School-level Recommendations of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission

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Two years and two months after a gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the commission created to analyze the shooting held its final working meeting.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a 16-member panel of Connecticut public officials, psychiatrists and educators, was formed in January 2013 to review current policy and make specific recommendations in areas of public safety, including school safety, mental health and gun violence. On Feb. 13, their last meeting finalized the report they will send to Gov. Dannel Malloy in March.

The draft report has been issued and is available to the public.  The report is extensive, comprising 256 pages, and includes numerous, hyperlinked references.  Since the commission was chartered by the Governor of Connecticut, the majority of its recommendations concern actions at the state level.

This article will address only those (16 of 53) recommendations that can be acted on by individual schools.

SHACThe school-actionable recommendations (presented in the order in which the Commission made the recommendations), with Firestorm comments in italics, are:

•    “… by training faculty and staff to be attuned to changes in student behavior, information about a student‘s ideas and plans for violence may potentially be observed or discovered before harm can occur.”  Firestorm strongly concurs and has developed an approach for assessing behavioral risks and threats.

•    “The SSIC (School Safety Infrastructure Council) Report includes a standard requiring classroom and other safe-haven areas to have doors that can be locked from the inside.”  Firestorm strongly concurs and emphasizes the importance of locking classroom doors from the inside.

•    “The Commission also reiterates its recommendation that all exterior doors in K-12 schools be equipped with hardware capable of implementing a full perimeter lockdown.”  Again, Firestorm strongly concurs and has consistently recommended that schools take this precaution.

•    “A feasibility study should be conducted to develop additional safety standards concerning the issuance of classroom keys to substitute teachers.”  Firestorm strongly concurs.  Maintaining control of access to locked rooms, through key control, is extremely important.

•    “School custodians should be included as members of school security and safety committees.  Custodians have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with regard to the physical school building and grounds.”  Firestorm strongly concurs. 

•    “Teachers, administrators and custodians should be appointed to school security and safety committees with the consent and approval of other employees of their same classification.”  Firestorm concurs.  Such approval creates ownership in the process – something that leads to significantly improved implementation of safety and security plans.

SchoolsBrochure2•    “Each school shall maintain an accurate list of faculty, staff and students, complete with emergency contact information, which shall include, but not be limited to, parents and guardians of students.”  Firestorm strongly concurs.  An updated daily roster of personnel in the school is invaluable during an emergency.

•    “Each school shall provide safety and security training for faculty, staff and students on how to respond to hazards and/or events in order to provide competent compliance with the All Hazards School Security and Safety Plan Standards.  This training shall include live exercises …”  Firestorm strongly concurs and routinely recommends such training.  Effective training is the foundation for effective execution of plans.

•    “…exercises shall also include the identification and use of rendezvous points, escape routes, location of safe havens, the means of emergency communication and the role of faculty, staff, emergency responders, etc.”  Firestorm strongly concurs and has consistently recommended the inclusion of such realism in exercises.

•    “…participation of parents as part of post- event response and recovery.”  Firestorm strongly concurs and consistently recommends involving parents appropriately.  Such involvement gives parents and guardians an understanding of the commitment of the school to the safety and security of their children and enables much smoother post-event activity such as reunification.

•    “… each school identify specific individuals to serve as safety and security wardens, who shall be responsible for executing and managing the safety and security strategies …”  Firestorm strongly concurs and recommends that all emergency plans include assignment of specific, by name, roles and responsibilities.

•    “… classrooms and other spaces of denser population occupancy be located away from the points of building entry and that spaces of lesser occupancy be adjacent to school entry points, without giving up human visual surveillance and situational awareness of the entry points.”  Firestorm strongly concurs and believes that existing schools, wherever possible, take the opportunity to re-purpose rooms to achieve the same results – removing students from potential danger.

•    “… the law should also require local schools to undergo periodic training and drilling of school safety and security plans.”  Firestorm recommends that, regardless of whether a law exists or not, schools undergo such training and drills.

•    “Schools should form multidisciplinary, risk-assessment teams that gather information on and respond in a supportive manner to children who may pose a risk to others or face a risk to themselves due to toxic stress, trauma, social isolation or other factors.”  Firestorm concurs and consistently recommends the formation of such teams to include, as needed, expert assistance.  This team would be part of a behavioral and threat assessment program.

•     “…emphasized the need for advance planning, training and professional development around issues related to trauma, loss and bereavement…”  Firestorm strongly concurs.  Responding effectively to trauma, loss and bereavement is not something that can be done without thorough advanced planning,  and preparation and training.

•    “Investment in preparing to recover from a major crisis will pay major dividends every day, even in communities fortunate enough to escape a major school or community crisis event…”  Firestorm strongly concurs.  While serious emergencies are relatively rare, the impacts can be devastating – and more so without advance preparation to respond and recover.  

The key to effective avoidance of and response to emergencies and crises is to PREDICT potential threats and vulnerabilities, PLAN to eliminate, avoid or respond to them, and PERFORM when the events occur.  PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®

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