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ISC West: Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) unveils new school safety standards

By Steve Bittenbender

A consortium of security industry officials on Thursday unveiled their ideas to standardize school security guidelines and are now looking for school districts to become involved in the process.

In releasing its recommendations during the ISC West conference at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, or PASS, said they will set up a tiered rating system to determine the security needs for the thousands of elementary and secondary schools across the country. The tiered system represents the first set of safety standards for U.S. schools.

“PASS is all about best practices,” said PASS Chairman Brett St. Pierre. “Providing analysis and factual data to help our members make smart and informed decisions about the technology best-suited for each situation is a large part of what we do.”

While active shooter situations at schools have made headlines, PASS representatives said there are other threats that school officials must take into account when determining their safety needs. Those include: custody disputes, gang activity, drug dealing and proximity to local crime. Officials also need to take into account such criteria as their school’s location, size and available resources.

That led to the tiered approach, said Ron Hawkins, a manager of special projects for the Security Industry Association, a PASS member. For example, a small elementary school in a rural area would likely need to follow the guidelines for a Tier I school, while a high school in an urban setting may need to follow the guidelines for a Tier III or Tier IV school.

PASS has developed an assessment tool, based off of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) standards, for school leaders to use to determine the tier that’s most appropriate for their schools.

After assessing a school’s threats, PASS will be able to offer recommendations on community involvement and develop a multi-faceted approach that mitigates risks. The recommendations will be scalable and tiered based on the funding and other resources available.

By having guidelines, PASS members hope they can do for school safety the same thing that universal fire codes have done to provide a safe environment for students.

“No one has died in a fire in a school in 56 years,” said Michele Gay, co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound, a non-profit organization set up after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Gay’s daughter was one of the 26 students, teachers and staff who were killed at the Connecticut school incident in 2012.

While some school systems have expressed interest in taking the assessment, no school has been assessed yet. PASS leaders say they will work closely with school and government officials to ensure that funding is made available for schools that need to make upgrades to secure their campuses.

“We don’t want PASS to become yet another non-funded mandate,” said Scott Lord, director of innovation for All Systems and an alliance member.

One school official who attended the announcement expressed an interest in having his district take the assessment. Larry Klingele is the critical building systems specialist for the Puyallup School District in Washington. Located some 30 miles south of Seattle, near Tacoma, the district educates more than 20,000 students.

Klingele said that current guidelines are very loose and open to interpretation, which means that some districts may spend money on equipment that’s not needed. Having a universal standard will make it easier for schools to be safer.

“It absolutely is a common sense approach,” he said. “If you have codes and have standards in place, then you can point at something and say ‘Thou shall not’ or ‘Thou shall do.’”

Industry leaders first gathered to discuss the issue two years ago because there were no official school security technical standards. In addition, most of the information at that time dealt with emergency management and not taking steps to eliminate or mitigate risks. A group of 25 people came together to form a steering committee, which created the recommendations.

Alliance members stressed that they will be vendor agnostic in their guidelines and would not consider endorsing anything but standards. They also hope to be able to establish guidelines for community college and universities to help them become safer places as well.

PASS has been endorsed by several companies and trade organizations, including: HID Corp., Axis Communications, Cooper Notification, Talk A Phone, Prepared Response, Assa Abloy, ZKT Eco, Allegion, Rauland, Paxton Access, Building Intelligence, Helix Group, iViewSystems, All Systems, SIA and NSCA.

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