Do you remember where you were on April 20th, 1999?  Chances are you won’t if you’re asked that question.  What if I asked the same question a different way?  Do you remember where you were when you heard about Columbine? Many people will likely answer “I’ll never forget.”

April 20, 2017 will mark the 18th anniversary of the Columbine School Massacre. Many kids graduating high school this year weren’t even born the day of the Columbine shooting.  They have grown up entirely in schools that have been preparing for, and trying to prevent, violent acts like Columbine from happening again.  Yet, in 2017, school shootings remain a threat to American institutions.  But at SEC, we believe the threat of school shootings and other modern day emergencies can be controlled and largely eliminated. We believe we can be pioneers in elimination of the threat of school violence.

As improbable as that may sound, schools have mastered a major safety transformation before. Fire safety is the perfect example. One hundred years ago, there was no fire preparedness at schools and fires were a huge threat. Over time, we have developed emergency preparedness strategies. First, fire brigades were implemented around the country. Today, we have fire codes, fire drills, and we teach kids “stop, drop and roll.” Thanks to fire preparedness planning, problem awareness and improved technology, the issue is largely eliminated in schools.

How can we begin the process of eradicating gun violence? Our founder, Jason Russell, spoke deeply about this in his article in Seen Magazine. Schools must embrace all forms of emergency preparedness in the same way they embrace fire preparedness. Preparedness occurs in three layers. The first layer is physical and technical security measures. The second is the development of policies and procedures to ensure those features are utilized as designed and intended. And the final and most important security layer is training. These layers are like the legs of a stool — you need all three to make a safety plan successful.

SEC can help any school address all three legs of the stool, and is looking to the future by partnering with construction firms. When SEC is involved in the construction of a school from the onset, they can ensure the highest levels of safety and security are seamlessly implemented into the design and build of the school. When architects and clients bring SEC in from the conception of planning we can offer insight into every safety and security decision. We can contribute to decisions like which glass to choose for windows, or which school-wide communication system to use.

There is no one-size-fits-all for security planning and decisions should be based on each school’s unique security threat. For example, at childcare centers threats are more likely to come from the outside. It might be appropriate to install thick glass windows or biometric scanners at entrances. Conversely, research has shown that threats at high schools are much more likely to come from the inside of the building. In a high school, more of an investment should be made on securing the inside of a school with investments in training staff and students to look for warning signs in their peers, and making an anonymous reporting system readily available. By considering the unique operation at each institution, we can assist schools and architects in choosing the safest, yet most cost effective featuresm for their unique building.

It is equally important to have security in mind during building renovations. Schools should consider implementing appropriate security features, but must also consider how any changes they make will affect existing emergency preparedness planning. Take, for instance, a school whose emergency communication plan involved a school PA system that was altered or removed during renovations. It is critical that the plan be updated during to match the school’s new reality.

Here are a few questions to consider during any new construction or renovation project:

  • Are there adequate exits?
  • How would a lockdown work at your school? Sometimes, doors don’t have locks because of fire codes. Or, a lock might be impractical to operate during an emergency situation (fine motor skills can be compromised during high-stress situations). Is there a way to lock doors from the inside? Or, can they be locked from a central location during an emergency?
  • Think about windows and window trims. Instead of one large window, install three smaller windows with shatter-resistant glass and film. Or, consider putting trim on glass doors to prevent intruders from breaking the glass to gain access to the handle.
  • Is your crisis plan updated? When school administrators update their physical floor plan, they often forget to update their crisis plan. If there was an emergency, authorities would be left to work off an old document. To avoid this problem, make sure all plans are updated simultaneously.

By integrating safety and security into the design and build of construction, we are confident we can pioneer a safer future for the children of America. If you are looking to build or renovate, we would love to help. Feel free to reach out to us on our website at any time.

 

Photo by Brent Johnson © (http://www.brentpix.com/Colorado/Columbine-Memorial/)

The approach of spring means vacation time for many families. While we at SEC hope the biggest struggle of your vacation is deciding what restaurant to go to for dinner, it is also important to always be prepared for the possibility of an emergency. Emergency preparedness takes little time out of your vacation, and in the event of an emergency could be your key to staying safe and secure.  Let us explain why:

When an emergency actually does occur (keep in mind while on vacation this could be anything from a robbery to a natural disaster, a shooting, an allergic reaction, a fire, etc.), your body has a three-step reaction:

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

The quicker you move through this process, the more successful you will be at getting yourself and your family to safety. Seems easy enough, but your brain can put up natural roadblocks along the way that can affect your response. Here is how you can master each step:

 

Sensing Danger

We fail to sense danger when we are in denial or when we fall victim to the normalcy bias – that is explaining away any signs of danger as something more typically found in your life. Take the January Fort Lauderdale airport shooting for example. When travelers first heard shots, many were confused and mistakenly mistook the sound for fireworks or something falling. People weren’t expecting to hear gunshots so it took people a longer time to sense the danger.

When you are on vacation, you need to believe any emergency can happen. Do your research to understand what potential dangers might be common in the area where you are traveling. The US State Department provides information about what to be cautious of when traveling to specific international countries. Below, we have listed resources that might be of assistance to you. If you are already in the mindset that danger is possible, you will be much more likely to sense danger. Be alert and trust your gut if something feels wrong – your body may be subconsciously picking up on tiny signals that can alert you to potential danger.

 

Evaluating Response Options

Once you have sensed and concluded that there is danger, it can be overwhelming to evaluate response options. You may freeze, wasting precious time. When the people at the Fort Lauderdale shooting realized what was happening, many of them fell to the floor, instead of heading for the multiple nearby exits.

Fortunately, you can prepare for Step 2 by considering possible emergencies and formulating plans ahead of time. We call this considering your “Pre-Emergency Response Options.” This means, for example, listening to the flight attendants when they give their pre-flight safety talk. It means reading the sign posted on the back of a hotel room door to learn the fire escape routes. It means taking a glance around the restaurant when you are first seated at your table to check for the nearest exits. These things take 30-seconds to two minutes and, in the heat of an emergency, you will be glad you have already put time into considering an emergency response plan.

 

Committing to Action

If you are emotionally prepared to accept that an emergency is possible, and logistically prepared with potential response options, committing to action in Step 3 will be easier and faster. Once you decide on a plan of action, execute this plan with confidence and commitment.

SEC wishes you safe travels on your upcoming holidays and hope you will rest easier knowing that if something does happen, you will be prepared.

Start your research any time by learning about your destination. Here are some resources you can use to understand and prepare for risks while traveling:

State Department Country Information

Enroll in STEP when travelling abroad for travel alerts and warnings

TSA Safety Tips and Warnings

Weather Information

“We’re bringing that expertise that we’ve performed not only in the United States but all over the world and bringing it to schools:” SEC founder CEO Jason Russell has assembled a team of former Secret Service agents to provide presidential-level security to child care centers, schools, businesses and other organizations. He talked with WOOD TV8 tonight about security measures.

Check out the full interview at http://woodtv.com/2016/12/01/former-secret-service-agents-check-local-school-security/ 

As we prepare to close out 2016 and welcome a new year, I want to suggest a resolution that will benefit your whole family: Create a family emergency plan.

All families should have an emergency plan that they practice regularly. A basic plan should include everyday occurrences, such as answering the door or telephone when children are home alone. It should also cover common occurrences, such as fire, and cover issues from checking smoke detectors regularly to having children understand the sound they make to practicing what to do when a smoke alarm sounds to designating a meeting spot for the family will gather safely.

Finally, a plan should have contingencies for more significant emergencies, such as a tornado or flood where the family might be separated for some time. In either instance, set up safe shelter spots and establish an out-of-town contact that everyone in the family knows to call and check in with – which will help parents know their children are alright if they are unable to reach them immediately.

Developing an emergency plan in advance of actually needing one can help take the fear out of a situation for children. Instilling an overall mindset of preparedness is a gift that will last them – and you – a lifetime.

Preparedness helps parents and kids develop mental scripting. For example, when something bad happens, your brain looks for a “script” to see if or how you have dealt with a similar situation in the past. When you talk about or practice an emergency response with your kids, you are putting a script in your brains that you can go back to should that situation arise. Absent that script, we all default to the responses that are hardwired in us: Fright, flight or freeze, all of which could be deadly in an emergency.

So where do you starting building a family emergency plan?

  • Understand your risk: Start with Homefacts.com to learn about your neighborhood. Plugging in your zip code will give you a treasure trove of information about where you live, from the number of registered sex offenders to the most common natural disasters. You can tailor your emergency plan to the most likely risk based on where you live.
  • Know your resources: Almost every county in the United States will have an emergency manager who can provide additional resources for you to assess – and respond to – risks, whether they are floods, tornadoes or wildfires. If your county offers Smart911®, spend 30 minutes and sign up for the free and confidential service, which will aid first responders should you ever need to call for help.
  • Develop a communication plan: Since you may not all be together when an emergency happens, it’s vital to think through how you will communicate in advance. The federal government has a detailed site, ready.gov that offers forms to be downloaded that include out-of-town contacts, spots for you and your children’s dates of birth, Social Security numbers, medical information, neighbors and a list of the common addresses where you live, work, go to school or regularly travel. It also includes templates for cards that should be given to all family members and carried in wallets, purses or book bags.
  • Assemble an emergency kit: It’s wise to put together an emergency kit that will include your communications plan, nonperishable food, bottled water, basic first aid supplies and other useful equipment. Be sure to add a flashlight, batteries, can opener, duct tape, pocket knife, whistle to signal for help, wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, local maps and cell phone charger. A detailed list can be found on ready.gov/kit.
  • Determine an escape route, shelters: Getting out of harm’s way is critical. Be sure to walk through your home or apartment and develop a list of safe evacuation routes – other than the front door. It’s equally as important to have safe gathering spots for your family once you exit. Develop a list of appropriate shelter locations and practice with your kids on how to get there.
  • Practice: Once you establish your plan in writing, review it as a family at least twice a year. Each spring and fall, my family goes through our emergency plan, talking with our kids about how to handle different in-home safety situations. Parents who are calm, confident and prepared in an emergency situation will help greatly reduce any fear that children may have when the unexpected happens.

 

emergency-preparedness-in-school

 

Our founder and CEO, Jason Russell, talked with Accredited Schools Online for a comprehensive article on emergency preparedness in the face of natural or manmade disasters. Lots of great tips.

http://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/resources/emergency-preparedness-in-school/

All eyes were on South Carolina for a few hours on Wednesday as the first words of another school shooting spread across the Internet. But attention quickly faded as details became clear: two children and a teacher wounded, the teenage subject already in custody.

That the incident didn’t linger longer on the national stage is a sad testament to how routine school shootings have become. If there are not “enough” deaths, news like the shooting at Townville Elementary barely makes a blip on our collective radar.

But we can all learn a lot from the teachers, administrators and first responders in that small South Carolina town, who acted quickly and selflessly to protect students and subdue the shooter, who had allegedly shot and killed his father just prior to crashing a pickup truck through the fence outside the school.

Some media reports mentioned that the school had practiced safety drills, but the mention was glossed over. Their advance preparation enabled them to respond appropriately to the incident – and once again underscored the twin mandates of having a plan and then practicing.

The difference in this incident, though, was that the shooter struck outside the school. The playground is a much different situation than the classroom – or a football field or an assembly. We tell our clients that it’s important to think through all the situations where students and teachers gather and prepare to deal with those scenarios.

It’s critical to understand the options available in an active shooter situation like Townville Elementary faced. There are three:

  • Secure: Get behind a locked door or some other type of cover or concealment
  • Evacuate: Get away from the area as quickly as possible
  • Confront: Challenge the threat directly

In the case of Townville Elementary, teachers performed a reverse evacuation, getting students inside as quickly as possible. The volunteer firefighter tackled and restrained the shooter before he could follow everyone indoors.

Training and muscle memory clearly kicked in for both the teachers and the first responders, who quickly assessed the situation and chose the best options available to them. Had they not done so, it’s possible the situation would have escalated – and the headlines with Townville Elementary would continue to haunt us for days.

Back to school means new crayons, new backpacks, new teachers, new friends – and new safety drills.

Fire drills have long been a fact of life in our schools. In fact, I dare you to find an elementary classroom where the kids can’t finish this set of commands: Stop. Drop.

Of course the answer is Roll – and of course, that’s what we teach children to do in the event of a fire. Each month, from kindergarten to high school, teachers routinely conduct fire drills. They are engrained in our culture – we conduct fire drills and there’s no fear associated with them.

The same can’t be said of safety drills, though. Increasingly, we are seeing a pushback from schools, teachers and parents who object to practice for sheltering in place or lockdowns. The disparity in response is puzzling – fire can kill as much as gunfire, yet we see a visceral fear when it comes to safety drills that just isn’t there for fire drills.

We are strong advocates for age-appropriate safety drills. It’s less important for kids, particularly younger kids, to understand why they are practicing certain movements than to understand the movements themselves. It’s a case of stimulus-response: When you hear this noise, it means we have to move to this area and be quiet – just as when you hear the fire alarm, it means you have to line up and exit the classroom and then the school quickly and quietly.

When younger kids ask why we are doing a particular drill, it’s OK to be general. We have found it works to tell them that there are some emergencies where to be safe, we have to leave the building – but other times, we have to stay inside to be safe. Framing it as practicing being safe within the classroom is a non-scary way to broach the subject.

Of course, the answer is age dependent. High schoolers will know – and likely have less anxiety over – the reason behind the drills. Even middle schoolers may have some concept of the reasons behind a drill.

For younger children, though, such as daycare, kindergarten and early elementary, safety drills are more designed for teachers to practice and understand the spacing issues. Do all the kids fit in this area? How quickly can I get the door locked?

We recommend that schools practice safety drills at least twice a year. These should consist of:

  • Establishing a simple alert: Schools could use the public address system, but they need to have a back-up of some type, such as an air horn, verbal alert or something that can’t be easily defeated by a technology fail. When it comes to alert, two is one and one is none, so be sure to have a backup.
  •  Recognizing the safe areas of the classroom: We helps schools identify this during the site assessment. They want to pick spots away from doors, our of the line of site from windows and preferably behind a locked or secured door.
  • Understanding what you can physically do: The capabilities of the school will determine the protocol, so it’s critical to understand what the building will and will not do. It’s not enough to say that you have to lock or barricade the door to a classroom – some classroom doors have no locks while others open from the outside. A site assessment will allow teachers to identify the protocol that works best with their facility.

Approaching safety drills in an age-appropriate way ensures students practice the movements they need to respond quickly in a crisis, giving both parents and teachers added peace of mind.

From searing heat to powerful storms to dangerous insects, summer’s extremes present a number of challenges for child care center workers as they manage safety.

Already this summer many across the country have dealt with oppressive heat, damaging storms and devastating wildfires. When evaluating how you will respond to these situations, it is important to keep in mind the unique characteristics of how children react to issues such as heat and multiple bee stings, as well as your own building and geography and climate.

Little kids, especially, are susceptible to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. They may say they are not thirsty but that is not always a good indicator of whether they are suffering from the effects of heat. It is important to keep them – and everyone under your care — consistently hydrated.

As far as outside exposure in the heat, licensing requirements often delineate how much shade a facility must offer and the temperature threshold at which children need to stay inside. But you need to make your own common sense judgments, too.

If the temperature threshold for staying inside is 100 degrees and it’s 98 degrees and very humid, making if feel much hotter, then err on the side of canceling outside playtime. There may be minimum requirements for shade, but it may make sense for your center to offer more options. And, of course, when you are outside, every kid needs plenty of sunscreen.

Speaking of playground safety, another factor to keep in mind is dangerous insects. Inspect your playground equipment and other structures as well as the ground for nests for wasps, hornets and other stinging insects. These creatures can build nests quickly so even if you (or a professional) remove one, daily checks are necessary for new or rebuilt nests.

Providers routinely prepare for known allergies to stings but what is hard to account for is the child who has never been stung and doesn’t know he or she is allergic until it happens. For that reason, it is always good to have an EpiPen on site, even if you don’t have any reported children’s allergies.

Storms, of course, present particular issues for those overseeing children. In the summer, two events that require close attention are tornadoes and torrential rain.

First, a general reminder on tornado shelter: Make sure the designated spaces are below grade or interior rooms without large ceiling spans that are more prone to collapse.

Keep in mind that the right place for sheltering from a tornado might not be the same place for another event such as a chemical release. Also, a key point: Make sure the shelter area is one where the kids can actually fit. I have encountered circumstances where the chosen shelter is not large enough to fit everyone. As always, preparation and anticipation ensures a smoother reaction when a crisis hits.

Anticipation also is necessary for the potential of flash flooding. First and foremost, if extreme rainfall is predicted and you know your area is susceptible to flooding, consider a pre-emptive release of kids.

Of course, weather is unpredictable so you also need to have a plan if flash flooding occurs. Sometimes a deluge can literally trap you in your building. As part of your emergency planning, identify the highest areas possible for safely sheltering everyone.

Another natural threat to account for is wildfires. Again, you can do some research online or through other safety entities to find out how prone your area is to wildfires so you can configure your emergency planning accordingly.

If a wildfire does threaten your facility, evacuation plans are specific to the characteristics of the wildfire – namely, try to evacuate upwind of the fire and onto a concrete slab or sidewalk. Why do we recommend a concrete area when we might tell you to evacuate to a grassy area for a building fire? That is because a wildfire’s path is dictated by wind direction and fuel, and its fuel is grass and brush.

The key takeaway from dealing with summer’s extremes is to prepare for what this season can throw at you. While there is an unpredictable nature to many events, there also are many opportunities to predict and prepare to help you ensure a safe environment for children and staff members.

Just this month, we have again watched the disturbing images of innocent people dealing with the trauma of an active shooter situation.

The terrible events in Orlando remind us once again of the current realities in our society. And another shooting incident earlier this month on the UCLA campus reminded me, as a law enforcement and security expert, how much more progress we need to make to properly prepare for these situations.

In the UCLA incident, students and staff members used any objects they could find – desks, chairs, belts – in makeshift attempts to barricade themselves in rooms with doors that do not lock.

It is distressing that those trying to get out of harm’s way were left to try to jury-rig barricades in an active shooter situation. That is not reflective of the world we live in given what happened at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and now Orlando.

I believe strongly that we need to adjust our thinking on security planning so that we are addressing a 21st Century problem with 21st Century know-how and safety features. The time has come to establish building safety standards, backed up by law enforcement inspections, much in the same way we now mandate fire codes and inspections.

The UCLA situation points to a fundamental problem with many emergency plans at schools and other public buildings and institutions – the procedures often do not fit the building’s features.

We regularly see security preparations that call for a lockdown in the event of an active shooter. But the daycare, school or office is often filled with doors that do not lock – just as we saw in those UCLA classrooms. During a threat, it does you no good to have a plan that calls for locking doors when those features do not exist. A threat is not the time to find out the safety plan and safety features do not match.

Security plans must take into account how a building is configured. For instance, if doors don’t lock and open out – some of which we saw at UCLA – then experts need to devise a plan that takes those features into account. Security experts can work around the nuances of a building but the situation needs an honest assessment.

We also increasingly find that considerations for fire prevention and safety are often at odds with considerations for security. In the simplest terms, during a fire, officials want people to get out. During a threat, though, those in law enforcement often want you to stay in place.

Make no mistake, our fellow public safety colleagues in fire departments have done a superb job instituting safety features into public buildings and imprinting fire safety onto our collective psyches. If you’re in a building the fire prevention features are apparent everywhere – fire extinguishers, illuminated “exit signs” and sprinkler systems are just a few examples.

But the time has come for us to put as much thought and practice into security measures for an active shooter as we have for fire risks. We need to address an issue that is part of our lives today and statistically presents more of a risk than other threats, including fires.

If you think about it, fire codes have evolved through the decades to address changing times and safety needs to the point where we have the effectiveness we see today. Security plans are lagging and need to follow suit to catch up with the times. We must find a way to ensure fire codes can co-exist with modern-day security needs.

That starts with adjusting our thinking on active shooter preparations to ensure we aren’t thwarted by the very mechanisms that are supposed to protect us. We need strong standards and good law enforcement oversight for safe buildings. In 2016, we can’t have traumatized people trying to come up with barricades on the fly because they can’t protect themselves from a shooter.

We owe it to our children and to ourselves to make sure proper security measures and a plan are as prevalent as fire extinguishers.

About Jason Russell: Jason Russell is the founder, president and CEO for Secure Education Consultants, a Michigan-based firm that specializes in security plans for schools, child care facilities and businesses across the country. Russell is a former special agent for the U.S. Secret Service, where he worked on protective and investigative assignments, as well as protecting the current president and vice president and former presidents. He leads a team of former Secret Service agents who help clients with security assessments and emergency plans. He can be reached at [email protected]

For child care centers, summer is a busy time of year for field trips. Most days there are off-site activities planned, whether it’s a trip to a park, petting zoo or nature center.

When you are taking children off site, it’s important to remember that you need a plan to minimize risks and hazards that addresses the circumstances you are facing outside the school environment.

Think of it as a portable emergency plan.

While there are a number of considerations to ensuring your charges are safe, much of the preparedness comes in three areas: Response to emergencies, being ready for children’s needs and keeping track of everyone.

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Response to emergencies:

 A key part of any facility plan is having in place strategies in case of inclement weather. But what will you do if there is a threat of bad weather – or worse, a storm hits while you are at the park or zoo?

You can’t create a response on the fly, particularly since you are outside your environment and often have a number of children for whom you must account. Before you take a field trip, study where you are going and then find suitable evacuation locations – just in case. We recommend finding a nearby fire station, police station or emergency rooms.

It’s not enough to have an idea of where you might go. Determine the navigation ahead of time and have it ready in case you need to evacuate. And don’t forget to have cell phone chargers on hand so that phones are available for quickly retrieving information and calling supervisors or parents as necessary.

Also, be sure to check the weather forecast before venturing out. If storms or other extreme weather are likely, it makes sense to modify plans rather than risk a potentially scary situation for your group.

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Being ready for children’s needs

Some needs are universal for children: Ensure sunscreen and insect repellant are available. Take extra clothes along in case they are needed – such as if there is a sudden turn in weather or kids’ clothes get wet or soiled, as well as water and snacks.

Also, be sure emergency supplies are on hand, which applies to staff members and the vehicle. And ensure emergency medical authorizations are available for students and emergency contacts for parents are updated and with you.

While these are general precautions, some children have specific needs and you must account for them. Ensure that you have every child’s medication, be it insulin or an EpiPen. The latter is especially important in the summer with more outdoor activities and an increased chance of bee stings and the like. Be sure to have a way to keep those medications cool and secure so that kids are safe.

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Keeping track of everyone

This is as daunting as it is crucial when on a field trip.

Take a headcount at the beginning of the trip and share with staff members. Once there, count again. And again. And again. You need to count continuously throughout the trip and then do a double count at departure so you don’t leave anyone behind. It doesn’t take much of an online search to find news stories about children left behind on field trips – and very angry parents waiting for them to return.

Also, be sure you aren’t just counting heads but that you are actually matching up names and faces (and have digital photos of each child). Kids wander, and you could have the wrong kid wander into your group while one of yours is elsewhere.

Use the “buddy system” to assign kids in pairings of two to maintain accountability. Consider using tags or common-colored shirts to help keep the group together – but don’t use names. Have staff members in front of and in back of the group while it’s moving.

Select an easily identifiable meeting spot in case a student or staff members gets lost. If possible, point out to children what a worker at a location is wearing and who is a safe person to approach.

Above all else, make sure everyone is clearly communicating on these trips. Supervisors need to know itineraries. If there are chaperones, communicate expectations clearly with them and make sure you have a way to reach them at all times in case one goes rogue and wanders off with kids – which happens more than you think.

And lastly, be sure to talk ahead of time to the children about expectations, rules and the importance of safety. In the end, adhering to all of these practices ensures you can provide what these are meant to provide: fun, education and great memories.