Conducting a School Safety Checkup

By Michael Dorn
December 2013, Volume 37, Issue 4

Addressing common oversights in school safety protocol can dramatically decrease both the occurrence—and impact—of dangerous situations. Answer the following questions to assess your school’s readiness to address safety hazards and violent threats.


  • Is there a name badge system in place for all staff, visitors, and volunteers? If so, is it in practice 100 percent of the time?
  • Do school employees check photo identification for all visitors, even those known to staff? Is there a way to determine the time of visit?
  • Do school employees allow visitors and volunteers to sign themselves in?
  • Are names and photographs for teachers and students displayed on artwork or posted on classroom doors? (Attackers have used these identifiers to locate and harm students and staff.)

TO DO: Review your school’s policies for identifying students, staff, and visitors. Make sure that your policy addresses field trips, diverse family structures, and the scenarios that are common in your particular school community.


  • Are all staff trained in specific techniques to improve student supervision?
  • Can you document that each volunteer and staff person—both full and part-time—has been issued the school or district crisis plan?
  • Have all staff members been specifically trained to take immediate, life-saving action and to notify the office once this has been done?

TO DO: At the beginning of the year, schedule times to review and practice safety drills.


  • Are staff members comfortable making decisions to initiate emergency actions? In many schools, staff members have been conditioned to wait for someone else to direct them to take action, such as to initiate a fire evacuation, lockdown, or severe weather sheltering.
  • Does your school have and practice procedures for the most important and life-saving protocols? These include:
    • Fire evacuation;
    • Reverse evacuation (to return staff and students rapidly back inside the school when danger is present outside);
    • Room clear (a two-word command and process to rapidly move staff and students to safety from any interior area such as a classroom, gymnasium, main office, caf­eteria, or library);
    • Preventive or “soft” lockdown (locking all classrooms, offices, and interior main doors while work and teaching continue). Schools that lack this protocol have high “fail rates” when tested with the most common scenarios, such as unarmed intruders.
    • Emergency or “hard” lockdown (important for the extremely rare instances where an armed aggressor is outside or inside a school).
    • External hazardous materials sheltering protocol (critical to prevent mass casualty loss of life for a hazardous materials incident in the community).

TO DO: Empower your staff to make decisions in the face of life-threatening events so that precious minutes are not lost during dangerous situations.

While no single measure can guarantee that your school will not face danger, many harmful situations can be avoided if every school addresses these common gaps.

Michael Dorn is executive director of Safe Havens International.

Adapted from “Smart Security Reviews,” Principal, November/December 2013.

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