• Active Defender Staff

Threat and Vulnerability Assessment…What the heck is it?

What exactly is a threat and vulnerability assessment? Well it’s looking at where you are and picking out the weaknesses. Where are you vulnerable and what are you vulnerable to? So let’s look at the average American school prior to Columbine. I say prior to Columbine because we need to recognize how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.


Make an assessment

Before Columbine, I could walk right in to any school in my district. I knew some of the janitors, principals, office workers and even some of the teachers. No one stopped me, well, not that often. Sometimes it was just to say hello and maybe inquire where I was going. But no one told me to get out or asked me to produce ID. What? You heard it. Living in a small town has its perks and one of them, is knowing a lot of people. 


After Columbine, I had a child entering the public school system and immediately noticed that the doors were locked, well most and the ladies in the office were now behind glass most of the time. Parents were asked to produce ID, but as I said it’s a small town and everyone pretty much knows or can at least recognize everyone else, especially at a neighborhood school.


That first year of public school was rough. The kindergarten school, a building by itself was much more locked down and secure than the elementary school. No doors were left open during the day, all gym and every outside door was locked about 10 minutes after school started. The inside doors were locked immediately so if your child left their lunch in the car, the only place to go was to the office and they would take your package or lunch and call your child down and give it to them. There was no need to stay.  So, on a quick personal level for threat and vulnerability I found the following:


- I was still able to get inside the school to the office without ID or getting buzzed in for the first 10 minutes of the day.


- Parents or anyone else visiting the school were allowed to park in the parking lot.


- The playground was fenced, but not locked


- There were some days when gym or some other class function was performed on the front lawn of the school. There is no fence there and it is on a busy street.


- Residents, teachers and anyone else visiting a nearby friend or dentist or doctor on that street parked on the street, so there was really no way of telling who’s car belonged to whom. There were just a lot of cars.


- Landscapers and large trucks were abundant as well, not to mention the construction and new homes going up in the general area. This brought a lot of strangers into the area as well, workers that didn’t live in town, didn’t speak English but were always friendly, waving and giving way if someone needed access to the school and their truck was in the way.


All this being said, my imagination worked overtime on the what-if’s. I saw that the school was vulnerable because windows on the first floor opened. Anyone could sneak up but they would have to go through the window from the bottom to get inside as the windows opened out. So that wasn’t a very easy task, but still possible. 


Access to the building was limited an intruder had the first ten minutes of the day to walk inside and at least be in the building. Since the lady in the office generally buzzed everyone in, as long as they didn’t look very threatening, an intruder might just make it into the office which then had access to the rest of the school. This was a big one because even with safeguards in place, in the end they were still relying on human judgment and decision. We all know that as human beings we are inherently flawed.


The parking lot surrounded the school and everyone had access to it. What if some crazy person parked a car with a bomb in it in the parking lot and took off to watch from afar? The school did request license plate numbers from parents, but who’s to say that they wouldn’t just look a strange plat up only to find it was a rental? This problem plagues us at most schools. I have only seen one school where parking was separated and far from the school. 


The playground that was fenced, but not locked was bothersome. It was wooded on one side but the other three sides were wide open. Should someone want to hide in the wooded area and attack children in the playground area, there really wasn’t anything to stop them. Kids spent an average of 40 minutes a day outside the school.


The front lawn exercises were about as safe as the playground with one exception. This was a busy street and there were a lot of speeders because the street was extra wide, stemming from the time of horse and carriage in the area. What if one of those cars went out of control, skimmed across the lawn and hit the children? There were no barriers, a few young trees here and there, but nothing to stop a speeding car. 


That was just the kindergarten and I am but one concerned parent. Imagine if all of us had compared notes what we might have found?


So, I’ve assessed the threats and the vulnerabilities. Now what? Do I send my concerns to the school board, the school itself? Do they clearly see this as the ramblings of a helicopter parent and just disregard it?


In addition to everything I previously mentioned, the classroom doors did lock if necessary. Bathrooms were in each classroom and kids ate lunch in their classroom. Each classroom contained a telephone. As a parent I could call directly to the classroom to check on my child if I needed to or to advise the teacher of an early pick-up, etc. I still had to advise the office and wait there to sign my child out. A word about communication, they used the standard school PA system but for matters where a parent needed to pick up a child early, they called the classroom on the phone.


So as a parent, running my own threat and vulnerability assessment, this is what I came up with. Now, how could it all be fixed or made less vulnerable?


1) Lock the doors immediately, as soon as the bell rings. Allow no one past the front door at this time. Station a greeter at the front door.


2) Allow no one but school staff or visiting staff to park in the school parking lot and hire security to patrol the various school lots in town.


3) Lock the playground. While the playground is still wide open, at least strange people are kept out from the area.  In addition, put some large boulders around the street side of the playground so that there is less access and there is an added layer of protection from speeding cars.


4) Prohibit teachers from using the front lawn during school hours for and purpose. This is a very busy street. Suggest they use the side garden.


5) Place some kind of protection in front of the school along the street side to slow a speeding out of control car and prevent them from careening into the building itself or into a group of children.


6) As for on street parking, the school has no jurisdiction over who can park where. However they need to ask the town to limit parking in front of and on the side of the school. That way anyone that gets too close sticks out like a sore thumb.


7) Open windows on the first floor just can’t be. Close the windows and make use of the air conditioning and heating systems. Or go to the old style school windows that opened at the top, leaving the bottom closed and provided some ventilation. But you should note that this particular school had central heat and air as well as a purification system, so there was no need to open the windows. This was simply a human decision based on their own comfort and need to hear the birds chirp.


8) Communication by phone or PA System are fine if everyone is in the classroom that their phone is in or if they are in the building and can hear the announcement on the PA System. Just remember whatever you announce the bad guys can hear it too! Since the first entry to the building is by the office and these are the people that run the PA system and have a main switchboard in order to ring everyone’s phone, I’m not too confident that if the school were under attack, that anyone would be left in the office to warn others.


Then, there’s the other side of the what-if in this case. How to fix this communication disaster?


In a word, Active-Defender could do it. Active-Defender would give everyone an equal playing field. No matter where they were in or out of the building, as long as they had their cell phone on them, the alert or alarm. They would know what the threat was, where it was and when it started. They could communicate amongst themselves and figure out how to keep safe and how to keep the children in their care safe until the emergency or alert was cleared. They would learn the location of the intruder and be able to hide immediately without leaving the classroom to find out what was going on or without waiting for a phone call.  Instead of possibly running toward the threat because they didn’t know exactly where it was, now they could run in the other direction and find a safe place to hide from an intruder or a way out of the building in case there was a fire or even if they had to decided to stay in place because two kids were fighting in the cafeteria. Now they would know.


In addition, and here’s the big one, First Responders would have the information in real time and be able to make it onsite in moments, saving time and saving lives.


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