Over the past decade, the percentage of K-12 schools that have hired security staff to be on-site at least once a week has risen dramatically. As you might suspect, middle schools and high schools continue to employ more security personnel than elementary schools. However, in the primary school setting, the presence of security guards, school resource officers (SROs), sworn law enforcement personnel, and security volunteers has increased substantially, in large part due to growing concerns over the potential for an active assailant situation.

No school’s administration ever enters lightly into evaluating whether to implement security staffing on its campus, in its buildings, and around its employees and students. It can be a very challenging and sensitive topic to discuss for all stakeholders involved in the process. If your institution is beginning to question whether it should employ security staff, the Fred C. Church team would like to share a series of steps that may help guide you and your school community through the conversations that go into making this weighty decision.

Step #1: Identify the physical security measures you already have in place.

Whether you are addressing a threat with low probability but unfathomable impact, such as an active shooter situation, or one with higher probability but more limited effects, like a slip and fall, there is no single, perfect solution to safeguard your school and its community. Rather, the best approach to planning for any risk is a multilayered one. So, before you decide on your school’s need for security personnel, it is important to identify all of your school’s current security measures, which may include asking the following questions:

  • Are there school gates?
  • Is there a clear delineation of where school property begins and ends?
  • Is there strategically positioned shrubbery or parking lots?
  • Are security cameras set up, and are they functional?
  • Do you have a visitor management system for scanning IDs?
  • Are there metal detectors?
  • Do classroom and office doors have interior locks?
  • Do staff have two-way radios?
  • Is there an electronic notification system (in case of a school-wide emergency)?

When we help schools take stock of their current security measures, they often ask us, “How many security layers should we have?” There is no magic number that we can share with you. However, we recommend that you have more than one layer but not so many that your school feels like an impenetrable fortress for students, faculty, and the community.

Step #2: Assess the security policies and procedures you have in place.

Now that you have clearly identified the layers of school security that are present, the next step is to evaluate how effective these measures are in addressing the risks specific to your school. Conducting this type of assessment may help you determine where you want to apply more (or less) focus and investment. Some of the important areas to consider include the following:

  • What is your school’s overall security strategy?
  • Do you have a threat or behavioral assessment team or a multidisciplinary safety team?
  • Have staff and students been properly trained on what to do in a safety emergency?
  • Do you have an existing relationship or program with local law enforcement?
  • Do students and staff feel comfortable getting to and from school each day?
  • Do all visitors check in at the front office?
  • Are cameras being monitored? If so, how often and by whom?
  • Is there an anonymous threat-reporting system?
  • Are classrooms and common areas set up with best safety practices in mind?
  • If a threat is noticed, does everyone know the process for reporting it?
  • Have parents or others in the community been asking for additional safety and security measures? If so, why?

Since there are typically diverse perspectives across the different constituents that make up your school community, it can be beneficial to involve a variety of people, such as a threat assessment or multidisciplinary safety team and administrative staff, in this part of the decision-making process. In addition, it can be valuable to invite local authorities to have a say and provide their opinion of your safety assessment and its accuracy as well as the potential need to hire school security guards or officers.

Step #3: Determine if and how you should add a layer of security with safety personnel.

Once you assess your school’s current security measures and their effectiveness, you may find there are safety risks you didn’t know about, gaps in security, or over-resourced areas. Now, with a clear vision of what you have in place and how it’s working, you can better determine what might be needed to tighten up school security. If that involves adding safety personnel, one of the biggest decisions you will have to make will be what type of security staff to employ. For example, you could hire SROs, off-duty police officers, or private security, or you may determine that security volunteers are adequate for now. Gathering the following information may help you determine the appropriate path for your institution:

  • What security-related tasks do you want safety personnel to fulfill?
  • Have you taken the local culture into consideration?
  • How might each security personnel position impact the school’s learning environment, philosophy, or reputation?
  • How might each staffing option increase your school’s security posture?
  • Is there a type of security personnel that would make students, parents, and school employees feel more (or less) safe?
  • Will security staff be required to wear uniforms?
  • Do you want security staff to have arrest power or to carry a firearm?
  • What other equipment do you want security personnel to carry (e.g., pepper spray or handcuffs)?
  • What training and screenings should security staff have before starting?
  • What is the expected response time for local law enforcement in an emergency, and how many people will respond?
  • What funding is available for security staff, and for how long?

We want to stress that there is no right or wrong choice; it comes down to what is the best fit for your school and its specific security program and resources. Whichever direction you decide to go with your security staffing, it is important to inform local law enforcement of your plans, particularly if personnel will be armed. In addition, it may be helpful to engage with an organization that is an expert in emergency preparedness solutions to help ensure you are implementing a high-quality security staffing program. Finally, it will go a long way in building relationships and trust to clearly communicate to school employees, students and their families, and the larger community why you have made this decision and how it will make your school a safer space for all.

Would You Like More Help Assessing Your School’s Need for Security Staff?

While we have provided some practical guidance to assist you in navigating the challenging decision-making process of whether to hire security personnel, we have only scratched the surface. There are a number of other important questions and factors to consider before you can make the right determination for your school, people, and community—and the Fred C. Church Education Practice Group is here to help your school carefully think through them all.

For more information on campus safety and security, listen to our most recent webinar, “Emerging Strategies for Enhancing Campus Safety and Security,” with Mark Vermeal, Fred C. Church Senior Safety & Risk Management Executive, and Cat Cecere, Managing Director of the Learning and Management Practice from Joffe Emergency Services. They discussed emergency response frameworks, self-assessment reporting, building successful security programs, measuring risk, security personnel considerations, and the importance of evaluating safety vendors.