Are there hidden vulnerabilities in your school's safety plan?

 

A School Marshal sheds light on what you may be missing.

By Craig Cable, American Church Group of Colorado


As some of you may know, I am a Reserve Sheriff Deputy and School Marshal for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office in Northern Colorado. This presents our agency with amazing opportunities to access world-class training that is available to active members of law enforcement. On behalf of our agency, I recently participated in one such training which focused on strategies and tactics for responding as a single officer to an active safety threat in a school building.

The lead instructor for this intensive training was Arvada Police Deputy Chief AJ DeAndrea. Deputy Chief DeAndrea is arguably one of the leading experts in active threat response, having served as an entry team leader at Columbine High School in 1999, Platte Canyon High School in 2006, and at the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) shooting in 2007. After hearing Deputy Chief DeAndrea describe in vivid detail the responses to these events, I was struck by how much law enforcement’s policies, procedures, and training was shaped by the successes and, quite frankly, failures of past incidents. It’s clear law enforcement’s response has to evolve to keep up with emerging threats, but so must specific tactics in order to try to stop future attacks.

The same thoughtful evolution can be applied to our Christian schools. The first step is to objectively see your vulnerabilities in order to know how to evolve.

Below are three potential vulnerabilities that you may wish to consider when reviewing your school safety plan:

  1. Spotting threatening behavior
    Within the public school system, administrators and faculty utilize district-wide violence prevention policies and procedures aimed at keeping schools safer by identifying actions and behaviors that could potentially lead to violence, suicide, substance abuse, or even criminal activity. Does your school have a consistent process for identifying, reporting, and investigating threatening behavior? Without a defined plan, critical details may fall through the cracks,  warning signs may be missed, or responses may be mishandled. When developing this plan, SchoolSafety.gov is a great resource with which to start. The website contains a variety of Department of Homeland Security reports, training videos, and guidance for structuring your threat assessment and reporting processes.

Additionally, while students are typically monitored for potential warning signs, it may also be a good idea to watch for threatening words or behaviors from parents, staff, or other individuals in your community. What may appear to be a transient threat, may turn into something more substantive. Be sure to document it and report it in accordance with your school’s safety protocols.

  1. De-escalating potentially dangerous situations
    If you can catch a house fire while it is still smoldering, it is much better than pouring fuel on it and hoping for the best. The same goes for dealing with people. Whether it’s dealing with an upset parent or making contact with a stranger who is trespassing on school grounds, these situations are not only uncomfortable to deal with, but they are potentially dangerous. Unprovoked attacks are unfortunately all too common, and no one ever goes into these situations expecting to get hurt, or worse.

One of the most popular trainings we offer is a De-Escalation and Tactical Communication course. This 3-hour training incorporates many of the de-escalation tactics law enforcement agencies teach their officers. From identifying potentially volatile situations to scenario-based role-playing in situations where incidents are likely to occur, this unique experience is very hands-on and empowering for staff, volunteers, and security team members. A side benefit of this training is that it is completely transferable to any environment in which you may find yourself facing a potentially threatening situation. Would you like to know more about how we can set up a training for your organization?  Click here.

  1. Responding to an active threat
    This is one area where awareness and vigilance seem to ebb and flow based on recent events. Most schools have some type of “Run, Hide, Fight” response plan, which is good. But how much confidence do you have that your plan is going to work in an actual active threat event?

Many schools that have safety plans run simulated drills to test those plans, but you may want to consider conducting those drills under varying conditions to thoroughly test the effectiveness of your plan. For example, we recently conducted an active threat response training at a school and intentionally timed the simulated attack to occur during the lunch hour for the following reasons:

  1. That is typically when most of the students would be gathered in one area--the cafeteria.
  2. That is often when the fewest number of faculty members would be present in the cafeteria.
  3. The school had only practiced lockdown drills up to that point in time while students were in their classrooms.
  4. The school’s cafeteria only offers two primary exits, and we knew if I positioned myself strategically, I could block both exits.

If you haven’t evaluated your school safety plan under varying conditions, you may want to consider doing so. We would be happy to help you design such drills to fit the characteristics of your school.

We know that, as administrators and teachers, you bear the immense responsibility of educating and developing the faith of our children. That is a noble and Spirit-led calling. We are sincerely grateful for your willingness to not only teach our children, but to protect them from harm. Thank you for all that you do.

We want you to know that as you navigate the uncertainties of this world, our agency is here to help support you in any way that we can. If you would like to learn more about some of the specific safety training and resources available to you, please feel free to contact me at CCable@AmericanChurchGroup.com or 303-590-9657.
 

© 2021 American Church Group of Colorado, LLC. All rights reserved. This article is offered on an informational basis only to better equip your ministry  to understand issues of vulnerability and mitigating risks. It is not intended as specific advice of any kind for any particular ministry, nor should it be relied upon as such. Neither American Church Group of Colorado, LLC, nor the author assume any liability for reliance upon the general information provided herein. 
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