A primer for school security

CSO publisher Bob Bragdon on dealing with the risks schools face .

Like you, I was horrified by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. I am hopeful that it will awaken communities around the country to the risks our schools face. They are the quintessential "soft targets," and they need special attention.

For the past six years, I have been closely involved in addressing school security through our work here at CSO, and through my own involvement with schools in my community. Here's a primer on improving school safety.

1. You must have a fully engaged group of community leaders (including police and fire officials), administrators (at the district level and in the individual schools), teachers and parents. Only by acting together can you hope to have a successful school security program.

[Also read Securing the suburban high school: A case study for an in depth look at security measures and the challenges of getting them implemented]

2. Your relationships with first responders are critical, and your police and fire departments must be involved in your security plan development and its continuing testing and assessment.

3. Lockdowns: Your facilities need to have the capability to be locked down in an emergency. Can classroom doors be locked from the inside? Can connecting doorways be locked? Who can order a lockdown?

4. Control building access. You must be able to manage a single point of entry into the building.

5. Visitors must be given unique visitor badges and lanyards.

6. Set up communications (internal and external). Have an incident-response plan in place that specifies how to communicate with people inside the building and with first responders outside. Also have a plan for dealing with the media, parents and guardians, and community officials.

7. Train your staff and students on all aspects of security, including lockdowns and access protocols. They need to know what normal is so that they can easily spot the abnormal.

8. Most importantly, have a program-assurance plan in place--intrusion tests, lockdown drills, weekend drills with first responders.

When you go home tonight, please make it a point to ask questions of your community leaders about what they are doing to protect your schools.

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