The tragic events that occurred at the Presbyterian Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee in April 2023 served as a stark reminder of the importance of protecting the safety and security of students and staff in churches with attached schools. As a church with a school, we must do all we can to ensure that our children and staff are safe from potential risks and threats, which are more varied and complex than ever before. These threats can range from physical and sexual abuse by teachers and support staff to unauthorized access, to low-probability but high-impact events such as mass shootings.
In response to low-probability/high-impact concerns, it’s crucial to invest in robust physical security measures such as 3M film, bullet-resistant glass, and wall paneling to mitigate potential threats and create a safer environment. However, there are also many steps that can be taken to keep our children safe long before an active assailant walks into your school.
In this article, we will explore five areas of security that every church with a school should consider and offer strategies to enhance safety in each. By reviewing and implementing these strategies, your school can take proactive steps to protect against potential security risks and manage the risks to create a safer environment for everyone.
The Five Areas of Security:
1. Unauthorized Access
Unauthorized access can pose several potential risks to students and staff, including child abduction and acts of violence or threats against individuals. To minimize these risks, it’s crucial to invest in robust security measures such as electronic access control systems and real-time background screening processes, like Raptor technology. This can help prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to the school’s premises. In addition to implementing security measures, it is also essential to have processes in place to respond to potential breaches in the school’s perimeter. This can include training front desk and facilities staff on how to respond to potential security threats and ensuring that they have the necessary tools and resources to do so effectively.
2. Child Protection
Child abuse and neglect can pose significant risks to the safety and wellbeing of students in schools. This can include emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect and other forms of maltreatment. To protect against these risks, it is essential to implement a comprehensive child protection program that includes crisis intervention, mental health support, and a culture of safety and security. Encouraging a culture of reporting unhealthy or potentially dangerous behaviors through an anonymous and confidential reporting system can also help to identify and prevent potential risks. By implementing these measures and fostering a culture of security, schools can take proactive steps to prevent child abuse and neglect and ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students. This includes having clear reporting and response procedures in place to address potential incidents of abuse or neglect and providing ongoing training and support to staff, volunteers, and parents on child protection policies and best practices.
3. Medical Response
In addition to active shooter incidents, there are several other medical risks that schools should be prepared to handle, including sudden choking, burns, broken bones, cuts, and severe allergic reactions. To address these risks, it is crucial to provide staff with training in basic life safety skills such as CPR and other medical situations. This training can help ensure that staff members are equipped to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a medical emergency. Having individuals on staff who are trained in advanced medical procedures, such as becoming an EMT, can also be beneficial. By providing staff with the tools and knowledge to handle a variety of medical emergencies, schools can increase the survival rate and help teachers keep students healthy.
4. Emergency Preparedness
Emergency preparedness is a critical aspect of security for schools. In order to ensure the safety of students, staff, and congregants during emergencies, it is essential to have a comprehensive emergency response plan in place. A comprehensive emergency response plan should clearly outline roles, responsibilities, and procedures for various emergency scenarios, including fires, natural disasters, and hazardous material incidents. Regular drills should be conducted to familiarize students and staff with evacuation routes, assembly points, and actions required during emergencies. Working with experienced security consultants and local emergency response agencies can provide valuable resources and expertise to improve the effectiveness of crisis management. This collaboration can help ensure that the emergency response plan is up-to-date, and that staff and students are prepared to respond effectively in emergency situations.
5. Traffic and Pedestrian Safety
To ensure a safe environment for everyone, prioritize traffic and pedestrian safety at the school. Use traffic calming measures like speed bumps, crosswalks, and appropriate signage to encourage safe driving practices and protect pedestrians during busy drop-off and pick-up times. Review how close cars are parking and driving in close proximity to the school building as it is a risk in today’s unpredictable world. Designate pick-up and drop-off zones to streamline traffic flow and reduce congestion. Communicate clearly with parents about traffic safety expectations to enhance security.
Finding the Path Forward
Schools face numerous security risks, ranging from unauthorized access to child abuse and active shooter incidents. By addressing these risks proactively and investing in robust security measures, school leaders can create a safer environment for students, staff, and congregants. To do so, conduct a security risk assessment to identify all potential security risks and vulnerabilities, assess current security measures, and determine areas for improvement. Implementing robust security measures such as electronic access control systems, hiring security personnel, and establishing strong partnerships with local law enforcement agencies can significantly enhance security and minimize potential security risks. Foster a culture of safety and security by promoting clear and effective communication with parents, staff, and congregants about security policies and expectations, conducting regular training and drills, and developing a comprehensive emergency response plan.
By reviewing and implementing the strategies outlined, school leaders can take proactive steps to protect against risks and ensure a safer environment for everyone. With a strong commitment to security and safety, churches with attached schools can create a nurturing and supportive environment for their students and staff, fostering academic and spiritual growth while minimizing security risks. It is crucial for churches with schools that they prioritize security and take proactive measures to address potential risks, creating a safer environment for all members of the community.
The I Love You Guys Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides school safety resources and training to schools across the United States. Their programs include Standard Response Protocol (SRP) training, which teaches students and staff how to respond effectively to emergencies, and the “I Love You Guys” program, which promotes clear communication and coordination during emergencies. They also offer free resources such as school safety assessments, emergency planning templates, and crisis communication tools.https://iloveuguys.org/
National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) is a non-profit organization that provides training, resources, and advocacy for school resource officers (SROs) across the United States. Their programs include a Basic School Resource Officer Course, which provides comprehensive training on school safety and security, and a Model SRO Program, which provides guidance on establishing and maintaining effective SRO programs in schools. They also offer free resources such as school safety assessments and crisis response checklists. https://nasro.org/
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is a government agency that provides resources and guidance on school safety and physical security. The agency offers a variety of resources and tools for schools to help them enhance their security measures and reduce risks. These resources include emergency planning guides, training materials, and best practices for school safety. CISA also provides guidance on physical security measures, such as access control systems, video surveillance, and perimeter security. https://www.cisa.gov/topics/physical-security/school-safety
The Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) is a federal program that provides funding to eligible nonprofit organizations for security enhancements to prevent and protect against terrorist attacks. The program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provides grants to eligible organizations to support security measures such as access controls, video surveillance, and perimeter security. The program is intended to assist organizations at high risk of terrorist attack and to increase the preparedness of nonprofit organizations across the country. Eligible organizations must meet specific criteria to apply for the grant, and the application process is highly competitive. The NSGP is one of several federal programs designed to enhance the security and preparedness of nonprofit organizations and communities across the United States. https://www.fema.gov/grants/preparedness/nonprofit-security
Simon Osamoh is one of the country’s leading experts in securing houses of worship. He is a British American and founder of Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy. Simon spent 14 years as a Detective in England working serious and organized crime. He moved to the United States to Head Counter Terrorism at Mall of America, Minnesota. Simon is a Christian and has spent over a decade helping non-profits stay safe and secure. He is the author of three books, Securing Church Operations, Church Safety Responding to Suspicious Behavior and 10 Powerful Strategies for Conflict De-escalation. He is the host of the Worship Security Academy podcast and a member of the Worship Facility Editorial Advisory Board.