EXCLUSIVE: Lessons learned for school safety

School books and apple

Share this content


Joseph Pangaro, Chief Security Officer of Integra Services discusses the challenges of different school safety measures to mitigate risk of a violent event in educational facilities.

What are the main issues you see with current school lockdown systems?  

Many schools do not have a lockdown system of any kind – instead they rely on staff to manually report danger, typically using a classroom phone or cell phone to make the report.

In many cases, the cell phone service in the school is not very good, making it difficult to communicate. The same can be said for WiFi connections as well.

Additionally, classroom phones may not work properly, preventing proper and quick communication and creating a major security gap that prevents a fast response such as a lockdown or evacuation.

Another issue is the messaging from school leadership to the staff – staff and leadership don’t always know what is expected of them or how to conduct themselves in an emergency.

For those districts that have a lockdown system, the staff may not be familiar with how and when to use it due to lack of practice.

In my career, I have conducted school threat assessments for many school districts, both public and private, all across the country and these security gaps are found consistently.

We say that “time equals life” which means we have to know what to do, when to do it, how to communicate and we have to be able to do it fast if we want to be a survivor of a violent event in a school.

What is the first step a school should take to be proactive with their safety and security measures?

The very first step in securing any location is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the facility. This includes the district or school’s security policies, procedures, protocols and what security equipment they have available to them.

To accomplish this, the district should obtain a quality, all hazards threat, vulnerability and risk assessment (AHTVRA).

A quality AHTVRA will identify gaps in a school’s security plans, protocols and processes/equipment. The assessment must be granular, detailed and thorough.

I often see districts relying on the local police for the assessment, which is ok if that’s all they can afford.

However, this can often miss important gaps you need to close to create a safe environment.

A good assessment looks at more than just the active shooter threat, it also covers environmental dangers, natural disasters and other man-made threats. 

To provide the best possible assessment and ensure the most up-to-date best practices are included, the assessor must constantly keep up with changes in methods.

This involves reviewing the lessons learned from any incident that does take place and being part of professional organizations that maintain the highest standards in the profession.   

When it comes to my company, we are always looking for ways to improve our assessments.

We recently applied for a membership in the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) program, an organization considered the gold standard for school threat assessments.

We were pleased to be admitted and now incorporate their school safety evolution guidelines into our AHTVRAs.

This program provides an excellent road map for schools to plan out their investments and harden their school security infrastructure.  

Very often I don’t see the proper attention given to what I call the “three pillars of survival.” The three pillars are:

  • Preparation – this involves proper training and plans, obtaining and using quality equipment like weapons detection systems, security film glazing for the doors and windows, reliable communication systems and other sensors to help us recognize or respond to danger
  • Communication – staff must be able to let everyone know if they see danger so we can respond quickly
  • Notification – we must be able to notify law enforcement rapidly if we need help

Can you explain some of the new security technologies on the market?

As a former Director of School Security, I was inundated by salespeople offering the “newest” gadgets or ideas for making the school safe.

Many sounded good but did not work or provide any real security advantage in an emergency.

Creating walls of security around the school requires us to use human intelligence, training, good plans and practice combined with quality technology. 

Some of the best new technology includes multi sensors that can detect everything from vaping, vaping with THC, gunshot detection, environmental dangers, air quality sensors, keyword recognition, aggression detection and the ability to tell how many people are in a room.

This technology provides school leadership and law enforcement with the information they need to react quickly and properly to danger.

I have also seen and helped develop some amazing technology that allows the classroom teacher or a student to quickly activate a system that sends out messages of danger to all the staff.

A huge benefit is that there is a mobile communication device built into the unit that can be removed by the teacher.

A camera opens and begins recording what’s taking place and it automatically calls police and school security to alert them to danger.

If the teacher must flee the area, they can take the mobile communication device with them and update law enforcement in real time. This is not only a game changer, but a life saver.

How are advanced technologies being integrated into a school’s security system?  

In many of our schools across the country, backpacks of students are not checked. Most schools don’t use metal detectors, so they have to find a way to speed up response time to danger.

If you have someone who is in a state of mind to hurt fellow students and brings a weapon into the school undetected, it is a recipe for disaster.

Same for the outsider who attacks the school to get in and hurt people.

Technology like gunshot detection, emergency communication and new types of weapons detection systems – like some that can be imbedded into the doors of the schools – helps us understand where the threat is taking place.

When used properly, these systems can prevent a weapon from entering a school in the first place.

What process failures are common in schools when it comes to lockdown procedures and protocols?

An area that creates security gaps is the lack of uniform processes in our schools. Children should not have to learn new procedures each year.

Most schools don’t have good policies in place and they don’t run quality drills to prepare for violence as it erupts.

Many have protocols and plans in place, but administrators and teachers don’t understand their roles and what they are supposed to do if an emergency occurs.

Poor messaging and lack of realistic training can slow down response.

Keeping emergency operation plans up-to date and making sure those staff members who have critical roles are identified in those plans is very important.

In many schools people change positions, are removed, transferred or retire and our plans do not reflect these changes which can be dangerous.

Security should be a part of what we do every day.

Moving forward, what solution is needed to give teachers a way to truly protect their classrooms?

Combining proper training, good policy, procedure and clear messaging to staff with dynamic equipment can make a difference in an emergency.

I had the opportunity to help develop the Sentry ERS System from IPVideo Corporation over the years and am proud of the way it turned out.

Sentry ERS is a classroom-based emergency communication system that allows a teacher or anyone in the room to immediately connect to security and law enforcement and creates a record of the event.

If a teacher has to flee the area, the system has a built-in mobile communication device (MCD) that automatically activates and calls police when an emergency event is initiated.

The MCD can be taken with the teacher to give police real time updates as the event unfolds.

This provides an immediate and reliable communication technology that incorporates the three pillars of survival.

Security is a matter of considering what dangerous events could happen and preparing ourselves to respond quickly, with the right training and technology behind us for survival.

Knowledge is power when it comes to surviving a violent event at a school.

As we move forward, our hope is to see more schools taking advantage of the training and new technology out there to help them save lives.

About the author

Lt. Joseph Pangaro is retired veteran police officer and a former Director of School Safety and Security.

He conducts school threat assessments across the US and is a published author and award-winning columnist on topics of safety and security.

He is currently the Chief Security Officer of the Integra Services Company from New York.

This article was originally published in the September edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox