Not long after Williamson County schoolchildren started their academic year in Tennessee, a dozen or so nontraditional students—all experienced law enforcement officials—were also going back to school.
But this class had a different agenda. These students were participating in a training seminar on ways to keep young people safe—safe from weather emergencies; safe from fire; and safe from the remote chance that violence could erupt on campus. They’re our kids. They’re our responsibility. And it’s not just our duty to protect them—it’s our right to protect them. –Wayne LaPierre, NRA Executive Vice President
The four-day practicum, taught by an array of security experts, was the first official National School Shield (NSS) security assessor training class, one facet of the NSS program set up by the National Rifle Association in the aftermath of the December 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School as one way to keep our children more secure.
“The training program was received with overwhelming success … with law enforcement officers identifying critical vulnerabilities in the school’s security posture,” said John Quattrone, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a security adviser who has been involved in the initiative since its inception. “Additionally, law enforcement officers were able to provide significant qualitative mitigation measures to enhance the school’s security environment.”
From Theoretical To Practical
The course covered all the bases, from teaching participants the fundamentals of school security assessments to conducting a live assessment at a local K-12 school. During their walk-through at the school, participants talk to teachers, students and school employees, and they visually inspect the building, all under the guiding eye of security experts who coach them about what to ask and how best to verify information that someone gives them about a potential vulnerability.
“I felt the design of the course and the practical exercise was helpful in creating a consistent method of assessing schools. It provided great detail in the ways to organize an assessment that also included how to construct and present feedback to the school,” said Michael Fletcher, safety and security director for Williamson County Schools and one of the trainees.
That Williamson County—which encompasses the bucolic horse country south of Nashville—hosted the first assessor training course was no accident. The county has been proactive in stepping up school security ever since Sandy Hook.
“We’ve really grown our SRO (school resource officer) program since then,” said Capt. Alan Laney of the county sheriff’s office, adding that the county reassigned an additional 32 officers to various schools, “and Sheriff Jeff Long gave the SRO program a new focus on security.” There is nothing more critical to our nation’s well-being than our children’s safety, and the National School Shield is our commitment to that effort.
Before, each school and its SRO were responsible for their individual schools; now, the county is trying for uniformity across the board in terms of school security. And having NSS security experts come in to teach gives them an outsider’s view of the situation, Laney said.
The payoff can come pretty soon after the training program, too. Already, the Tennessee folks are preparing to send their newly trained assessors out in force to rate schools. Since all of them are on the same page in terms of approach, that will allow for a consistent end product, Fletcher said.
Maximizing Local Resources
The assessor training program is designed to empower localities to play a more active role in better protecting their children. While outside consultants can be hired to assess a school district, Laney said his county’s experience showed that such companies provide generalized overviews of the whole school system. With hands-on assessments done by people with a greater local interest, teams can focus more on individual campuses.
Additionally, by providing communities direct access to trained assessors, NSS is able to help schools maximize already strained security budgets.
“A lot of the schools do not have the resources. They can go out and get a private firm to do what we are offering to do for them but the assessment alone can cost anywhere from 10 to 20 thousand dollars—and to a lot of schools, that is a lot of money. We are doing that for them for practically nothing,” said David Keene, past president of the NRA and chairman of the NSS Advisory Council.
Parameters Of The Program
One aspect of the training program is that the students learn how to make a persuasive argument to get what they need. “We might know the basics,” Laney said, “but now we are learning how to fight for the improvements.”
The agenda for the inaugural assessor training course earned praise.
“They now have the ability to conduct an unbiased fact-finding assessment,” Quattrone said. “Many of the students commented afterward that, while they were familiar with much of the course material itself, the class gave them ... a keener ability to spot vulnerabilities and recommend appropriately scaled security enhancements.” "The training not only reminded me of things I had previously learned, but it gave me new resources that I can employ in assessments of any school facility,” said Cpl. Michael Johnson of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
“Attending the National School Shield training gave me a new skill which I can use to help my community protect our children. By learning how to spot vulnerabilities, I can help all stakeholders in the safety of our children do our best to protect them. The training not only reminded me of things I had previously learned, but it gave me new resources that I can employ in assessments of any school facility,” said Cpl. Michael Johnson of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, a participant in the training.
After the students performed their walk-through at the host school, they went back to the classroom and learned how to create an effective presentation that identified strengths and potential vulnerabilities based on industry best practices. Sometimes that can be as simple as having a school maintenance worker fix a door that won’t shut and lock easily or having landscapers trim trees so field of vision from inside the building is not obstructed; other times, mitigating the potential vulnerabilities requires more funding—which can be a challenge for cash-strapped districts.
That’s another area where the National School Shield program can help, thanks to a grant program designed to support schools that want to make security improvements.
“While the assessment is a cornerstone of the National School Shield program, the grant component is an equally important piece of the puzzle,” said Sheila Brantley, NSS program director. “For schools that have identified areas in need of improvement but face a lack of available resources to address security needs, NSS grants fulfilled by The NRA Foundation serve as a vital resource.
“That is what I believe makes the National School Shield program so attractive—by providing tools and resources designed to help schools identify potential security vulnerabilities, as well as the funding to implement necessary security improvements, the program helps remove the barriers to information and/or funding that have previously slowed progress in making our schools more secure. There is nothing more critical to our nation’s well-being than our children’s safety, and the National School Shield is our commitment to that effort.”
To learn more about how NSS protects schools, or to download a brochure, click here.