Why schools need to wake up to smarter alarm management

Despite guidance first issued in 2015 by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NatCTSO) on the development of dynamic lockdown procedures, and increasing calls from teaching unions and security experts for an official position on the same, there remains no formal policy around incident and alarm management. The result? Individual schools remain responsible for the way in which they might identify and handle so-called ‘fast-moving’ incidents, which in turn means that the safety and security of staff and students is ultimately down to key decision makers’ agendas, budget and awareness of the available solutions.
Moreover, while the NatCTSO guidance defines dynamic lockdown as “the ability to quickly restrict access and egress to a site or building (or part of) through physical measures in response to a threat, either external or internal,” Klaus Allion, MD at ANT Telecom, argues that the first step in the process – that of identifying, confirming and communicating risk – remains a critical missing factor.
Alarm Triggers
Security and safety in schools is a key subject for parents, staff and governing bodies alike, with school officials having a duty of care and legal responsibility to provide a safe environment. And, with the UK’s threat level remaining severe, coupled with the variety of risks that schools face year-round – from an aggrieved parent or student, to an intruder or an incident in the immediate vicinity of the school – it is absolutely essential that careful thought and planning has gone into the security measures in use within the educational establishment.
However, before a dynamic lockdown procedure can be put into action, the risk needs to be both identified, verified and communicated – ideally without causing further escalation. Unfortunately, for many schools, with no official governmental guidance or policy and the prevailing focus on the physical aspects of a lockdown procedure, this first step in the process remains inadequately considered.
Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that the identification of a potential incident and the subsequent call to action, i.e. the triggering of an incident alarm, is largely left up to the action of a single individual. Typically, the first member of staff to spot a potential risk will either attempt to directly confirm whether it is valid, putting themselves in harm’s way in the process. Or, they may go to get support from a colleague, which means leaving the intruder unmonitored and free to continue to roam.
Some schools have brought fire and lockdown procedures into a single, critical incident plan – but again this only starts from the point at which an alarm is triggered. It also immediately makes the intruder aware that an alarm has been activated. So how can schools improve the process by which a critical incident is identified and response time improved, while preventing unnecessary escalation?
One Size Does Not Fit All
There is increasing recognition that what is needed is a multi-stage lockdown process, ranging from an initial, silent ‘level 1’ alarm that makes certain members of staff aware of a potential intruder or incident, through to a full scale alert that sees the emergency services called in and the premises in complete lockdown.
The fact is that current approaches are typically hostage to fortune; if an intruder is spotted, who reacts? And if they do, can they communicate the potential severity without causing panic? Maybe. Maybe not. The fact is that most organisations simply don’t know.
Thankfully, technology can provide an effective and affordable solution. With a combination of pragmatic processes and simple, familiar tools – little more than a simple key-fob or lone-worker device – a line of communication can be opened up by the first member of staff to spot potential risk by hitting a panic button. This process generates a call through their mobile phone or sim-card based device to a manned reception who can listen in to the conversation whilst being immediately poised to call in help and / or initiate the next stage, if needed. Crucially, the time-lapse between a critical incident being identified and action initiated is minimised, while the risk of unnecessary escalation caused by the intruder panicking is also significantly reduced.
In-Classroom Protection
In fact, the technology is so straightforward and cost-effective, that it can readily be given to all members of staff to provide additional levels of in-school protection.
There have been unfortunate incidents where teachers have come under threat, been exposed to violence and even death, as a result of classroom-based incidents. Likewise, violence between students, in the classroom or in the school vicinity, can be raised as a critical incident using these devices, which can trigger additional safeguarding procedures to minimise harm to pupils and staff alike.
There is little doubt that there is a need for improved critical incident processes in many of the UK’s schools. And, despite unofficial guidance on dynamic lockdown procedures, there remains a disconnect between the physical activity of shutting down a school and the initial means of identifying and communicating risk. The good news is that the solution is neither complicated, nor costly – and is available today to provide that ‘level 1’ protection.