Guy Grace has been with the Littleton Public School District in Colorado for 24 years. First, as a provider of security services and then later as the director of Security and Emergency Planning, a position he still holds today. The early days of his career were pre-Columbine and pre-Virginia Tech, a time before debates about school safety occupied the national conversation.
“I remember in the year 1999 where we were. Our security office was in a closet here,” says Grace.
Then Columbine happened.
“It changed the whole situation for us and it changed the situation for many school districts across the nation,” he says. School safety became paramount and in 2002 after a bond election passed, the district began to build an integrated security system that has taken many forms over the years. Today, the district uses a combination of measures to ensure school safety including CCTV, Inovonics motion detectors, HID proximity card readers, an Inovonics wireless duress system and Pelco security cameras, all tied together with a physical information security management solution (PSIM).
“On any given day you have 35 to 40 percent of your city’s population in your schools,” says Grace. Technology plays a large role in protecting that population. “It allows the school culture to have that feeling of safety and security that allows the school to function.”
Grace has learned a lot in his two decades of school security service and he has these tips to offer for successful emergency planning:
Find a Good PSIM Solution
A PSIM or physical security information management solution is central to Littleton’s security set up. A PSIM is a software platform that allows you to tie together various hardwired and wireless technologies for complete system integration. For example, using Littleton’s OSSI PSIM system, Grace can manage the district’s wireless security system, duress alarms, camera technology, motion detectors and more.
“One of the biggest problems in K-12 is that you don’t always have a huge amount of cash coming into your security operation so you have to get the biggest bang for your buck,” says Grace. Simplifying the management of security and mass notification technologies will help you do just that.
Littleton’s PSIM also allows for flexibility. While it is certainly important schools remain secure during the day, the need for safety doesn’t end when students go home. “At nighttime you’re serving the community. Your facilities are being used by the local athletics clubs. You have cub scouts. You have girl scouts,” says Grace. Members of these organizations must also be protected via the schools’ security systems, even after hours. Littleton’s PSIM allows for this to happen.
People and Policies are Key
It’s important to establish clear and consistent policies regarding security. For example, every main school entrance in the Littleton district features a buzz-in access control system. Staff is provided with a manual that outlines policies regarding who is to be admitted and under what circumstances.
“In the old days, if you had a front door open anybody could come up and come to the office off the street and say, for example, I have to use the restroom,” says Grace. Office staff would, of course, turn the visitor away, but the problem is that the visitor has already gained entrance to the school and there is no way of telling the person’s intentions.
Now, only visitors who have a reason to be at the school are admitted and only an authorized parent can pick their child up from school. Once a visitor is granted entrance the person must sign in at the front office and then wear a visitor’s badge.
“This helps to reassure our students that the adults in the building are OK,” says Grace.
The buzz-in access control is a new feature implemented after the Newtown tragedy. Staff has been trained to ask questions and to look for red flags when handling visitors.
“The most important piece of school safety is awareness and observation,” says Grace.
You Don’t Need a Big Budget to Make Improvements
If you don’t have the budget for big changes, make small ones that have a significant effect. Lock classroom doors and create a detailed plan for lockdown, evacuation and reunification procedures in the event of an emergency. Those things require only time not money.
One of the best things you can do is to provide a virtual layout of your facility to law enforcement and to make your emergency plans available to first responders.
“I can remember watching the situation at Columbine. They [local authorities] were writing maps on napkins out there on top of the fire cars,” says Grace. Having important information readily available reduces delays in getting help and may save lives.
Know the Culture of Your School
When you are in charge of district-wide security operations, you will be working closely with a number of schools, each with different needs and even different levels of technology integration. These schools are also run by administrators with different personalities and different leadership styles. No two schools are the same.
“I’ve learned you just can’t go in and be a dictator and say this is what you’re going to get. You have to be humble. Every little school is like a city and you have to learn the culture of that school,” says Grace.
Be prepared to compromise. After all, everyone involved has the same goal: to protect staff and students.
“You have to look at what everybody wants and you have to balance that out with funding,” says Grace. “You have to do the best with what you have to get the biggest bang for your buck and you have to work with all of those cultures and all of those individuals to come up with a good plan.”