they can arrive informed and with ample time to sign-in.

 

School-Wide Events         

Many schools will host concerts, plays, and performances after school hours. School-wide events draw more guests than class parties and it would be largely impractical to enforce your standard daytime entryway protocol. Still, there are many ways to maintain security for all those in attendance.

You can deploy permanent staff members or volunteers to man the entrances. These staff members can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and block off certain areas of the school that don’t need to be used for the event. Teachers should make sure their classroom doors are locked prior to the event.

It may useful to involve emergency personnel. If you have a Security Resource Officer at your school, consider inviting them to attend. You can call your local police station to make them aware of the event – they might send a cruiser to scan the parking lot.

At the beginning of the performance, take the time to provide a quick security briefing. Just like at the movies, identify the nearest exits and any other relevant response protocol tips.

 

All Events

The more people at a school (or any event), the higher the chance of an emergency. Ensure you have medical equipment like an AED handy. Consider that Grandparents attend many school events, and can pose health risks. If an emergency does occur, emergency response teams will need to respond, so it is essential all emergency parking areas are clear. When more people than usual are parking at the school it can be tempting to park in the emergency zones; consider having a volunteer monitor the parking lot to avoid this problem.

 

A little preparation can go a long way. Sharing your expectations with teachers, staff, and visitors will make for more secure events. If you need assistance planning for your holiday guests, we’d love to help. Best of luck to all planning and attending celebrations at schools this season. We at SEC are wishing you all a joyful holiday season!

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.

Do your classroom door handles have locks on them? Are classroom door locks permitted by the fire marshal in your area? The answer to both of these questions is far from straightforward and the answer varies from school to school and fire district to fire district. Classroom door handle inspection is a standard part of SEC’s site security assessment and we always recommend that doors do have locks that can be easily engaged by staff members from the inside of the classroom.  In our experience, many of the schools and child care centers we visit have not been allowed to place locks on their classroom doors.  When asked “why”, the most common response we receive is that their local fire marshal does not permit them.  When it comes to locks on classroom door handle, security and fire-safety ideas can clash. We advise our clients to be aware of the potential clash and advocate for a solution that fits both security and fire-safety criteria.

Choosing a door handle can seem simple enough, so how can it create so much trouble? The type of handle and lock you choose has many implications for fire-safety and security. Let’s start by looking at the implications of a lock from both perspectives:

Security Implications:

From strictly a security perspective, being able to lock a classroom door is critical to secure staff and students in an efficient and effective manner.

  • Teachers should be able to lock their classroom door from the inside, to keep their class safe from intruders. Sometimes evacuation is not an option, or not the safest option. Recently, a school shooter was stopped in his tracks and because frustrated because the teachers locked the doors so he could not access classrooms. In classrooms with small children where evacuation is much more challenging, this is especially important.
  • Teachers can lock the door from the outside, to secure the classroom during the night.
  • Teachers should be able to unlock the door from the outside so that students cannot accidentally, or purposefully lock teachers out of the classroom or get stuck in the room alone.

Fire Implications:

“Egress” is a critical element of all fire safety protocols — being able to evacuate a building as quickly and efficiently as possible. Door handles should not hinder egress in any way. Locks that you have to manually twist or unlock with a key can hinder egress by delaying your exit out of the building. All outer building doors must have locks, but some fire marshals do not allow any internal classroom door handles to have locks because it has the potential to hinder an efficient evacuation of the classroom.

Can you find a lock that satisfies the ability to evacuate the building without interference, but also has the safety features that allow you to lock the door when necessary? Yes, but it may require additional research and advocacy on your behalf.

The Solution

All schools are required to consult with a fire marshal, and SEC always advises schools to adhere to all fire codes. There currently is no national protocol on locked doors, and different fire marshals have different regulations. We have encountered schools where fire marshals have instructed that no locks are permitted on classroom doors. We recently worked with two schools in the same state in fairly close proximity who had each been given different instructions by their respective fire marshal on this issue.

We believe that there is a solution for all schools, that should satisfy the requirements of all fire marshals and adhere to all security standards. We recommend door handles with a lock button in the middle that automatically unlocks when you twist the door to leave. You twist this door handle in the same motion whether it is locked or not, so the lock does not act as a hindrance to evacuation. In our experience, some fire marshals that originally did not allow door handles with locks ended up accepting these push and twist door handles as a safe and effective option.

Oftentimes in life two “good” causes can seem to be competing. How can you choose just one? When you work to satisfy both causes – in this case, safety and fire criteria—the best results occur. Be informed of your options and advocate for yourself and your security needs when working with a fire marshal. Bring the knowledge that other schools have successfully found a solution, and share all of your priorities and concerns with fire marshals. If you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to SEC. By working together and sharing the knowledge we can create safer schools.