Taking a lesson from federal buildings we should all recognize the importance of a strict visitor policy. In my years of law enforcement I was always impressed that even a properly uniformed officer was required to sign in, obtain a visitor badge and be escorted when conducting business inside the a federally controlled facility. The important component was the fact that the person I was visiting was responsible for me and thus immediately notified when I was in the building. While this level of security seems daunting the reality is that the practical components are currently in place at most schools and businesses. The missing component is the adherence to policy and the will to enforce them.
The tragedy at San Bernardino elementary school in April of 2017 is a good example of a good policy that was poorly executed. The school had the typical sign in process for the visitors that we expect in any institution. The perpetrator attempted several entrances before being allowed in by a staff member that recognized him. His nefarious intent was not obvious and he was able to walk unescorted to the classroom. While entry to schools like this happen every day in this country the probability of something this horrible happening is miniscule. It is the rarity of these violent attacks that leads to lax security protocols and enforcement.
The best solution to preventing this type of incident is a proactive approach by staff. All visitors should be identified via a state or official ID card that is given to a staff member. The staff member should log in the visitor. The visitor should have a numbered ID badge that is to be worn at all times when in the building. Should anything happen the staff can use the numbered badge to later identify which visitor caused an issue. The staff member they are visiting should be notified and required to appear at the front office to escort the visitor throughout the building. The visitor will then sign out upon exiting the building and relinquish the badge. The most important aspect of this is that the staff member is notified of the presence of a visitor prior to them being allowed access to the rest of the building. If the correct mindset was in place, even a known visitor, like the estranged husband at San Bernardino, would be escorted all the way to the front office to be signed in as a visitor. Security is everyone’s responsibility and cannot be dismissed for convenience.
In response to the shooting the San Bernardino school implemented a strict no entry during school hours policy. It requires background checks and prior scheduling. I don’t necessarily disagree with this type of policy, but fear that the extreme measures will be so cumbersome that exceptions become the norm. Kids forget things, holiday parties are a part of early education, community volunteers are essential to school programs, and class performances for parents are vital for engagement. It is difficult to completely remove parents from the schools and expect the students to understand it is being done for their safety. The measures need to be strict enough to accomplish the level of needed security, without creating an environment that diminishes the educational experience of the students.
At SafeDefend we are working with schools and businesses to address the realities of the workplace violence and hostile intruders. A quick response by law enforcement and immediate notification to building occupants are the two most critical components to reducing casualties in a crisis.