Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A preview of my article on educational security

I just finished this article for Security Magazine, and while I am not the type to really promote myself before an article is published, I felt that the topic was significant enough to want others to take note of how community organizations should take an active role in educational security.

By Matt Scherer
Can non-profit organizations impact the decision making process foreducational security? Until a recent speech in Tennessee, I didn't seethe connection between schools and a chamber of commerce.
Yet, a recent talk on the topic in Chattanooga showed me how a chamber orcommerce or a service organization like the Rotary could help improvethe processes to make schools safer.

In October, Stacy Hiera, the educational chair of the ChattanoogaArea Chamber of Commerce's Eastgate Ridgeside Council, asked me tospeak at an upcoming program for educators in her region. She hadcontacted me after reading my "Progress with the Process" article thatappeared in the August issue of Security Magazine.

Three months later, I traveled to southeastern Tennessee to speak toa group of a dozen or more educators including Rick Smith, theHamilton County Department of Education's deputy superintendent foradministration. Among his many duties, Smith supervises the securityprograms for the county's 40,000 students, 6500 employees and 78schools. While the local educators from the Eastside region of Chattanoogawere well represented, there were also administrators from privateschools. Like their public counterparts, they were concerned about educational security.

My January speech focused on the many things I had learned as thecontract public relations manager for the LearnSafe program. Duringthe past year, I had done research outside LearnSafe channels toinclude meetings with first responders. And, there were the manyconversations with my wife, Jackie, a science teacher at San AntonioJames Madison High School.

A master teacher of over 30 years, Jackie had shared with me her experiences with the changes in the teachingenvironment and the impact of educational security tools at herschool. My speech to the Chattanooga educators focused first on the need forschool administrators to have each school's principal meet with theirlocal police, fire and emergency service providers to get theirrecommendations on how to improve safety and how to work with them inthe event of an emergency.

After those meetings, the educators should create a crisis planning book that gave them a checklist ofpeople to call and processes to protect their students. This bookwould help anyone know what to do if an emergency such as if a studentbrought a gun to school. After that, I told the teachers that they needed to hold sometraining exercises to go over some scenarios. As a former Air Force public affairs manager, I told them that my military branch oftenpracticed how we would respond to an airplane accident or a hostage situation. I related a story how I once had responded to a simulated aircraft accident in the mountains near Lowry Air Force base in September and that I felt cold wearing my fatigue jacket on a cool,fall day. When I returned to my office, I made sure that my office had two setsof winter gear to include a parka, a winter ski vest and specialboots.

Sadly, two months later, a Navy pilot crashed into themountains. When the on-scene commander called everyone together, Iwas one of a handful that had the winter gear needed to work thatnight. Because I had taken training seriously, I noted that wedidn't have the gear needed to respond to a real winter incident. When educators get well trained on how to respond to an emergencythat if one occurs (and I told them I hoped it never happens), they would know how to respond, I noted in my talk.

Furthermore, an emergency response book and plans would allow someone to know how tocontact the right responders if the principal was not at school due tosickness or an appointment off campus. One administrator asked me how her private school could set up atraining exercise for her staff. I recommended that she worked withher senior teachers to put together a training program.
My speech also addressed communication between school administrators and their staff as well as parents. When school teachers understandhow security equipment can protect them, they will embrace its use inthe classrooms. Finally, I noted in my speech that schools must inform parents aboutthe addition of equipment or tools. For example, some schools havenow required high school students to wear ID cards to schools. When a student doesn't wear his badge at my wife's school, she can send thatperson to the principal's office for disciplinary purposes. Byinforming each student's parents of the ID policy, a child's mother orfather can make sure that the student bring that ID card to schoolalong with their books and lunch. At the end of my talk, I answered questions and I learned thatHamilton County had several training exercises planned. Mr. Smithsaid he would work with the chamber to let other administrators knowwhen they were scheduled so that other educators could observe his training. Furthermore, the Chattanooga county school system had anemergency plans book given to each principal. The Hamilton Countyadministrator said he would share the information in that book which includes emergency contact info for all police, fire and EMS with theother private school chamber members.

During the next couple of months, the Chattanooga Area Chamber ofCommerce's Eastgate Ridgeside Council will ask their local police andfire protection professionals to meet with their educators on safetyand security. Ms. Hiera said her council will ask the larger chamberto look at a way so that the smaller, private schools can share theexpertise of the Hamilton County Department of Education's emergencyplanning process.

It's my hope that other business chambers will look at the workstarted in Chattanooga and pull together the business, government andeducational resources to help improve school security in theircommunities. In my adopted hometown of San Antonio, I have seen howchambers have addressed issues that impact the overall business community such as roads, new business developments and tax initiatives. Surely, educational security should become a new focus for them. Some business leaders might question the validity of addressingeducational security through their chamber of commerce or local Rotary club.

However, educators are sometimes overwhelmed by all the requirements of administration that it's helpful to have businessleaders involved in the educational process involving school safety. Through their local chambers and non-profit organization such as a Rotary Club, security professionals can help their schools by helpingto coordinate exercises or work with them on evaluating the school'semergency response plans.

While the U.S. Department of Educationnoted a decrease in school violence, the possibility of anotherCleveland, Columbine or Virginia Tech is still there. A chamber or aservice organization like Rotary can bring the government, educationaland business community together to build a comprehensive trainingprogram that can protect our children and their learning environment.

(Matt Scherer, president of Scherer Communications, LLC., is afrequent contributor to Security Magazine. He was a former boardmember of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce's NorthwestCouncil. Denver Mayor Wellington Webb also honored him with "TheTechnical Sergeant David M. Scherer in the City and County of Denver"Day for his work in establishing six educational partnerships betweenLowry AFB and local schools.)

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