Few people would argue against the idea that our children are our nation’s most important asset. Simply put, they’re our future. If we want to protect our future, we must protect them. And, to do that, we must secure the places where they thrive – like schools.
In fact, most children in our country are in school for 6-7 hours per day for approximately 180 days per year. That’s more than 1,000 hours each year, not counting before or after school programs and extracurricular activities. With so much of their time spent in school or on school grounds, it’s important to address the real security needs of education, many of which lie in physical infrastructure issues.
Currently, there are approximately 100,000 public K-12 schools in America. On average, the main instructional buildings for these schools are more than 40 years old. The age of those buildings can create an issue in building quality, possibly negatively affecting both students and teachers. (Studies show student achievement is linked to building quality, and facility quality can have a “substantively significant” effect on teacher retention.) If students are in school to learn and teachers are in school to teach, we want them to do that to the greatest of their abilities. They must have safe learning and teaching environments.
What’s more, a lot has happened in 40 years – just hearing the words “Columbine” and “Sandy Hook” spark emotions of sadness and anger in nearly every American. Our schools are soft targets, today, for growing threats that could result in mass casualties. This, alone, creates an obvious need for updates, infrastructure improvements, and awareness campaigns driven by local leaders and public-private partnerships.
At a national level, industry groups are stepping up to offer their expertise in school security. Leading voices like the Security Industry Association’s (SIA) Partner Alliance for Safer Schools and the Allegion-led Secure Schools Alliance (SSA) have started conversations at the state and federal levels that are drumming up support on both sides of the aisle. Recently, on Capitol Hill, the bi-partisan School Safety Caucus was formed, as a result. In addition, states like New Jersey and Indiana are leading in establishing funding mechanisms and minimum security standards, respectively.
At a local level, the County Executives of America (CEA) and the Security Industry Association (SIA) are forming a Building Security Task Force, comprised of board members from each organization, to focus on raising local elected official awareness of strategies to mitigate threats to K-12 school facilities. This would be the first initiative as part of a long-term, broader SIA-CEA education campaign about the security vulnerability of local building facilities under the jurisdiction of county elected officials.
We believe school infrastructure and security concerns are often best addressed at the local level – by those who know the issues as well as the funding intimately. Local decision makers including legislators, school board members, and members of the PTA have the opportunity to lead this conversation in their communities and make a difference by sharing learned best practices with each other across the United States.
Let’s come together to address our nation’s real school security needs and keep our children safe. We encourage you to join us in support of this cause. Investing in school infrastructure is investing in our children.
Mike Griffin is executive director of County Executives of America. Tim Eckersley is Allegion senior vice president and president of the Americas as well as a Board Director of the Security Industry Association.