In the military we call it the Point of Main Effort. It’s the place on the battlefield where as a leader you put your greatest effort because this is where the outcome will be decided. In public schools, the point of main effort is not a place but a person. It’s a student, a principal, a School Resource Officer, a teacher—a person.
So what does that mean?
Cameras are great because they help to deter and record unwanted behavior, but they’re reactive. Locks are also valuable because they delay entry and channelize visitors into specific spaces, but they’re reactive. To make our schools safer (we can’t make any space completely safe) we must be on the offense—we must be proactive and the only security device that is proactive is people. No mechanical device, regardless of its price tag is as valuable as a person. In fact, I’d trade every mechanical device in any school for one observant and vigilant person willing to be a part of the safety team.
Why do I say this?
1. People Know:
In 75% of the school attacks in America, at least one person (mostly students) has known about the attack but didn’t come forward to warn others. I personally believe its 100%, but let’s just stick with 75%. Now, imagine if these people would have come forward. That means no fewer than thirty school attacks could have been prevented. Imagine that.
We must be proactive and constantly remind each student that they must come forward and tell someone. Go into the classrooms or have your teachers routinely remind the students to come forward if they know of someone who is considering hurting themselves or someone else. Five minutes. Just make sure to tell them who to tell (first adult in the school they see) and when to tell that adult (before they do anything else). It’s that simple.
2. People Sense Danger:
We call it a ‘gut feeling’ and use it to make a lot of everyday decisions, but it’s really a safety mechanism that’s hardwired into our brains. No mechanical device has intuition, but people do. We may not know why we’re afraid, or be able to verbalize our fear, but it’s still very real and should be listened to. Be open, supportive, and talk it out with the person who has had the gut feeling. They have subconsciously or consciously seen something that has triggered an involuntary self preservation response in their body. It doesn’t mean you have to act immediately on every gut feeling, but take it seriously and look for other indicators of danger. Encourage your students, teachers, and staff members to come forward any time they are afraid. In preventing violence we’re looking for pieces of the puzzle–any piece–and the first piece may start with a gut feeling.
3. People Save Lives:
When a tragedy strikes, no mechanical device is capable of providing leadership. Only a person can do this and this is what saves lives, but they must know what to do. We must invest the time it takes to train and prepare our principals, SRO’s, students, teachers, and staff members now so they can save lives in the future. Luck is great and we’ll take it, but skill coupled with luck wins the day every day. Give your people the tools and information they need and they will be successful.
This is not an either/or situation–mechanical security or human security but a big and–mechanical AND human security. But human security must be your priority and where you put your greatest effort and you will win. We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule. Well the same thing goes for safety. 80% people, 20% mechanical and you will be more successful.
Remember, cameras record, locks delay, but people prevent violence and that makes them the prize.
Focus on your people.