Managing Risk Beyond Gun Threats
Vol. 5 No. 1
When you hear there have been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, it’s hard to believe that gun violence is declining. However, the statistics are showing that our campuses and communities are safer now than they were two decades ago. While 74 is not a number worthy of a long exhale of relief, news of declining gun violence does allow a certain level of comfort—and it allows us to focus some of our risk management planning regarding other threats that can affect your school beyond gun control.
The Pew Research Center conducted a study that showed 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher today than it was 20 years ago, but gun violence was actually 49% lower in 2010 than it was in 1993.
Threats come in many forms. Bullying, informational security breeches, natural disasters, disease, HR concerns, negligence, sports—threats such as these can actually cause students more harm than shooters. It is your top priority to keep your students as safe as possible. Knowing that risks come from all directions in all forms, having policies and protocols in place for managing these risks can help keep your students and your school (from lawsuits) safe.
We know what you’re thinking—it’s too time consuming to craft and practice protocols and drills for every imaginable situation. It’s a feat in itself to just list all the possible risks, not to mention keeping current with changing laws and lawsuits that constantly make headlines.
Difficult as it may seem, school administrators and child supervisors (faculty and staff) have a responsibility to anticipate potential and foreseeable dangers, and take reasonable precautions to protect children from those dangers. The courts have historically ruled firmly on cases where failure to exercise a reasonable standard of care can be proven.
On education-expert.com, an expert witness litigation consultation site for attorneys, schools, and parents, they list questions to be considered when assessing a school liability for “injury.”
- Did the school have a duty to protect the child in the situation at hand?
- What is the reasonable standard of care under the circumstances, and did the school apply the standard?
- If there was a breach of the standard, was it a significant factor in causing the injury?
- Did the victim or injured party contribute to the injury through his or her own negligence?
- Were there any intervening variables that may have interrupted the proximate cause or causation of the injury?
- Was there substantiated injury?
In contrast to the declining gun violence statistics, reports show the extent of claims against schools for negligence has remained fairly constant over the past two decades. As Education Expert summarizes, the most important element in a school liability claim is establishing the reasonable standard of care and the protocols for applying that standard.
We’ve circled back to your need to have clear policies and protocols in place for managing different types of risks that can impact the lives of your students. Having both a Crisis Communication Plan and established protocols (for both students and your faculty and staff) not only adds a layer of protection in case your school is sued, but also positions your school to be proactive rather than reactive—hence, reducing the impact of risk for everyone on campus.
Creating a Crisis Communication Plan does involve considerable focus; it’s not a task for one person alone. ISM believes the best way to compose this document is to establish a Crisis/Risk Management Team (CRM) that is ideally three subsidiary teams working together to complete the master plan.
If your school is in need of updated risk management policies, a good place to begin is by selecting key employees and/or dedicated parents to be part of a Safety Team, Response Team, and Recovery Team.
The Safety Team starts by assessing physical dangers to which your school is vulnerable such as HVAC maintenance, sign-in/sign-out procedures, bullying training, purchased insurance policies, and playground/campus checks.
The Response Team starts by evaluating potential emergency risks such as intruders, field trip emergencies, assaults, child abuse, and weapons on campus. This team works together to create the Emergency Response Plan section of your master Crisis Communication Plan.
The Recovery Team is responsible for focusing on how to get your school back up and running after a tragic event. This team should consider elements such as managing the media, parent notifications, technology possibilities (online learning in the event the campus is compromised), and protocols for dealing with physiological events, including kidnapping, suicides, and deaths.
These teams alongside you and your School Head, can begin to extend your schools’ risk management focus beyond shooter scenario preparedness and work to make your institution the safest possible.
Download Student Safety—It’s Not All About Weapons, an ISM Webinar recorded on October 8, 2014. This hour-long Webinar presents risk management protocols encompassing a wide variety of concerns.
Additional ISM articles of interest
ISM Monthly Update for Risk Managers Vol. 3 No. 1 Crisis Planning—It’s Your Job
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 6 When (Not If) a Crisis Happens, Will You Be Ready?
ISM Monthly Update for Risk Managers Vol. 3 No. 1 Building a Risk Management Team
Private School News Vol. 12 No. 7 Students Get A Lesson In Safety
ISM Monthly Update for Risk Managers Vol. 4 No. 6 Communicating Emergencies
Additional ISM articles of interest for Gold Consortium members
I&P Vol. 35 No. 12 Does Your Crisis Plan Really Protect Your Students (and School)?