Maine schools have positive climates and State agencies are proactive in providing them meaningful safety-related resources, but there are extensive opportunities to better ensure safety.
Those are the high-level findings of two school security reports the Maine Department of Education overviewed to the Legislature’s Education Committee this week. The reports, produced by Maine DOE consultants Safe Havens International and PDT Architects at the Legislature’s request, focus on facilities and general preparedness. Because the complete reports contain highly sensitive, life-saving information, the Department in discussion with those consultants, the Education Committee and the Attorney General’s Office has decided not to publicly release them in their entirety, but is committed to providing schools the information they need to enhance safety.
In addition to sharing the general findings here, the Department will continue to work with a small group of stakeholders including representatives from the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Maine School Management Association to review the reports in more detail and communicate recommendations that result.
Among the affirming findings were that Maine schools have a positive climate and culture, and are well-maintained, clean and inviting. Additionally, the Maine DOE and MEMA have provided good school safety resources and they along with the Legislature have avoided jumping to quick-fixes in response to school tragedies in other states.
The reports’ authors cautioned that Maine’s low crime rate should not diminish the need to improve security. Instead, Maine schools need to develop more comprehensive school emergency plans and properly conduct regular drills and trainings to support them. Additionally, access controls and visitor screening procedures need improvement, as do some of the state’s older school facilities that don’t meet currently-accepted security standards like having locking room doors and duress buttons.
While upgrading facilities is a recommended next step, the reports conclude it’s important to keep a focus on planning, training and staff readiness. “… No security technology can equal the power of the human brain to spot and react to danger. A proper balance of security technologies and employee empowerment and awareness can dramatically enhance school safety,” reads the Safe Havens report.
The reports also stressed that while events like Sandy Hook and Columbine make headlines and should be learned from, it’s important to focus preparedness efforts on all types of potential hazards, including floods and fires.
Other low or no cost suggestions for schools include:
- Develop a comprehensive and reliable crisis plan
- Involve all school employees in the crisis plan
- Develop functional protocols (who performs what function) for emergencies
- Incorporate planning for students with special needs in plans
- Train all employees in the National Incident Management System
- Develop a family reunification plan
- Develop a multi-discipline threat assessment team at the local level
- Develop a system of visitor badges that are accounted for daily and changed (color and design) yearly
- Improve door locking mechanisms
- Improve emergency diagrams
- Lock all exterior perimeter doors at the start of school and keep them secured when students are in the building
- Ensure central intercom systems can be heard in all school spaces
- Ensure multiple exits are accessible from areas where large amounts of students congregate
- Close off or lock unsupervised spaces
- Create emergency photo tours of buildings
- Clearly number and mark all building exits
- Mark all rooms by numbers or symbols only
The reports also suggested a Maine School Safety Center that would be housed within the Maine DOE as a centralized schools safety resource that could support infrastructure improvements, share materials and provide training. The Department will consider that proposal as well as the fiscal impact of facility modifications and return to the Education Committee later this session with a more detailed proposal.
To review a complete list of recommendations from both reports as well as excerpts, click here. Further updates and additional information about school security will be provided by the Department, which is committed to ensuring safe schools, via future editions of the Commissioner’s Update.