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Securing Our Schools Thanks to the MEADOW Effect

By Mike Johnson

Meadow, just 18 years young, was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre of 14 February 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Andy Pollack’s description of his daughter, Meadow, inspired me to create an easy-to- remember, pro-active security and safety mnemonic in her honor. Using a student’s name, I figured, just might motivate schools to consider both appropriate security hardware and technology solutions and commit to the important work of emergency planning management. MITIGATE School leaders need to know, understand, and ultimately resolve the school’s vulnerabilities or weaknesses that could lead to injury, loss, or damage. Examples of vulnerabilities are a non-functioning public announcement system, broken door locks, unenforced access control policies, or insufficient training for security personnel. On the other hand, threats or hazards such as tornadoes or man-caused incidents cannot be controlled, but a carefully constructed and practiced safety, security, and emergency preparedness program will mitigate any damage from these threats. EDUCATE Education crosses all components of the MEADOW Effect, as people cooperate when they know and understand the what, why, and how of the emergency plan. Safety, security, and emergency preparedness education and training will empower school stakeholders (students, teachers, staff, visitors, parents, etc.) to follow the coordinated emergency plan. At a minimum, this would include teaching the cadre of response protocols and drills, including the practice of complex drills. An example of a three-part complex drill would be to call an evacuation. Once all stakeholders are accounted for, a reverse evacuation is initiated (back into the safety of the buildings) followed by a lockdown. The most important part of all emergency drills is the emphasis on learning their purpose and how to do them correctly for maximum safety. ANNOUNCE A school can have a robust emergency preparedness training and education program, but if they lack the means to announce and communicate the emergency protocol in response to an incident then chaos will likely ensue. Whatever communication method a school uses, the announcements should be clear and concise, leaving little room for confusion. To announce a response protocol, industry best practice suggests not to use color codes such as red, black, or yellow, as the stress of the event might cause stakeholders to become confused. Instead, the recommendation is to use plain language such as “lockdown, we have an active assailant situation,” or “evacuation, there is smoke in Building Five.” When planning how to communicate for emergency announcements, schools should have a back-up plan in the event one method fails. “See something, say something” is a phrase frequently used to encourage school members to report suspicious behavior. This effort is enhanced when schools create systems for stakeholders to take action and announce those observations to the appropriate school leadership. Education on what to report and how to report it will encourage school personnel to take this important step. For example, reporting suspicious online and social media postings has saved children from something as serious as suicide. Access to announcement tools such as cell phones, tablets, apps, radios, and the like provide stakeholders a way to announce possible threats to school leadership who can initiate the appropriate response protocol. Timely responses to serious announced threats can result in saving lives. DENY…DETER…DELAY…DETECT (The Four Ds of Security) The four D’s are frequently referred to as the principles of security and crime prevention. The use and purpose of any security device, technology, or person in a security role are tied to one or more of the four D’s. For example, a metal detector used correctly and in a proper location would be to deter, detect, and possibly deny an assailant entry while properly maintained and positioned door locks would be to deter and delay. Again, like the other components of the MEADOW EFFECT, all school stakeholders benefit from proper training in the use and application of security-related devices and technology. Likewise, people in a security role or security support function will respond best to an incident or threat if they have had sufficient prior training and practice. OBSERVE & REPORT: Schools are busy places, but our current climate requires that all school personnel be vigilant in observing surroundings. Training and education will help all to know what constitutes vulnerabilities and threats and what to look for. Once personnel learn to be more attentive, they can more effectively activate the school’s plan for see something/say something leading to the most appropriate response from the incident management team. Sometimes its just seconds of taking action that averts a crisis. WILLINGNESS TO ACT: Leadership requires a courageous and decisive stance to protect students, faculty and staff. While school leaders will know how to lead the curriculum, create opportunities for teacher professional learning and manage the school building, they are less likely to know as much about school safety, security and emergency preparedness. Training is, then, essential, as increased knowledge will correlate with a courageous willingness to act. Seeking advice from knowledgeable security experts and committing school resources to emergency planning management will increase the likelihood that leaders will respond with knowledge and confidence to an incident before it becomes a crisis. Meadow and the other 16 innocent victims who lost their lives at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre are surely motivation enough for schools across the Nation to take charge and apply The MEADOW Effect. If the six components of The MEADOW Effect are followed, communities will feel more consolidated and prepared to respond to any inevitable threat. My thanks and appreciation are offered to Andy Pollack and his wife, Julie, who reviewed this article and approved the use of Meadow’s name in the MEADOW EFFECT. Mike Johnson is an Advisor with the Police Foundation’s Averted School Violence program and the CEO of Clearpath Alerts, a Florida based company that specializes in emergency planning management and decision support technology for schools.

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