How Often Does a School Need to Conduct a School Safety Assessment?
A helpful overview of school safety assessments for schools and parents provided by Joffe Emergency Services. For more information about Joffe and the services they provide, visit their website here.
Injuries at school are inevitable. From trips and falls on the playground to sports-related injuries, most schools deal with bumps and bruises almost daily. But schools also make it a priority to reduce the risk of injuries to protect students and faculty. Things like building and playground faults - the second highest ranked cause of school-related injuries in 2021 - can have significant and sweeping consequences for a school community. That’s why proactively assessing and understanding campus buildings, equipment, and systems is critically important to community safety.
Public schools are required to have a wide range of documentation, equipment, and regular inspections to prove their safety, and while independent schools are not subject to the same requirements, many choose to take similar safety precautions. Regardless of the requirements that govern your school, conducting proactive, regular school safety assessments are an effective way to ensure a campus is as safe as possible, and offer peace of mind to the entire school community.
Here’s what you should know about school safety assessments to get the most out of them.
What is a School Safety Assessment?
In the most basic terms, a school safety assessment is a deep and comprehensive review of your school’s facilities, along with the systems, protocols, and documentation that define your school’s safety strategy and emergency response.
In other words, it’s an opportunity to take a step back (in partnership with a professional safety expert) and ask: “where do we have gaps or vulnerabilities that may impact safety on our campus?” Once these areas have been identified, the expert makes recommendations for ways those gaps can be addressed, and the school charts a course of action to reduce vulnerabilities and further strengthen campus safety.
What is included in a school safety assessment?
Among other things, a school safety assessment will look into your school’s accessibility planning and building, as well as your emergency preparedness and the structural integrity of your campus. More specifically, a comprehensive school safety assessments will most likely include some combination of:
Safety risks related to the neighborhood or area surrounding campus
Physical security at the school site
Parking/entrance setup (including drop-off/pick-up practices)
Communication systems and processes(intercom systems, technologies, outside agency involvement)
Protocols for emergency preparedness (drills, procedures, transportation, supplies)
Visitor and attendance monitoring and tracking practices
In-classroom emergency preparedness and response systems (ventilation, fire equipment, lockdown elements, earthquake readiness, emergency procedures)
An inventory of the school’s safety equipment and accessibility features
A review of the school’s emergency operations plan (EOP)
It is important to note that the framework for safety assessments is not standardized. In fact, each school safety assessment provider will offer a slightly different roster of criteria for their assessments and may use different tools to perform their audits. School Safety Assessments from Joffe Emergency Services, for example, generally take four to six weeks, from start to finish: You can expect a lead time of two to three weeks to schedule a visit and gather documents for review prior to the assessment, the one-day on-site visit for the physical audit/walkthrough, and two to three weeks following the visit to prepare the summary report and debrief results.
How Often Does a School Need to Conduct a School Safety Assessment?
The Education Commission of the States ran a 50-state comparison of requirements for school safety assessments in K-12 schools in 2019. In this study, they found that only 14 out of 50 states had legal requirements in place for regular audits, with schedules ranging from once every three years to annually, though annual audits were the most common requirement for these states. So, while there may not be a specific requirement in most states, the generally accepted recommendation is to conduct a self-assessment every year, and to engage a professional external vendor every 5-7 years or following a significant event, including after a change in leadership (Head of School).
It is preferable to some to hold this assessment prior to the beginning of the academic school year to allow time for documentation updating, training, and physical renovations, though there are no overarching legal requirements for timing.
Some sources recommend holding at least one assessment during operating hours of the school so that student and staff-related action items can be identified more easily by watching interactions and usual procedures. If you choose to do this, be sure that the assessment does not disrupt the usual routine of operations; the goal is, after all, to assess how those operations function from a safety perspective.
It may be wise to hold at least two school self- assessments annually to ensure that you have time to address obvious issues and updates with your school safety plans and that you can spot more inconspicuous daily interaction issues quickly.
How to Conduct a School Safety Assessment
School safety assessments should be done by contacting and contracting a trained and experienced team of school safety professionals.
While you may know your school inside and out - and you may have a strong grasp on school safety best practices - having a fresh set of expert eyes can ensure that your school campus and community are as safe as possible from all perspectives.
Your staff should work closely with the safety assessment team to provide access and insight into your unique situation in order to get the most reliable feedback possible.
School Safety Checklist
To begin the assessment process, it’s wise to work through a school safety assessment checklist. Joffe has provided a template for this which you can use to do a preliminary sweep of your school and your policies to become familiar with the process before a formal assessment.
An important note: this checklist is not intended to replace a professional school safety assessment. It is intended to be a guide that you can use to quickly identify areas of concern for further investigation and attention. Please work with a professional assessment team to thoroughly evaluate your school’s safety situation.
Additionally, The US School Safety official government website offers ten key questions that you can use as a sort of checklist for your school’s safety planning:
Does your school have a dedicated emergency management team on staff?
Does your school climate promote safety in all aspects (physical, mental, emotional, and social)?
Does your school have an established reporting system for concerning behaviors or structures?
Does your school have an established threat assessment system?
Does your school have an emergency operations plan (EOP) for various potential crises?
Does your school regularly complete site assessments for safety, accessibility, and preparedness?
Are the faculty and staff of your school trained in and familiar with your emergency policies and procedures, including their individual roles in such plans?
Are the students of your school trained in and familiar with your emergency policies using developmentally appropriate and trauma-informed procedures?
Does your school regularly perform emergency exercises and drills?
Does your school have an established recovery plan in their EOP with considerations for physical, mental, emotional, academic, and financial recovery post-crisis?
As centers of learning and growth, schools are designed to be places where parents can be assured that their children are safe during the day. By performing routine school safety assessments, staff, students, and parents can all rest assured that this mission is being met and feel more confident in their school’s care.
Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or administrator, you can get involved in your school’s safety environment by asking questions, watching for and immediately reporting issues, and proactively learning about what it takes to keep a school safe.
Thank you to our friends at Joffe Emergency Services for sharing this article for our collection of Parent Resources. Joffe Emergency Services provides security, safety and medical support services to empower schools, event venues and organizers, and organizations to confidently prevent and manage emergencies and save lives.