Roger Mason, PhD
In the aftermath of recent school shootings, people routinely ask if their school is safe.
Administrators face the question whether they have done enough to ensure safety on their campuses. But how do you determine if you have done enough? How do you know if your plans will work and if your staff is ready to employ them?
Typically the answer to parents is “we are reviewing our plans to make sure they are ready.” What does that mean? If the plan is incomplete or obsolete, they are just reviewing a document that does not provide the level of safety and protection that parents expect. If the plan is ready are the faculty and staff prepared to employ it?
The only true way to evaluate your readiness is by conducting a threat assessment.
What is a Threat Assessment?
A threat assessment is an organized evaluation of threats, hazards, and risks. Some of the threats are ubiquitous to all schools like active shooters. Others are unique to your school. The threats can be natural or human caused. A comprehensive threat assessment compares these dangers with your resources to mitigate them.
A threat assessment should review your emergency operations plan, your continuity of operations plan, and your recovery plan. Are your plans based on national standards as defined by FEMA and the US Department of Education? Was the plan professionally prepared for your school or cut and pasted from another school’s plan?
These resources include your infrastructure, security team, equipment. What active and passive security systems do you have in place? The assessment will examine the condition of the systems and look for any gaps. Your assessment will review the use of any surveillance systems on your campus.
The assessment should include a review of staff training. What curriculum are you using to train your staff? How often are they receiving training? Do you have an emergency exercise plan for your staff? What exercises do you hold and what do they include? Is your exercise plan compliant with the FEMA guidelines?
The assessment will review your internal threat assessment protocols for evaluating threats from students or staff. The review should compare your procedures with the policies recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists and the FBI.
An assessment of safety preparations should include a survey of your crisis communications plan. This plan should include all of the school’s procedures and systems for communications during and after a critical incident.
Once We Have the Assessment Then What?
A proper threat assessment establishes a baseline. The baseline establishes what the threats and hazards are and evaluates your preparedness to meet these dangers.
Having an accurate understanding of your risk allows you to determine what money is required to address the gaps. It will allow you to develop the necessary emergency plans and train your staff to employ these plans.
Finally, a comprehensive threat assessment demonstrates a school’s commitment to preparing for a critical incident. It also can serve as a rallying point for your entire campus community. The recommendations developed from the assessment can become actionable items for improvement. By knowing what dangers your school is facing you can begin developing plans that will improve your level of preparedness.
Parents understand that no threat assessment can cover every contingency or guarantee every student’s safety. They will be greatly encouraged by a school administration that employs a professional and organized approach to improving their school’s safety.