3 ways to improve student safety on campus

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Providing a safe environment for college and K-12 students is a top priority for campus safety administrators. Student safety is always on the minds of parents and campus safety officers, yet seldom on the mind of the students themselves. So how can those charged with protecting students on campus find relief in an era of increased gun violence and online bullying?

Legal requirements

Let’s start with the K-12 school environment. There are very few laws in place that directly mandate that school districts enhance their safety measures. On the federal level, The Federal Commission on School Safety admits there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every single elementary and high school in the United States. Because of this, the federal government tends to stay away from passing laws regarding school safety.

Instead of legislation, the Commission has issued recommendations that impact student safety nationwide. Grants are also given to schools to help them implement the suggested changes.

States and local governments have a little more control over student safety within their jurisdictions. For instance, all but 7 states require schools to have a safety plan within their policies.

For colleges and universities, federal legislation (such as the Clery Act) has been passed to ensure student safety is a top priority for all federally funded campuses.

The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities to report crime statistics to their students and employees every year, among other things. Penalties for violating Clery Act requirements are harsh, and the legislation is constantly updated.

Mass notification systems are also required in order to comply with the Clery Act. These communication systems can send out targeted alerts to large groups of people through a variety of communication methods at a moment’s notice.

3 ways to improve student safety on campus

Aside from the legal requirements, there are plenty of ways that schools can improve the overall safety of their campus environment. 

1.   Simplify communication workflows

This may seem obvious, but communication tends to get muddy when dealing with school policies and the various parties involved. If you’re a campus administrator, get familiar with your emergency notification platform. This is particularly important for those within the emergency services department and especially those directly responsible for sending out (or approving) messages during emergencies.

A great idea to get started with this is to use your emergency notification system for non-emergencies. You don’t have to send out a notification every day, but the more often you use this system, the more comfortable you’ll be during a critical, time-sensitive event.

One of the great things about these platforms is that you can use them to educate your staff about the platform itself, and also the roles that certain staff members need to assume during critical events. If you haven’t already, set-up groups within the platform that correspond to the specific roles your staff members need to play during a critical event… then preemptively send out notifications to these groups to remind them of their responsibilities.

Also, make sure you have at least a few pre-set alerts! Most emergency notification platforms will let you fill out a message and save it for later, which is crucial for when seconds count. If you send out a lot of test alerts, make sure you clear them out or label them as tests so they don’t blend in with the rest of your pre-set alerts.

2.   Identify and label important locations

There’s likely at least a few people who know how to navigate every square foot of your school’s campus. Make sure that the people in charge of emergency response are a part of that group!

Step one is to learn the general layout and important locations around your school or campus (gas and water line shut-offs, fire extinguishers, AEDs).

Step two is to familiarize yourself with evacuation routes and emergency procedures. Make sure you understand these procedures as they relate to your school or campus environment! It’s one thing to read a bunch of procedures in a document, but another thing entirely to know how they apply spatially in relation to the physical environment.

Step three is to educate others. This coincides with simplifying communication workflows. If you’re tasked with knowing your school’s emergency plans, not everyone needs to know the school like you do, but it’s very important that other key personnel do.

3.   Use a campus safety app

Most campus safety apps are designed to be all-in-one safety beacons for your students, staff and other campus community members. One of the biggest advantages of safety apps in schools is that they consolidate many of the other school safety enhancements into one, easy-to-use app that is available in everyone’s pocket.

When you send out mass notifications to your community, safety apps enhance the ability for your community members to receive the messages quickly due to push notifications. SMS and other alert types can sometimes be delayed, but push notifications are often the first types of communication received by the masses.

Some safety apps also provide easy-access resource centers that are continuously updated and refreshed, eliminating the need for costly paper printouts. All of your emergency procedures and non-emergency resources can be uploaded to the app’s platform, even allowing app users to watch videos and access certain web pages whenever and wherever they happen to be at the time.

Safety apps can also provide tip submission functionality, often with an anonymous option so the students don’t have to identify themselves (most students prefer anonymous tip submission).

Potentially the most important feature that safety apps provide is the ability to contact safety forces instantly with the touch of a button. These panic buttons are essential for emergency situations. Most safety app panic buttons allow configuration ahead of time that will contact custom groups that you create. This gives the panic buttons the ability to contact both local police and school security officers during emergencies.

Safety apps provide a cost-efficient solution relative to other similar school safety solutions, which makes them a popular and attractive solution for school and campus administrators. They’re also fairly quick to get up and running at your school and depending on the app, training your staff can be a simple, pain-free process.

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