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Research Question

  1. How can a local education agency (LEA) implement a school safety plan that appropriately protects students, staff, and the school but does not impede efforts to create a welcoming and inclusive environment that promotes teaching and learning?

School leaders across the United States face the challenge of creating safe and secure environments across their campuses in a way that helps promote the achievement of schools' educational objectives. To help them meet this challenge, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency asked the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center to conduct a review of the literature on physical security in kindergarten-through–12th grade (K–12) schools and other, comparable sectors to improve school leaders' understanding of how system-based security operations and physical elements can protect school occupants and mitigate the impact of threats and risks. In this report, the authors define and present a systems approach to school physical security in which five protection and mitigation elements—security equipment and technology, site and building design, people and personnel, policies and procedures, and training and exercises—integrate and work together to provide layered security benefits. Specifically, the approach to protection and mitigation elaborated here emphasizes that the policies, procedures, and training developed around school physical security tie together people and personnel with equipment, technology, and design choices to build a coherent system. School leaders need to think about how the protection and mitigation options they have in place affect the broader school mission, operations, and climate. Schools with diversity in student bodies, campus locations, and other traits will approach physical security in unique ways that match their unique needs, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to protection and mitigation.

Key Findings

A systems approach requires conceptualizing school physical security as a component of the broader school safety system

  • Such an approach also includes the elements of prevention and response and recovery.
  • Protection and risk mitigation extend beyond the physical security space to affect and interact with important elements of school violence prevention, such as student mental health and school climate, as well as emergency response and recovery efforts.

School physical security is a system consisting of physical security equipment and technology, building and architectural design features, people and personnel, policies and procedures, and associated training and exercise requirements

  • The equipment, technology, and design features that a school has in place to protect its campus are all interrelated within the physical security space and have cost and other implications that LEAs will need to consider.
  • The people and personnel that schools have to provide security, as well as related policies, procedures, and training, ensure that these interconnected technologies, equipment, and site and building design features work in concert and in the service of the larger system.

LEAs will be best placed to achieve security and safety benefits when they take a layered approach to protection and mitigation

  • Measures in place at the campus perimeter, school grounds, building perimeter, and building interior provide incremental protection against threats and help prevent single points of failure.
  • How schools prioritize certain layers over others will depend on their unique contexts, including the surrounding neighborhood, campus and building layout, student population, and geographical location.

Recommendations

  • The policies, procedures, and training developed around school physical security must tie together people and personnel with equipment, technology, and design choices to build a coherent system.
  • School leaders need to think about how the protection and mitigation options they have in place affect the broader school mission, operations, and climate.
  • Schools with diversity in student bodies, campus locations, and other traits will need to approach physical security in unique ways that match their unique needs, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to protection and mitigation.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and conducted within the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.