2 min read

School in the City: Thinking About Safety for Urban Environments


I feel lucky to have grown up where I grew up. My high school, Charles D. Owen High (Go Warhorses!) is nestled in the Swannanoa Valley, surrounded by the gentle crests of the Appalachian Mountains.  Our rural location meant that there was a low-key approach to school safety. You can have your pick of examples to demonstrate that, from the dozing, single security guard or the students freely wandering the halls after being dismissed early for sports.

It worked for our community. The biggest security scare we ever had was probably an imaginary bear that an overzealous teacher “saw” lumbering around campus. With that being said, the success of our security program (probably a charitable description) was primarily a result of our rural setting.

For schools that belong to urban communities, however, the calculations are notably different. These communities are much more likely to experience an emergency scenario that has nothing to do with their campus beyond geography. Today, let’s think through some of these potential urban risks, and start building a plan of action to mitigate them!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Probably just Automobiles)

One of the things that truly makes Los Angeles feel like a different world from where I grew up is the car chases. When they come on the local news, it can be hard to turn away from the spectacle. Of course, if that spectacle is happening in your area, it’s less interesting and more a serious safety concern.

For schools that are near busy roads, it’s important that their emergency preparedness plans have protocols for say, a car accident that severely inhibits traffic right around pick-up or drop-off time. An additional factor to consider with highly trafficked areas are the types of vehicles in transit. In the school safety context, a large truck or tanker carrying gas or another volatile substance might be grounds to institute a “shelter-in-place” or full lockdown scenario.

Unauthorized Individuals On Campus

This concern is a serious one, and it certainly isn’t exclusive to schools within city limits. However, it stands to reason that if there are more people in a given area, there are more people who can possibly gain access to your grounds.

These people likely mean your school and community no harm. In fact, they may just be confused visitors looking for a different place altogether. No matter who this unauthorized individuals are, the most important thing is to identify them quickly and resolve the issue of their presence as soon as possible. A good security team is an excellent tool for swiftly handling a situation. In a matter of seconds, they can either direct someone to their intended destination or politely and firmly get them off of your campus.

If your school community doesn’t have a security team, it can be helpful to incorporate big, clear, and obvious markers (like nametags and lanyards) that signify to all members of the community who is an authorized visitor. That way, everyone in your community feels empowered to question a visitor they don’t recognize and who isn’t wearing that marker.

Clearly, this is only scratching the surface of the concerns that urban schools may face from a safety perspective. The aforementioned risk assessment of the unique challenges facing your campus may help with getting a handle on where emergency preparedness can be bolstered. If you’d like to discuss that, how to build effective security teams and integrate them into your schools safety, or anything else, contact us today!

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