On Monday July 9, 2018, I had the honor and privilege of appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee to address School Security Challenges in America. I want to thank Chairman Rep. Daniel M. Donovan and Ranking Member Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. for inviting me to participate in the discussion.
The Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness and Communications field hearing was held at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Newark Campus. I highlighted the efforts Community Education Council 31 has made in advocating for greater security protocols. Our advocacy helped increase emergency drills, training, and grant opportunities for schools and districts throughout New York State.
Community Education Council 31 has been advocating for greater security protocols for several years. In 2012 CEC 31 introduced a proposal — titled Comprehensive School Safety and Security – which included: locking all doors; installing security cameras at main entrances to school buildings; improving School Building Response Team training; overhauling School Public Address systems, and incorporating retired police officers as special patrolmen to supplement school security.
After discussing the proposal with our local, state and federal representatives the plan was introduced in state legislation and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014. The laws authorized the NYS Education Department to provide grant opportunities to schools to improve infrastructure security (ie. Replacing doors, installing cameras and other technology) for school buildings, mandating increased training for school emergency response teams and more frequent security drills. The law also allows school districts to hire retired police officers as School Resource Officers. In addition, in the same time period, DOJ authorized the use of civilian clothes school resource officers, which aligned with the CEC 31 plan. Until then, the federal grant opportunity only applied to uniformed school resource officers.
Some have raised concerns that locking the front door may hinder emergency responders because they may not be able to access the building as quickly as possible. I believe the use of a “Key Fob” pass key or another similar technological access device could be utilized, allowing immediate entry for emergency responders. The FDNY has a similar system where they utilize a “Master Key” for elevator access across the city.
It is important to remember that it is impossible to prevent all incidents, but we must continually try our best to limit the impact if an emergency occurs.
CEC 31 believes there are several other protocols and supplemental supports that can help school communities. Improving communication between agencies would be beneficial. The NYPD and DOE do a tremendous job protecting our schools, but like everything else there is always room for improvement. Having a regional “Fusion Center” model to monitor and track incidents and threats to schools could streamline information sharing to mitigate the possibility of missing an important trend or piece of information.
Additionally, providing training and potential requirements at the federal level for school districts to report incidents of bullying, threats etc. as well as the disposition of all incident investigations could help identify students who may need additional support and/or counseling. Adding additional counselors to our schools would be a proactive step, but as I am sure you are aware that requires funding.
Lastly, after a recent incident at a High School involving a potential threat with a firearm, we held a safety meeting with our elected officials as well as the DOE and NYPD. We spoke about the impact to response caused by parents and caregivers rushing to the school during the initial emergency. During that meeting we discussed incorporating a family staging area for individual school safety plans. This would coincide with an initial family notification that would include a staging area far enough away from the incident that could potentially reduce the hysteria and chaos resulting from social media posts and text messages.
If possible could DHS consider incorporating a parent video and training piece advising parents to wait for a notification and only respond to officially designated staging areas?
Additionally, if the current training doesn’t incorporate a piece recommending school communities establish staging areas to reduce traffic at the incident site, could it be added?
My full written testimony can be viewed here: https://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM12/20180709/108505/HHRG-115-HM12-Wstate-ReillyM-20180709.pdf
The U.S. Department of Justice has $2 Billion dollars in grant opportunities related to improving security for schools and districts across the country. Far too often these funding opportunities are not publicized. During the hearing, my fellow panelists and I asserted the need for the federal and state governments to improve notification to stakeholders about any and all grant opportunities.
COPS – Community Oriented Policing Services
U.S. Department of Justice – Grant opportunities
By Michael Reilly, District 31 Community Education Council President