I had the opportunity to speak at to the Brandywine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The discussion included my thoughts on mandating active shooter drills for schools and how to make schools into “harder targets” that could resist an attack.
To the first point; I think schools should definitely conduct active shooter drills regularly. I also encourage schools to practice for a host of potential threats. Severe weather, mass casualty incidents, poisoning, death of students off campus, intruder on campus, barricaded person, transportation accidents and active shooter response plans should all be practiced along with the traditional fire drill. Which drills and how often they need to be conducted should be based on local needs; but all drills should be regularly held so that staff and students are prepared for any event.
The second question on how to make schools safer, or more secure, is a function of many variables. Obviously, infrastructure, technology and environmental factors play a critical role in securing any facility; but those tools are contingent on people utilizing them as designed.
In Homeland Security parlance, we look to the 5 “D’s” of facility protection to address a threat. Deter, Detect, Deny, Delay and Defeat the threat is a comprehensive approach to making any “target” harder to attack. All these factors include physical protective measures. But the most important factor is developing and sustaining a culture of safety that maximizes the effectiveness of the physical security measures.
This is why I encourage schools and businesses to include Social Workers or Mental Health Professionals on their Emergency Management Team. While Emergency Managers and Responders are great at planning for what we want people to do in a crisis, Social Workers can contribute to our understanding of “why” people may not react as we expect. Understanding the culture of students at a school or employees of an organization is a skill that those who regularly deal with emotional and mental crises have. Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals also often have a trusted relationship with “at risk” students and staff that may not be comfortable communicating their true feelings with emergency planners and “authority” figures.
Mental Health and School Social Workers can also contribute significantly in the Five “D” approach to security; most especially in the deterrence and detection phases.
Deterrence is obviously the most preferred tool we have and this involves resourcing and supporting the social workers mission which is to prevent students and employees from acting out violently. Additionally, detecting and providing warning when they believe the violence tipping point is near and contacting authorities to intervene can prevent the likelihood of an attack.
Mandating we drill for the active shooter event may ultimate be necessary to addresses facilities that think they are immune to violence. But beginning the discussion as to mandating who should be on the Emergency Management Team may also be an item to consider.
I would also strongly advocate that organizations include table top exercises along with physical response drills. Bringing together all of your key resources to discuss, share, learn and empower your people creates a culture of safety that is critical to the success any security plan.
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