It’s likely a matter of time before Texas adopts more stringent school safety requirements. When that happens, districts that take proactive steps and leverage their internal audit function now will be better prepared to comply.
Last summer, the Texas Tribune reported that the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) plans to conduct random inspections in public schools throughout Texas to detect weak access points. In early October, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed a Chief of School Safety and Security to address safety issues at a statewide level.
With school safety at the top of mind for students and staff now more than ever, it’s important for districts to stay ahead of the curve by making sure their security processes and procedures are current.
Texas state law currently requires school districts to conduct an audit of district facilities at least once every three years. At the campus level, school safety committees and other groups typically take the lead by conducting school safety audits as outlined by the TSSC.
Internal audit, in collaboration with school safety officers, can play a key role. Auditors can verify safety plans and validate that they are being implemented properly and tested routinely.
According to the TSSC, a school security audit “should be an ongoing process with the aim of identifying hazards, threats, and vulnerabilities that might pose a danger to life or property or may interfere with a safe, secure and healthy environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. Attention to safety and security should not be thought of as an annual or a once every three-year event. Districts are encouraged to integrate ongoing safety and security assessments into everyday activities, including planning, training, and drilling of emergency procedures.”
Here are some tips for schools and districts.
Conduct informal Threat and Vulnerability Assessments. On a regular basis, take a careful look at your facility and procedures as they are today. Think about the physical condition of the facility, test all locks and doors, evaluate camera blind spots and consider how any temporary changes to the physical facility may affect school safety and security, including construction or rehabilitations. Vulnerabilities that need continued attention include landscaping, lighting, entrances and sidewalks surrounding the facility. Additionally, consider your policies and procedures for visitors entering your campuses, including screening and badging.
Determine what you can do. Based on data, available resources are areas with issues. Consider the status of physical security upgrades (cameras, access control, communications, and others), plans moving forward for upgrading and/or maintaining physical security, and the utilization of school resource officers. Ensure that personnel are dedicated to maintaining those resources and are knowledgeable of their operations and maintenance needs.
Continually review and update key contact information. With ongoing turnover in schools and districts, keeping contact lists current can be challenging. Review and update these lists regularly as part of your Disaster Recovery/ Business Continuity Plan and tests. Contact systems, such as text message systems or phone trees, should also be checked to be sure that they are in place and working as intended.
Train staff regularly on emergency procedures. Make sure current staff has been trained on emergency procedures and conduct periodic emergency drills. The procedures should include both evacuation and shelter in place procedures. Staff also should be trained on deescalating tensions in the classroom to aid in keeping students calm and safe.
It’s likely a matter of time before Texas adopts more stringent school safety requirements. When that happens, districts and schools that take proactive steps and leverage their internal audit function now will be better prepared to comply.