A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released Ten Essential Actions to Improve Student Safety, aimed at preventing and mitigating violence on school campuses. In this post, we sum up those 10 actions, linking to the full report and other resources below.

The 10 essential actions are as follow:

  1. Comprehensive school safety assessment

“The foundation for all school safety and security planning and operations is a comprehensive risk assessment that identifies the highest probability threats, their potential consequences, and the school or district’s vulnerabilities to those threats,” the report reads.

The DOJ calls your attention to elements that are sometimes missing from school safety plans:

  • Emergency mass notification for the school community
  • Monitoring and managing info being released in the public domain
  • Family reunification
  • Identifying mental health resources ahead of time
  • Possibility of a contagion effect following a student suicide within the district and mass casualty attacks anywhere in the nation

The report emphasizes that risk assessments must be updated annually.

  1. School climate

Students should feel comfortable asking for help or reporting concerns, reports the DOJ.

Recommended measures include:

  • Violence and bullying prevention programs
  • Training staff, students, parents to recognize signs of potential self-harm, suicide or violence
  • Social/emotional learning programs
  • Bystander intervention training

You’ve succeeded in cultivating a culture of trust when “kids look out for and take care of one another.”

  1. Campus, building and classroom security

Schools should be planning for security upgrades to plug gaps in campus, building and classroom security. (You’ll need a comprehensive risk assessment to identify those gaps.)

Once gaps are identified, your school or district should plan to deploy needed technology in a manner that doesn’t sacrifice your primary educational and developmental missions. Be sure to consider the needs of your student population (e.g. special needs students and others who need to access your schools).

Recommended measures include access control systems, video surveillance, silent panic buttons, and emergency two-way communications with all offices, classrooms, and large capacity spaces (e.g. gyms, cafeterias, locker rooms).

Note that 70% of public schools in the U.S. were built before 1970, so retrofitting for safety should be part of your general maintenance.

  1. Anonymous reporting systems

Studies by the FBI and U.S. Secret Service reveal that in past school shootings, many people had observed concerning behaviors ahead of the shooting, but few reported their concerns to law enforcement. Anonymous reporting systems have proven “effective in identifying and communicating potential targeted violence in schools as well as identifying suicidal threats.”

Anonymous reporting systems should offer a variety of ways for people to share information: mobile app, email, phone, web. One of the most important factors is “robust tracking and accountability measures to ensure adequate follow-up on all reported threats.”

  1. Coordination with first responders

Even if your school or district has a School Resource Officer (SRO), advance planning and joint training with first responders are essential. This is even more important for schools without an SRO or located in rural and underserved communities. It’s also vital for roles and responsibilities to be clearly defined, communicated and practiced.

Coordination might include joint training between first responders and school officials, numbering buildings for easy identification, providing floor plans to first responders prior to emergencies, and more.

  1. Behavior threat assessment and management

Receiving information about potential threats is extremely important, but it’s only the first step, writes the DOJ. After identifying a threat, you’ll need to assess and manage it.

Assessments are best carried out by multidisciplinary teams including teachers, administrators, SROs, counselors or other mental health professionals. Members of this team should be trained in effective threat assessment considerations and processes.

  1. School-based law enforcement

According to the Federal Commission, “the school personnel best appointed to respond to acts of violence are those with specialized training such as school resource officers (SRO), who are typically sworn law enforcement officers, and school safety officers (SSO) who are typically unsworn school security staff.”

Officers should receive at least 40 hours of specialized training in school policing before beginning their assignment. Training typically includes implicit bias, de-escalation, trauma-informed investigations, adolescent development, crisis intervention, and active shooter situations.

  1. Mental health resources

The lack of mental health professionals in schools was a frequent theme during Federal Commission site visits and listening sessions. The commission concluded that spotting and preventing youth violence stemming from mental, emotional and behavioral problems “requires access to a continuum of mental health services including prevention, early intervention and treatment.”

  1. Drills

Lockdown drills are routine in many schools. Some schools alternate fire, weather emergency, and armed assailant drills. “More recently, an options-based approach is being adopted to allow schools to protect students based on the unique circumstances of an event” (e.g. Run, Hide, Fight).

The Federal Commission recommends options-based approaches that are age-appropriate to create “muscle memory” and clear expectations of everyone’s roles during emergencies. The report notes that many schools are moving away from the use of codes (e.g. Code Red) and using plain language instead (e.g. evacuate, lockdown, secure the building).

  1. Social media monitoring

Your students spend a huge chunk of their waking hours online, starting in elementary school. The Federal Commission reports 34% of students report being cyberbullied — a threat associated with self-harm and retaliatory acts.

“Defensive social media monitoring, also referred to as social media alerting systems, provide constant online scanning of messages with a geofence around a school or school district to identify threats and at-risk behavior,” the report reads. The DOJ recommends implementing these systems with strong protocols to protect privacy and free speech as part of your school safety plan.

Final thoughts

As a school leader, you’re under constant pressure to “do something” to protect your students.

One of the imperatives the DOJ committee often returned to during its deliberations was “the need to be able to quickly identify a threat, immediately communicate a threat, and then react in a timely manner to save lives.”

That’s a tall order, but one that needs to be a priority.

In our experience, one way to make that possible is by getting technologies you already own to work for you. By integrating disparate systems and enabling machines to “talk” with one another, you can automate, facilitate and accelerate many of the actions outlined above, without a bank-breaking investment.

As you consider next steps, we’re happy to share how other schools have tackled similar challenges by integrating their communications and security systems. Submit your question or request a demo — we’ll be happy to help clarify your next move.

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