In the midst of an ongoing conversation about school safety, some schools have implemented innovative and, at times, extreme security measures. NBC reported on a high school in Michigan reconstructed their building with curved hallways and other physical features to impede the efforts of a shooter. The LA Times wrote about schools and other institutions utilizing Artificial Intelligence to identify suspicious individuals and behaviors on their security cameras. The Washington Post detailed an Ohio school district that decided to arm teachers.  

Innovative ideas can help to drive progress in school security, but readers should be wary of a catch-all solution. Rather, schools should think of school security as a quilt that will not be complete until the different pieces are tightly sewed together. Safety and security are best achieved when you have a number of strategies, all integrated to support and complement one another. 

Key pieces of the overarching plan should include physical building features, comprehensive policies, training for teachers, staff and students, leadership to enforce plans and policies, and a culture that values safety & security. 

An expensive camera and lock system lose value if staff aren’t properly trained and motivated to vet visitors at the door. A system that encourages community members to anonymously report suspicious behavior is only effective if there is a system in place for responding to reports. Even the most well-planned lockdown procedures are worthless if schools don’t host drills to help students feel comfortable and confident with the process.   

No piece of the “quilt,” or process, is too small to be overlooked. By enacting an integrated security plan, your school will be all the stronger. And perhaps it is possible to avoid some of the more extreme “single” solutions when you have all of the pieces working together to create one strong security system. 

Where would you go to protect yourself if there was an intruder at your school? Childcare providers and schools must ask that question for themselves and for the students in their care. It is much harder to hide an entire class of students than a single person, which is why we turn to SEC’s overarching message: Be Prepared. Schools can prepare for intruders by identifying areas, prior to an incident, where students, teachers and visitors can easily and effectively seek cover and/or concealment.

What is the difference between cover and concealment?

Concealment is simply hiding yourself in a way that makes it difficult for an intruder to identify your location. You can effectively conceal yourself and your students by covering interior and exterior windows with shades or blinds, turning off the lights and positioning yourself in an area of the room that prevents you from being seen by someone on the outside.

Finding cover means positioning yourself behind an object made of a substantial material that would not only allow you not to be seen, but would also minimize the intruder’s ability to harm you. Concrete or brick walls, thick trees, dense furniture and vehicles are just some examples of things that can provide effective cover.

During many of SEC’s Critical Incident Training sessions, we often see staff members respond to a violent intruder scenario by freezing or simply getting low to the ground. This leaves them both exposed and unprotected. We recommend that schools identify all the areas of the facility that provide effective cover or concealment and conduct drills for staff and students to practice responding to those areas.

Just as schools post floor plans that identify evacuation routes, SEC also recommends posting similar floor plans that highlight where the areas in the school that provide the best cover and concealment are. These visible “tactical” floor plans can serve not only as reminders to staff and students but can also be an accessible reference for visitors such as parents and substitutes.

Understanding the difference between cover and concealment, identifying the areas of the school that provide them and conducting drills in which staff and students respond to those areas are all practices that facilitate effective responses during violent intruder incidents.

Not sure if your cover and concealment plans are up to par? Reach out to SEC for feedback.