Mfonobong Inyang: Simple Safety Strategies Schools Need to Adopt
One of the most important things you can learn and practice in life is emotional intelligence. It helps you not just to become more self-aware but also improves your social awareness levels. Intelligence quotient is measured largely by your ability to read books, emotional intelligence speaks to your ability to read the room. The ‘room’ here is just as literal as it is metaphorical. Insecurity is the biggest elephant in this room and what you cannot afford to do is playing the ostrich.
One of the most vulnerable groups or demography is the children bracket, particularly with the uptick in assaults against educational institutions. You cannot just say, “It’s not my portion” and go back to sleep because things can go south pretty quickly. Therefore, school owners, parents, security agencies and other relevant stakeholders should put all hands on deck to ensure the future, which these children represent is protected at all cost.
Hope is a great thing to have but it’s not a strategy; most of us believe in divine protection and we still put locks on our doors. Nobody says we cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. You need to be proactive and put practical plans in place. The school management, teachers and parents need to sit down in consultation with security eggheads and develop a custom playbook for your school.
On the fly, consider these for starters:
If I found out that the school where my children attend doesn’t have a comprehensive record of all the children in its care, I would pull my precious darlings out of that place immediately. It’s the height of irresponsibility for any school to fail to account for the number of souls placed in its care at any given time. Imagine a crisis situation and different numbers are being thrown around, reducing children lives to statistics. Every school should at any point in time be able to state authoritatively that there are X amount of children registered or present in the school. In the wake of an unfortunate event, simple reconciliation from the books will promptly identify affected persons.
Intelligence operatives will always tell you that one of the approaches to designing a great security plan for any building is to think like an intruder. As a school owner, just sit back and be more introspective, then bring out a sheet of paper and begin asking yourself some questions, rate your responses on a scale of 1 to 10 and find the average score.
For example, how easy is it for the school gate(s) to be breached? Is there formidable fencing around the building? What is the protocol for bringing children into the school and taking them back? Are there IDs, forms to be filled, checkouts or security words/codes to be used? How much tech and human resources are dedicated to security in the school? Emotionally intelligent people ask the right questions.
Where are the security agencies within the radius of your school? Every school owner should have the correct contact details of every security outfit within a sensible radius from school in the event of an emergency. Beyond that, take out time to visit those outposts regularly and familiarize yourself with the leadership there. That is why you see blue chip companies with deep pockets sometimes go as far as donating vehicles and other equipment for those security organizations – it’s relationship management 101.
In the same breath, aside from the first aid kit, there should be a standing arrangement with medical facilities that are in proximity to the school. In the event of an emergency, every second counts. The faster a child can get clinical attention, the better. This is a no brainer.
Are there safe words that the children can be taught for different scenarios? In the fallout of any unfortunate event, who is authorized to hold brief for the school and how is the media going to be addressed? Do you have a mechanism to send bulk SMS/emails to parents in an instant when the need arises? In this age of digital communication and automation, the absence of this basic infrastructure is unforgivable. When an irregular person shows up to pick a child from school, how do you confirm from the parents or caregivers that the change of person is authorised by them?
Find an age-appropriate way of simulating different security scenarios with children in the school. As much as possible, children should know the architectural layout of the school especially for large buildings and campuses. They should know what a fire alarm means, where emergency exits are located, if safe rooms are available and sadly, what to do in a hostage situation, and so on.
Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) should evolve beyond complaining about increases in school fees and planning inter-house sports. There must be a security committee that is assigned the responsibility of regularly briefing the stakeholders of the school community on the status quo. They should be able to assess and advice on what threat level is most appropriate to observe – low, moderate, substantial, severe or critical.
Many successful infiltrations are inside jobs. When it comes to security matters, treat everybody as a suspect – whether a parent or a staff of the school. Always run background checks and report suspicious behaviour no matter how nice a person is. Stop giving out classified information through backdoor or unofficial channels, make it on a need-to-know basis.
In more advanced settings, people are assigned security clearances – even though they may work in an organization, their clearance level determines what documents they can see, which parts of the building they can assess and what decisions they can take. When someone isn’t in a security loop but is always asking too many questions about it, that may be a mole in the making.
Many people sometimes get overwhelmed by dark fantasies, radicalized intentions or depression, if you can identify this at the thought level, you may be able to avoid a disaster. When people start saying things that aren’t with the ambit of acceptable speech, you need to pay attention and possibly report – they might just need medical attention.
Disgruntled people most times have a sadistic way of getting back at others and they don’t mind the carnage that such actions will leave behind. Stop taunting those having mental health challenges as mad people, they need help. Follow them on socials for any odd signs, conduct psychometric tests regularly and provide safe spaces for people to share their grievances.
Also keep your ears and eyes peeled, and follow the news updates in real-time as much as is possible. I learnt from agent Jack Bauer from the ’24’ franchise that the two most important functions of Intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance teams are to gather intel and intercept chatter – that is the proactive approach.
Again, these are just common sense suggestions. As a school management, you need to hire the services of a standard security consulting company or, at the very least, a veteran intelligence officer. God will do His own but you sef must do your own to avoid stories that touch.