What Is A School Vulnerability Assessment?
A School Vulnerability Assessment involves a formal assessment, conducted by professionals in the field, who isolate the areas of vulnerability in a school to mitigate risks associated with these vulnerabilities. It is a complex set of procedures that requires multiple steps to complete the task.
The SVA begins with a complete review of all policies related to the daily operation of the school. Especially important is the Emergency Management Plan that controls what actions should be taken in the event of an emergency of any nature. It is essential to complete this review prior to the actual physical plant assessment in order for the assessors to know what policies are actually being followed, and which ones are being overlooked.
The second step is the actual assessment of the physical plant. Beginning at the driveway of the school, a complete review is done of all aspects of the physical plant. Both the exterior and interior of the school is assessed, and potential or actual risks are photographed and documented. Areas where it is apparent policies are being followed are also photographed and documented. It is critical to have a complete assessment, identifying the positive actions and behaviors, as well.
The third step of the process is to talk to staff and students about their feelings regarding safety and security of the school. Behaviors impact school safety more than any other factor. The best policies can be completely nullified if those responsible for enforcing them fail to do so. Discussions with staff and students provide opportunities for the assessors to get a true “feel” for the climate of the school, and this is an essential component of the assessment.
The fourth and final step is a formal report written by the assessment team. This report will include all documentation and photographs taken during the assessment, and a list of recommendations that will improve the security of the school environment.
PREPARE AND PREVENT
Sadly, the United States has a history of school violence dating back to the 19th century. The first recorded incident of a school shooting was the death of a law professor at the University of Virginia who was shot by one of his students. Since that time, there have been more than 650 school shooting incidents across the United States. Most recently, the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022 where 19 students and two teachers were killed is a stark reminder how vulnerable schools are to these predators who have no respect for human life.
In 2019, the United States Secret Service published its most recent report on school violence. Entitled “Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence”, the report addresses the many factors that lead to an active shooter situation. From the characteristic of the shooter himself, to the security measures present or lacking at the schools to prevent such an incident, it is clear that in these crimes, ques were missed regarding the attacker’s intentions. In many cases, a failure on the part of the school to properly secure the facility allowed the shooter to commit their heinous act.
While there is a sense of “what did we do wrong” when an act of violence occurs, steps can be taken to prepare, and prevent these acts from occurring. Risk management is the most effective method of preparing for any incident that may impact the safety of staff and students in school.
While we consider the “active shooter” to be our greatest threat, other issues arise in schools that may also impact the well-being of those who work and learn in the school environment. As Gordon Graham famously once said, “if it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” It is necessary to assess ALL potential threats in our schools, to include those that may lead to a devastating school shooting, and this is accomplished through the process of a School Vulnerability Assessment.