Addressing risks in schools

The current economic climate should prompt all sectors to focus on identifying existing and emerging security threats and re-evaluate their strategies to respond to these risks. Schools are no exception. In a time of budget cuts, it can be difficult to justify spend on seemingly non-essential work; however, as this article argues, investing time and money in assessing security and developing an effective security strategy is not only imperative but can also save money in the longer term.

What risks do schools face?
Readers will be well aware of the array of risks schools face. Suffice to say that traditional security threats to schools typically encompass a range of crime types; for example, burglary, theft, robbery, assaults, and vandalism, and that schools need to build in counter measures for these offences alongside strategies to handle health and safety (e.g. fire procedures, criminal records checking), and tackle ongoing issues such as bullying.

Accurate recording of information on incidents is key to understanding the scale and nature of existing security problems, providing the first step in the problem solving process. This information can be used to inform risk assessments, and then to help form ideas about how to counter future security risks.

Assessing risk

Risk assessment is central to the development of an effective security strategy. Schools face a range of threats and it is imperative that institutions consider how budget cuts could impact on the risk of crime occurring, as well as their ability to effectively deal with the problem. Once threats have been identified, the likelihood of each threat occurring has to be weighed against the scale of the impact.

Our role as security professionals, or stakeholders in the school, is to (a) reduce the likelihood of the risk occurring, and/or (b) reduce the impact if the risk does occur. For example, if the likelihood of a burglary occurring is ‘likely’ and the impact is ‘moderate’, the risk of the incident is scored as 12. If the school buildings are secured with new locks and reinforced doors then burglary may become ‘unlikely.’ Although in this case the impact does not change, the likelihood has fallen – halving the risk score to 6.

The security strategy is a key step in the process by which management’s expectations for security are translated into specific, measurable, and verifiable goals. In the absence of a security strategy specifying and communicating these expectations, staff will implement their own methods.

Managing risk
The risk management process is cyclical, as illustrated in Figure 1.

The risk assessment feeds in at the evaluate risk stage, with the development and implementation of a security strategy feeding into the subsequent two steps. As with all strategies, these need to be reviewed to monitor whether the assets (i.e. what you want to protect) have changed, and whether there are any emerging threats or vulnerabilities. Risk can then be re-evaluated and the security strategy amended accordingly.

Changing times signal an appropriate time to review the risks schools face, to ensure that emerging risks are identified and suitable counter measures put in place. For example, the risk of property crime increases during a recession, and if budget cuts means that this is combined with reduced spending on physical security measures, it is easy to see how schools could face increasing burglary problems. It would therefore be important to consider setting money aside to improve the physical security of vulnerable buildings.

A topical issue related to this is the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme by the current Secretary of State, Michael Gove. In some cases, money to re-build schools would not only have reduced the cost of ongoing maintenance and repairs, but also provided an opportunity to build in security measures such as double glazing and access control systems. Thus, for those schools whose funding has been removed, the opportunities to implement security measures have reduced, perhaps prompting a need to secure funding from elsewhere to ensure the work can still take place.

Investing in training
Security risk assessment can be a complex process, and there is a wide range of support and training on offer which can help schools to implement risk assessments and develop security strategies. Key topics that can be useful include:
• Identification of existing and emerging
• How to measure and record incidents
• How to weigh up likelihood and risk
• What security measures are available and
 how and when to use them
• Developing innovative methods to improve
• How to plan and implement a security
• Targeting spend on security in the most
 effective way
• Communicating the strategy to staff and

Investing in good quality security and risk training provides staff with the key skills needed to identify and respond to risks. This will ensure risks to the school is minimised reducing the likelihood, and potentially the impact, of crime.

For more information
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