Issue: Crisis Planning

Identifying the issues, influencing legislation and shaping the debate on key education issues


Deter, Detect, Delay – School Security and Threat Assessments

In the wake of the most recent incident at Sandy Hook, we labor to strike a balance between preparing for an unthinkable horror without giving way to unreasoned fear. School entities should respond with a balanced and reasoned "all hazards" approach to this threat.  Keep in mind that although the odds of a school attack are relatively low, school entities must program protective measures permanently into their emergency response processes.

Below is an outlined synopses of this three-pronged proactive approach -- deter, detect, and delay -- to assist in addressing school security:

1. Deter

Involves providing counter-measures such as policies, procedures, technical devices and controls to defend against attacks, intruders and unauthorized individuals.

  • Building Access and Control – Environmental Design, Logistics, Policy, Training, Enforcement
    • Building specific blueprints, escape routes/methods; student and staff awareness
      • CCTV, video monitors, intercom systems, "mousetraps" (access controlled door system), double door locks, designated single entrance
      • All school district personnel issued photo identification; must be clearly visible at all times, preferably displayed on the upper torso
      • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
        • Encourage local law enforcement personnel to "train" at school buildings after hours to gain familiarity with layout
      • Visitors must sign in and out of all buildings and present photographic identification
      • Avoidance of "piggy-backing" (when a person tags along with another person who is authorized to gain entry into a restricted area); enhance physical security
      • Rearrange office furniture and partitions so that front-line employees in daily contact with the public are surrounded by "natural" barriers – desks, countertops, partitions – to separate employees from visitors
      • Provide under the counter duress alarm system to signal supervisor, security personnel, law enforcement if visitor becomes threatening or violent
      • Establish an escape area
      • Ability to lock classroom doors from the inside
    • Intruder drills conducted at beginning of and throughout school year
      • Brief employees, including substitute teachers, on steps to take if a threatening or violent incident occurs
        • Plain language signals to alert school district personnel that immediate help is needed
        • Strongly recommend a "lockdown" procedure.   In consideration of how both fire alarms and bomb threats have been used to evacuate victims into the "kill zone" of a prepared outside ambush, a lockdown may be the best initial response to any school threat. Lockdown drills, like fire drills, should be mandated at all schools.
  • RVAT – Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Team
    To schedule a FREE assessment, contact the Pennsylvania State Police Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Team (RVAT) at 717-346-4085, 717-346-2634 or
  • Another excellent resource is the Center for Safe Schools at, a statewide clearinghouse for schools, law enforcement, parents and others on school safety and youth violence prevention.

2. Detect

Monitor for potential failures/break-downs in protective mechanisms that could result in security breaches. Virtually every school attacker, student or terrorist, conducts extensive reconnaissance of his or her target. They will analyze the availability of ingress and egress points. Questions will be asked about the site's security preparations. They may photograph and/or sketch the area. Both human and video surveillance can help you pattern these recon missions.

  • Identification/verification of all individuals requesting access to school district buildings
  • Panic and alert alarms in several locations
  • Utilization of Certified Safety Committee for enhanced hazard inspections at each site
  • Review of policies and procedures with Risk Management personnel
  • Safe Communication Haven for students and community members to alert faculty and staff to potential dangers w/o fear of repercussions
    • Develop an effective warning program
      • Disseminate and post contact information in prominent locations both internally and throughout school community
    • Protected Communication
      • Reserved for instances that involve safety and security of individuals in school building
      • Tragedy prevention not to help solve and existing crime or problem
        • Examples:
          Individual knows/believes someone has:
          - Weapon(s)
          - Made a bomb threat
          - Made a deadly violence threat against school
          - Created a "target list"
          - Threatened to commit suicide
  • Guaranteed confidentiality from disciplinary procedure (does not extend to any violations of criminal code)

3. Delay

Necessary if there is a breach in security; slow down the intruders long enough to allow the security team to respond. Harden the target with lock-down procedures that includes the means to lock the doors to areas of refuge. Avoid the urge to evacuate into an area not proven safe from potential snipers or bombs.

  • Internally locked doors, barricades, intruder drill implemented
  • Multiple designees for contact of emergency personnel


Policy and administrative regulation updates

This past year the PA State Board of Education developed and adopted Chapter 10 Safe Schools regulations to incorporate safety measures associated with emergency preparedness and effective relations with local law enforcement officials. PSBA's Policy Services will soon issue to its members new and revised policies and administrative regulations encompassing:

  • Weapons and terroristic threats relating to notification of the local police department.
  • Annual requirements for assembling information required to assist local police and fire departments and immediate deployment of such information to the Incident Command Post in the event of an emergency.
  • Provision of the school entity's Emergency Preparedness Plan to each local police and fire department.
  • The Memorandum of Understanding with each local police department, which is required to be reviewed and updated on a biennial basis.
  • Emergency and nonemergency response and preparedness.
  • Provision of the school's procedures on behavior support services for students with disabilities to each local police department.

The outline above serves to provide baseline "talking points" to address the basics of threat assessment as it relates to an "active shooter" situation. School entities may already have some of these procedures in place, but it is important to ensure they are consistently reviewed and observed to enhance school safety.  

For more information about school safety, contact Sharon Orr, director of Risk Management, at or (866) 401-6600, ext. 152.