It’s time for a school risk management approach

On this Mother’s Day Weekend, many of us are thinking about the reasons why schools continue to have challenges with security and risk management. Despite more state-wide awareness of threats since Columbine, the intervention of the Colorado Attorney General’s office, a state office dedicated to improving school safety and security, some general federal funding, and the addition of some physical security measures, how much safer and prepared are Colorado campuses? There still seems to be a trend of rampant violence, suicide, and school lock-downs. After any disaster, there is an immediate deluge of armchair quarterbacks and critical opinions seeking to cast blame and accountability where they feel it needs to be. This is a natural human response and can be expected if not appreciated. Let’s take a quick look at school risk management in Colorado.

Colorado has a reputation as a beacon, a test-bed, and an example in school safety and security for many years, and for good reason. There are extremely talented people doing everything they can to prevent and prepare for crisis and unthinkable events at our schools. What gives? Is this just really bad luck or can we do something more? In our view, there are many different reasons why we continue to see safety and security challenges on campuses. These observations are not meant to be judgmental, but rather to stimulate honest conversations about the true nature of school safety and security today. If we do not come together to analyze this as experts, very little will ultimately change. This article is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis, however, if we pay attention to these factors, we may be on our way to making positive change.

  1. Commitment– Before we get a mass response of defensive comments about how much everyone cares, please read what follows. Parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, counselors, first responders, security officers, citizens, and students are all responsible for creating the environment our children need. Each of us has a role and responsibility in campus risk management. Throwing the responsibility on each other will not change anything and only cements frustration and silos. Commitment comes in many forms. Whether it be money, attention, situational awareness, effective communication, dedication, training, care, or professional pride, each of us must take recent events as a call to action and a sign that we are not committing enough. It should not take the loss of lives to motivate action and genuine commitment to improve. The schools need more resources, but these resources will be wasted if the rest of the community doesn’t work.
  2. Security vs. Risk Management– As risk management experts, we know the perils and vulnerabilities that a siloed security program can bring an organization. Physical security, when separated from a central strategy, operations, and over-arching risk management goals is doomed to fail. Risk permeates a school every day and these risks must be defined and measured. Active shooter situations are only the high-profile manifestations of worst-case risk scenarios. In order to optimize our security and safety activities, we need to manage it as part of an over-arching risk management framework, which works across the school units and campus.
  3. Monitoring– We have to pay attention to our kids and to the indicators of threats that appear in many ways, every day. Whether it be a psychological crisis, emerging tension, trending crime or violence, or any of the other hundred challenges our schools face, we have to be better at seeing the signs and knowing all of the inherent risks. There is no “silver bullet” here, but a glorified hotline is not nearly enough. Our counselors must be empowered, our teachers, our students, and our parents must be on the front lines, just as much as our first responders and law enforcement. This involves knowing what to look for, how to collect it, how to know what it means, and what to do when there are serious flags. This takes training, dedication, and yes, commitment.
  4. Effective Communication and Culture– It is often said that communication forms the core of business. In the military, battles are lost without timely communication. A safe and risk management culture relies on communication and good communication relies on good culture.  It is more than communication between security and law enforcement…communication should tie the community, staff, students, administrators, security, and first responders together in a well-organized network that can foresee and respond to threats and crisis together. Accountability is part of communication and it is more than having a designated safe place to put kids in an emergency. We cannot expect to collect indicators of risk when we have no communication framework in place. We cannot expect parents to get involved when they are on the outside, looking in. Communication is challenging training must be constantly taught, tested, improved to be proactive, inclusive, and ultimately, responsive.

Alpha Recon continues its critical mission of providing comprehensive risk management solutions for schools (school risk management technology), including all types of campuses. Please follow our website (www.alpharecon.com) and social media pages for a series of articles on improving school safety and security in a holistic risk management context following ESRM principles. If we can help your campus in any way, please do not let cost be the reason why you don’t reach out to us. We are working with several business sponsors and fund-raising organizations to get schools the technical capabilities that will truly make a difference.