School Safety: Mitigation

Benjamin Erwin 3/27/2019

Quick intervention during acts of school violence is key to saving lives. Emergency response plans, preparedness drills, and adequate security coverage have all been pursued by state policymakers to prepare students, staff and security personnel for these situations.

Emergency Response Plans and Drills

According to the Education Commission of the States, at least 42 states require safety drills and at least 43 states require schools to develop school safety plans Most states require law enforcement to participate in the development of safety plans.

The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center (REMS) highlights the importance of the emergency planning process as well as key ingredients in that process. These include collaboration, dissemination of the plan to relevant stakeholders, clear communication protocols and clear expectations for school administration, classroom personnel, support staff, and students.  

Although a Texas statute does not explicitly require alignment with federal guidance, it does require that schools' “multi-hazard emergency operations plans” be coordinated with state and local emergency response agencies and be reviewed yearly by the local school board. This approach concentrates authority for emergency response planning at the local level.

Colorado has built upon the local component to ensure schools are aligned with local, state, and national emergency management protocols. School districts are required to adopt a school safety framework as outlined by the National Incident Management System (NIMS)--which includes the incorporation of the Incident Command System (ICS)--in order to provide a standardized process for emergency management across levels of government and with various first responders. Additionally, Colorado requires local school districts to enter into a memorandum of understanding with local first responders to determine responsibilities in the event of an emergency.

Virginia's provisions are similar to Colorado's, but also require annual school safety audits by the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety (VCSCS). VCSCS, in accordance with statute, released a model school safety response plan to assist districts in drafting "viable, effective crisis, emergency management, and medical emergency response plans.” This model policy provides a starting point for collaboration with state and local officials.

Although most states require safety drills, not all states require emergency drills specific to active shooter situations. REMS recommends that each school conduct a school-wide drill and that law enforcement and first responders be included in these drills to become familiar with the location and identify potential hazards. In this way, students, staff and first responders are prepared when an event occurs.

Colorado is using these drills to foster coordination between community stakeholders and the school and district. Each school is required to conduct three activities related to emergency planning and drills:

  • Orientation meetings with relevant stakeholders to introduce and review operations plans.
  • “Tabletop exercises” to review roles, procedures and responsibilities across different scenarios.
  • Drills to improve safety procedures and test communications interoperability.

Despite the importance of school safety drills, active assailant drills raise many legal and psychological concerns. The National Association of School Psychologists, in collaboration with the National Association of School Resource Officers, has released a guide for safe, effective, and appropriate active assailant drills.

States continue to coordinate school emergency planning and drills to prepare students, staff and community stakeholders for emergencies. Standardized processes allow for a quicker and more effective response to school violence.

Security Personnel

School security personnel are often the first line of defense during acts of school violence. State legislators have thoughtfully approached this issue to ensure students and staff are protected, but also feel safe in a positive school climate.

School resource officers (SROs) play an important role in creating both a safe and supportive school. The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) constructed the “Triad Model of SRO Responsibility” to outline the three-faceted role SROs play. This triad is made up of the SRO's role as an informal counselor, as an educator and as a law enforcement officer. A specific set of skills is necessary to serve in this capacity, while also acting as a first responder in case of school violence.

In order to prepare SROs for this role and address concerns regarding school discipline, states have acted to not only increase SRO presence at schools but to implement rigorous training requirements for law enforcement officers in schools.

Maryland Senate bill 1265 took a comprehensive approach to school safety that emphasized the role of resource officers. The bill provides grant funding to place an SRO in each Maryland school. It requires mandatory training on bias, disability awareness, school climate, interaction with students, and cultural awareness. The law also requires reports on school safety data to better inform grant funding and the future direction of state resources and technical assistance. These training and reporting requirements help to quell concerns about school discipline.

Other states, like Ohio, have enacted legislation that includes training in mental and behavioral health, de-escalation, and age-appropriate interactions into the training requirements of SROs. Similarly, Indiana requires SROs to participate in a certified SRO training program, such as the one administered by NASRO. The Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments offers a 50-state review of school resource officer training requirements. 

Many states have recognized the unique role an SRO plays on a daily basis, both as a safeguard against school violence and as an important part of the school community.

For a detailed look at state policy addressing the possession of firearms by school personnel other than SROs, consult the NCSL “Guns in Schools” webpage.

Benjamin Erwin is a Research Analyst with the Education Program.