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Soft Targets – Are You Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks?

May 23rd, 2017 | Facility Security, School Security, Terrorism | 0 Comments

A Brief Analysis of U.S. Active Shooter Event FBI Data, Current Site Security Deficiencies, and Proactive Response Planning

Facility Security Photo: Hardening Soft Targets Against Terrorists and Active Shooters.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

It seems as though every time we turn on the television, there are reports of another shooting or mass casualty event, an act of terrorism perpetrated by lone or multiple actors. The media reports always highlight at least one devastating casualty to lament, and some horrific method of attack that will inspire copy cats and instill fear in our fellow citizens.

Over the past decade, news of these tragic events have become the norm. It’s time to pragmatically dismantle these incidents and analyze trends in attacks in order to identify and better protect ourselves and our facilities that are particularly vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Now more than ever, tragic events of the past must be understood as critical evidence to preclude and prevent these horrific acts. The lack of comprehensive statistics available for attacks by location category is mind-boggling. While research on the trending vulnerabilities and targets of motivated killers is scant and largely outdated, we came across an intriguing study conducted by the FBI in 2014¹ which sheds some light on the issue.

What did the FBI study?

The study involved the investigation of 160 active shooter incidents throughout the United States that resulted in annual totals of 1,043 casualties. For the purposes of the study, “active shooter” is defined as “an individual (or two individuals) actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Not included in the study are shootings resulting from drug or gang violence, and not all mass shootings have been included in the sample set. However, the results provide remarkable clarity in terms of trending threats and necessary preventative measures.

What were the findings?

First, the findings point to a dramatic increase in the number of annual incidents. During the first seven years of the study, it was found that an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. During the last seven years, however, those incidents nearly tripled to an average of 16.4 per year. More importantly, the FBI used this data to categorize the locations in which these shootings occurred. It was found that an overwhelming 45.6% of the active shootings occurred in places of commerce – more specifically, 27.59% in businesses open to pedestrian traffic, 14.49% in businesses closed to pedestrian traffic, and 3.896% in shopping malls. Educational facilities were identified as the second-largest location grouping at 24.4%. At a 10% rate of occurrence were government buildings. Open spaces were at comparable risk to government buildings, with 9.4% of active shooting incidents. The final three categories at risk were residences (4.4%), houses of worship (3.8%) and health care facilities (2.5%). The results of this study strongly indicate a necessary shift in focus toward the protection of soft targets.

What are soft targets?

Soft targets are typically defined as civilian-centric locations that are not generally “fortified.” This would be any type of vulnerable, undefended and unprotected place where civilians might gather or meet. In terms of the FBI study referenced above, nearly all of the location groupings would be considered soft targets, with the presumable exception of government institutions (which often implement high building security measures). However, security would not be considered a primary mission in the other location categories, which would make them all soft targets for terrorism and violence of all kinds. More specific soft target examples might include shopping malls, entertainment venues, nightclubs, high-density gathering areas (like 5th Avenue or Times Square in New York City), hospitals, popular hotels, amusement parks, etc.

How can we harden soft targets?

First and foremost, recognize that any soft target is vulnerable to an act of terrorism. Businesses, educational facilities, and places of mass gathering are prime targets for terrorists. While Federal and State statutes and regulations require² employers of 11 or more have Safety, Security and Emergency Plans to address site-based incidents, most lack policies and procedures that address acts of terrorism or mass casualty events. As the FBI study cited reveals an upward trend in acts of terrorism; businesses, educational facilities, places of mass gathering, such as clubs, concert halls, arenas, and shopping malls should view these as a ‘foreseeable event ‘and take all necessary steps to protect lives and harden their facilities to preclude or prevent acts of terrorism at their facilities.

Secondly, conduct a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to identify weaknesses in your current facility emergency action plan (FEAP) as well as the facilities security and life safety product inventory; perimeter and internal surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management, emergency notification systems and other products and systems that complement the overall security and safety plan. Our licensed and credentialed investigative and security firm has been conducting these assessments for more than 30 years and found that most facilities are deficient in either or both categories.

Law enforcement investigations conducted in the aftermath of terrorist attacks reveal the actor(s) pre-visualized and developed a military style attack plan by surveilling a ‘soft target’ several times before the incident. Those attacks may have been prevented by utilizing appropriately modeled and placed surveillance cameras that recorded the actor(s) activities both inside and at the perimeter of the facility.

Finally, once your facility emergency action plan has been updated and qualified security products installed, training and practice drills will familiarize your staff and create proficiency in addressing a site based emergency. By promulgating and adopting policies and procedures that address acts of violence and terrorism; coupled by deployment and use of qualified security, safety and emergency management products, you can dramatically reduce your risk profile and provide for a safer and more secure facility.

Sources:
1A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013 U.S.; Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
2Regulation Standards: OSHA 29 CFR 1910:38 – NFPA 1600; Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor

About The Author
Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/ or by calling 866-531-6560.

Heroin: The Python in Schools Across America

March 1st, 2017 | Drug Abuse | 0 Comments

Heroin: the python in our schools.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Imagine finding your 8th grader collapsed on the floor of his or her bedroom… breathless, cold, and gone from the physical world. This trauma was experienced by Branden Stock’s parents in Laguna Niguel, California. Brandon was lifeless because of an overdose on Vicodin. It was also experienced by the families of 13 year-olds Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth due to their synthetic drug overdoses. The same loss moved Josh Brabender’s dad to write a letter to eighth graders about the horrors of drug use. “Why would I burden you with this information [as eighth graders]? The answer is because when Josh was in 8th grade he was perfect and beautiful and innocent just like all of you. In high school he discovered drugs, and eventually he found heroin.” Heroin took Josh’s young life, and “wrapped itself around his neck like a python until it eventually strangled the life out of him. It is the devil incarnate—pure evil.”

Tragically, more than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses alone in 2015. Envision each state alone losing more than one thousand residents each year to drugs. Overdose statistics have soared to new heights due to heroin and prescription painkillers. Heroin deaths alone rose to 12,989 in 2015, causing even more deaths than gun homicide.¹

How does heroin abuse begin?

A jaw-dropping 75% of high school heroin users report having experimented with opiates only after initially being introduced to prescription painkillers.² In her interview with 60 Minutes, Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that we live in a country of about 312 million people and 210 million opiate prescriptions per year! However, painkillers are expensive both on and off the legal market, so what’s the cheapest alternative? HEROIN.

Why is heroin on the rise in all middle and high schools?
  1. It’s cheap! Heroin costs about $10/pill for a high that’s extremely acute and addictive.
  2. It has evolved into more “clean” and easy forms. It no longer requires needles and back alley injections. Taking heroin can be as simple as breaking open one tiny capsule and snorting the powder. This method makes both the drug and its ingestion less detectable.
  3. Children often have easy access to prescription painkillers in the cabinets, spurring their susceptibility to heroin addiction when it becomes available.
How can society help to solve the heroin epidemic in schools?
  1. Doctors: Avoid over-prescribing opiates to ALL patients.
  2. Parents: Keep all household prescription drugs inaccessible to children. Dispose of any unused or unfinished bottles of painkillers.
  3. Parents: Be mindful of the addictive consequences of painkillers when prescribed to your child, and be sure your child isn’t overusing or abusing the medication.
  4. Schools: Mandate student-counselor meetings to assess mental health of and evaluate potential drug dependency in students.
  5. Schools: Incorporate a drug education program with a large focus on opiate use and abuse for elementary-aged children and up.

For additional information on how you can maximize the safety of your students, CLICK HERE to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources

¹https://statnews.com/2016/12/09/opoid-overdose-deaths-us/
²Arlotta C (2015). Forbes.

School Security and Safety Product Expenditures: Which Security Products Merit Your Consideration?

December 20th, 2016 | School Security | 0 Comments

Recommended School Safety & Security Solutions for 2017

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Our firm is routinely contacted by schools and asked to evaluate products that enhance safety and security within their districts. The following article highlights products that we have evaluated that have advanced technology solutions in the K-12 and College markets.

We are not compensated or remunerated by any of the manufacturers of the products listed in this article.

According to the research company IHS Technology, K-12 schools and universities in the United States spent approximately $768 million in 2014 on video-surveillance equipment, access-control equipment and mass notification systems in order to address school security, safety and emergency management issues in our nation’s schools. IHS Technology expects expenditures in security products to climb to approximately $907 million in this current school year. While some may argue that such spending increases are a hyper reaction to constant reports of school violence and safety issues, these expenditures come at a time when both state and local budget cuts are potentially limiting certain educational opportunities for children. I would argue, however, that school security is not an area in which our schools should be compromising on budget, especially considering the 98+ school shootings that have been reported in the U.S. since January, 2015. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal has presented evidence of a direct negative correlation between reported security spending and school emergencies. A 2014 U.S. Education Department survey of approximately 1,400 public schools in the nation, 75% reported using at least one security camera (up from 61% in 2009-2010), and 82% of schools reported installing electronic notification systems (up from 63% in 2009-2010). Comparatively, reported incidents of school violence had dropped from 74% to 65% in the same time frame.

The seemingly large annual expense on school security only becomes excessive when schools are investing in sub-par products which ultimately require supplementary product purchases to be most effective. When investing in high-grade and reputable security products, schools are certainly not overspending, which begs the question:

What companies provide products and technologies that will enhance our district’s ability to respond and react to security and safety incidents?

Here are a few that we believe merit your consideration:

1. Avigilon
Avigilon Appearance Search video analytics technology is a state of the art advanced search engine software utilizes facial recognition that allows the end user to scan video storage devices and quickly locate a person or vehicle of interest across an entire school property. The Avigilon Appearance Search technology can assist school officials and first responders of incidents or potential security issues, by issuing mobile alerts that advise law enforcement and school safety committee members of an issue, so that they can immediately respond and thereby improve incident resolution. Other helpful features include computation of people count and movement patterns, especially important in places of mass gathering. This technology can also be used to increase the efficiencies of codified lockdown and shelter in place procedures by identifying the location of students, faculty, staff and visitors for evacuation and headcount purposes.

2. Social Sentinel
Social Sentinel uses propriety algorithm technologies to search the “digital cloud” that exists above our schools and communities. It analyses publicly available postings on social media venues like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The information that is available in this public sphere can be analyzed and synthesized to protect schools and communities. Social Sentinel constantly scans public posts for suspicious terms and phrases, and immediately alerts the end user when those words are found that could impact the community. Words such as; kill, shoot, stab, bomb, and suicide would immediately prompt the system to identify the sender. Once the identity of the subject is verified, the data is immediately forwarded to school and public safety officials with authority to decide whether the posted message merits additional investigation or referral.

3. Mutualink
Mutualink is an award winning, multi-media communications platform that provides a direct link with Police, Fire, EMS, and other law enforcement entities in emergency situations. Mutualink K12 is a gateway for live voice, video, data and text communications, providing first responders with increased situational awareness in real time allowing them to respond much more rapidly to any facility threat. Mutualink’s advanced technology system (IRAPP) incorporates an all-in-one device to bridge radio, video, telephone and PA/intercom systems, in our schools and campuses. Another key feature of the Mutualink product is the ‘panic button’, which can be installed in the central office, , or installed onto smartphones as an application. Either method immediately connects the caller to law enforcement agencies and simultaneously launches the Mutualink system. Studies conducted by Mutualink’s client districts performing situational response drills reduced the time to incident resolution by forty (40) percent.

Why Should Schools Consider Purchasing Advanced Technology Products like These?

Spending on high-tech security products that assist schools in areas of Safety, Security and Emergency Management will unquestionably increase efficiencies by constantly monitoring their facilities and alerting staff and first responders of threats that can impact the safety and well- being of students, faculty, staff and visitors. These products can be a valuable tool for School Resource Officers in crime reduction and prevention, crowd control and vehicle identification. Schools can identify risks in public postings on social media to potentially prevent acts of violence including suicide. Using Mutualink’s K 12 system, schools can rapidly respond to address emergencies by linking first responders and the school or district emergency response team in real time to share vital information and decrease time to resolution.

It is my considered opinion that use of these products will prove to reduce risk and provide additional safeguards, by leveraging technologies to enhance safety, security and emergency response in our schools.

Next steps for School Administrators

For additional information on how your school can maximize the safety of your students, administrators, and staff, click here to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources
“5 of the Most Innovative Surveillance Cameras in 2015.” IFSEC Global.
Abramsky, Sasha. “The School-Security Industry Is Cashing In Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings.” The Nation.
D’Ambrosio, Dan. “Start-up keeps eye on social media for threats.” USA Today.
“Mutualink K12 Links Schools, Responders Enhance Safety.” Business Wire.
Porter, Caroline. “Spending on School Security Rises.” Wall Street Journal.

Back to School: Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

September 20th, 2016 | School Security | 0 Comments

Outdated and Ineffective School Safety Protocols Fail to Protect Students from Gun Violence, Suicide/Bullying, and Medical Emergency Fatalities

School emergency protocol photo article.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

It’s that time of year again! School is back in session, and parents can finally sigh in relief — or was that a feeling of the past?

School Gun Violence

Since January, 2015, there have been ninety-eight school shooting events in the United States. More shockingly, there have already been four school shootings since August 25th of this year. These statistics include firearms attacks on other person(s) resulting in injury or death, guns fired unintentionally resulting in injury or death, attempted or completed suicides using firearms, and guns fired, but no injuries reported. Clearly, gun-related violence on school property is a highly-charged issue, and statistically trending in the wrong direction.

Suicide Risk and Bullying

Gun violence is not the only threat that needs to be assessed when school is back in session. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, over 16% of students (ages 15-24) seriously consider committing suicide, 13% devise a plan for their suicide and 8% have made one or more serious attempts at suicide. Bullying in schools is a major contributor to this devastating epidemic. A Yale University study has shown that students are 7-9% more likely to consider suicide when they have been bullied in school.

School Medical Emergencies

In addition to bullying and gun violence, every year there are dozens of natural medical emergencies that lead to student deaths across the nation. For example, in one unnamed district alone, there were multiple student deaths within a single year largely caused by the schools’ poorly crafted emergency response plan.

  • One fatal case involved a first-grader who collapsed in his classroom and began turning blue. The boy had been complaining of a severe headache to his teacher, and he was sent to the back of the classroom to lay down. He started vomiting, so the school nurse was called into the room, and a voicemail was left for the student’s mother. By the time his mother arrived, the boy’s lips were blue and he was unresponsive. School employees waited too long (34 minutes after the severe headache was reported) to call 911, and did not attempt CPR on the child — despite their mandated training in CPR. He was taken to a hospital, and it was determined he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The child had gone too long without oxygen, resulting in his death the following day after being taken off life support
  • A second fatal case in the same school district occurred that year, which resulted in the death of a handicapped girl and an $800,000 payout to her family. In this case, the child (who had a neuromuscular disorder) had a medical issue on the school bus. Neither the driver nor the aide called 911 as she turned blue and stopped breathing in her wheelchair. Instead, they called her mother twice as she passed away.
School Fires

From 2009-2011, the USFA reported approximately 4,000 school building fires per year, and estimated 75 injuries and $66.1 million in property loss. School fire-related deaths are not common, but the financial, emotional and educational impact that school fires have is obvious. Shockingly, in only 66% of non-confined school building fires, smoke alarms were reported as present.

How Do We Minimize These Risks and Avoid Losing More Student Lives To Protocol Mistakes?

As a school district employee (Superintendent, School Safety Committee member, teacher, nurse, social worker, etc.):

  • Ensure that the district and school’s “All Hazard Safety and Security Plan” is up to date, including the most recent changes in delegated personnel as well as emergency contact information (e.g. cell phone numbers) for all members of the incident response team.
  • Maintain regular bi-annual meetings in which the “All Hazard Safety and Security Plan” that is in place at your school is thoroughly discussed and evaluated. Remember that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Having a protocol in place does not qualify as adequate planning. There is a need for constant reassessment of the efficacy of your school’s emergency response plans, especially as different types of threats continue to evolve. Each protocol and procedure needs to be reviewed regularly, and staff members must question them — even if they appear rock solid. For example, ‘Why does our policy say, “call the parent and notify the front desk immediately when a child is ill?”‘ If anyone had raised that question while reviewing policy, the children from the aforementioned school district might still be alive because 911 would have been the first call made.
  • Implement/update policies and training on student bullying. Bullying can be kept under control within school walls if the staff are trained to first recognize it, and then to respond to it effectively without exacerbating the issue. Bullying should not be considered a “normal” part of growing up, and school staff can undoubtedly minimize the consequences if properly trained.
  • While many states have regulations and requirements for conducting emergency response drills during the first month of the school year, schools should at minimum mandate monthly fire and lockdown drills. These practices are crucial in developing procedural proficiency for all site-based or regional emergencies, whether human caused, environmental, or weather-related.
  • Training of all students, faculty, staff, and other school personnel (including food service and maintenance staff) is essential. Emergency response drills and regular policy tests should be mandatory among all school staff. As changes are made in policy, all personnel should be immediately informed and then tested on the revised protocols. CPR must also be included in teacher training, and practiced on dummies frequently. Had anyone attempted to administer CPR in the cases outlined above, there is a good chance that those children would have survived.
  • Most importantly, coordinate your district’s All Hazard Safety and Security training activities with resident school resource officers (SROs) as well as representatives from designated responding emergency agencies, including, but not limited to local police officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical technicians (EMT). By doing so, administration, faculty and staff will become more proficient in their response and handling of any school emergency.