Assessing School Safety Issues

Assessing School Safety Risks

by Shawn Bubb, MTSBA/MSGIA Director of Insurance Operations

Assessing the safety risks in our public schools is becoming an increasingly complex process that requires multiple layers of analysis, varying degrees of professional discipline, and, undoubtedly, significant resources beyond those typically found in our member school districts.  Yet despite these attendant challenges, if the process is thoughtful and thorough, it can be as worthwhile as it is successful.

The best place to begin the process is at the state level, where laws guide and require public schools to undertake annual evaluations of the most common type of risks school districts might likely face each year.  This statutory guidance is found in 20-1-401 & 402, which states that districts must inspect stairways, doors, and exits to ensure they are clear and in proper working order.

MSGIA clients can take advantage of our risk managers’ expertise to assist district school boards, administrative teams, and district safety committees when working their way through a district-wide risk assessment process.  And while this is process that is proscriptive in the sense of being checklist-driven, it can nonetheless be customized to your location in the state and to your district’s unique school culture. 

Part two of this process involves a building-safety inspection by our MSGIA risk managers.  This inspection focuses on the facility’s condition while offering advice to help ensure state-law compliance and to help maximize the overall safety of the school for students, staff, and members of the public. 

Step three in the process focuses on school crisis-management plans for those risks identified by your district risk-assessment team that are the most likely/immediate ones for your district to specifically address.  Then, after the crisis plans have been built, the team tests and trains on the plans built with and for your staff and students – of note, this last step replaces the long-standing practice of doing 8 fire drills each school year.  Although you still may be doing the same number of training exercises, you will be doing these in ways and for reasons that better prepare your district to handle different types of events. 

Guided by a multi-layer approach to school safety, district leadership teams need to be thinking about the following risk areas: 

  • Assessment of physical/building security risk (this has multiple layers);
  • Assessment of computer network security risk (this also has multiple layers);
  • Assessment of violent behavioral risks (this is an emerging risk management area involving staff, students, and community members).

Each of the three layers of school safety needs to be addressed in some fashion by the district to create a comprehensive approach to identifying, reducing or removing, and mitigating risks for your district down to an acceptable level.

The MSGIA risk management team works with schools large and small on these issues and can help your district craft a plan that serves you well.  And although we can’t stop every bad event from occurring on every school campus in Montana, we can through a comprehensive risk-management approach help your district reduce the number and severity of those occurring on your school campus.

The MTSBA recently brought in an excellent speaker from the National Schools Association (NSBA) who provided a wide range of updates on national school board initiatives and discussions.  One of the highlighted areas was on school safety issues.  Prompted by that conversation, our risk management team looked deeper into NSBA resources on the topic and would like to highlight these NSBA articles for your school district safety committee review as part of your district’s overall efforts this year to improve school district safety.

First, building off of the great information presented at the MTSBA school law and technology conference, the following NSBA article provides a unique perspective on the critical areas of cyber-liability prevention efforts and the key awareness points for our school districts—

Protecting Personal Information: Managing and Preventing Data Security Breaches:  

In the related area of violence prevention in schools, the following NSBA article addresses the increase in violent acts in schools and how parent engagement/involvement helps minimize disciplinary problems—

Expel, suspend, or prevent: what do data say about “violence things” in school?

A legal perspective from NSBA has very succinctly crafted the critical steps in the development of a comprehensive and effective school violence prevention plan.

Plan for Safety by Shamus P. O’meara

NSBA worked with renowned experts in the United States Secret Service on the insights provided in the next article.  Though more comprehensive in length, this article is very much worth the time to read it, as it speaks directly to behavioral risks analysis when addressing the issue of prevention of violent acts in school safety efforts.  While providing data-driven insights into previous school shootings and perpetrator motivation and behavior, the study includes a multi-step approach to threat-model assessments that helps administrators to enhance school safety.  One of the purposes of the study was to determine commonalities and patterns in the events preceding violent acts and, in so doing, to identify for prevention opportunities in the future.  For these reasons, I think you will find great value in the following articles—

Enhancing School Safety Using A Threat Assessment Model – An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted school violence by the United States Secret Service

Executive Summary link:

Enhancing School Safety Using A Threat Assessment Model – An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted school violence by the United States Secret Service

Full Article link: 

The MSGIA is always looking for ways to further assist our pool members in risk analysis and management.   Last July 1, 2018 our property and liability pool began to offer Active Shooter Coverage for all our members.  While we hope that our members will never need this coverage, it does provide a higher level of coverage and assurance to school board members and school administrative teams should an event ever occur at an MSGIA Property and Liability-member school district.

The MSGIA has again expanded the risk management and coverage options for our members, this time on the workers’ compensation side of the coverage line, by beginning to offer enhanced crisis management and violent-act prevention and detection services through a partner company of MSGIA, Firestorm.    Starting January 1st 2019, the Firestorm services offered through our MSGIA WC pooled program will have three key parts to it:

  • Access to a pre-recorded crisis-management training webinar for your admin team that can be used to help further enhance their decision making skills for all types of crisis situations your district may be faced with in the future;
  • Access to 1 hr of the Firestorm’s outstanding professional Crisis Management team during the onset of a crisis wherein you would benefit from their guidance;
  • Access to Firestorm’s open-source protective social-media monitoring services when needed – this service is designed to identify potentially violent intent likely to be directed toward the district or one of your employees.

I recorded a brief 18 min webinar with the Firestorm president that explains this new service for our members.  The link to this webinar is included below and more information on how to access these great new services will be coming out in early January 2019: 

Your school district safety efforts are very important to us at the MSGIA.  Please give us a call at 1.877.667.7392 to get started on updating your school plans for this year.

Be Well and Be Safe!


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