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Leveraging PASS K12 guidelines in schools for enhanced security

6 minutes read
written by: James Marcella
James Marcella
Leveraging PASS K12 guidelines in schools for enhanced security

Providing a safe learning environment in schools has become increasingly important over the past two decades. This period has seen a rise in school safety concerns, particularly in the United States, with high-profile cases of school shootings including the Columbine and Sandy Hook tragedies leaving a marked impact.

Safe and Sound Schools, an organization established after the Sandy Hook shooting, developed a framework designed to provide a comprehensive and actionable approach to creating safe school environments. The Framework for Comprehensive School Safety Planning is structured around six key pillars, ensuring a holistic strategy that addresses various potential risks and challenges. The pillars include:

  1. Mental and behavioral health
  2. Health and wellness
  3. Physical environment and school culture
  4. Climate & community
  5. Operations & emergency management
  6. Leadership, law & policy

It is important to note that schools must address all aspects of the framework to safeguard their facilities and that each school is unique. This article focuses on one of these pillars: the physical environment. It provides an overview of how the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) K12 guideline helps schools make smarter decisions about the physical security elements of protecting students, faculty, and staff.

Improving the security of schools with PASS

Founded in 2014, PASS was established to provide comprehensive guidelines and best practices for improving the safety and security of K-12 schools across the United States, but the guidelines have been used worldwide. Through collaboration with school administrators, public safety officials, security professionals, students, parents, and other stakeholders, PASS aims to educate decision-makers on how to improve their school's security posture. 

The PASS K12 guideline aims to address two fundamental questions:

  • What should we do?
    This focuses on identifying the specific actions, policies, and processes that schools should implement based on a risk assessment of that school. It encompasses the development of comprehensive safety plans, the establishment of emergency protocols, and the adoption of best practices in school security.
  • How do we do it?
    This addresses the practical aspects of implementing the actions identified in the first question. It includes guidance on the deployment of physical security measures, the integration of technology, and training. It also provides a collaborative approach that includes all stakeholders, such as law enforcement, school personnel, students, and the community. 

By answering these questions, administrators can develop a clear and actionable plan to enhance the safety and security of their schools.

Breaking down the guidelines

The PASS K12 guideline is written to be understood by a wide variety of stakeholders. You don’t need to be a security professional to gain insights and value. It is broken down into three clearly defined areas: ‘Layers’, ‘Components’, and ‘Best Practices’.

  • Layers

Most of those involved in education understand that the layers consist of the following: ‘District Wide’, ‘Property Perimeter’, ‘Parking Lot Perimeter’, ‘Building Perimeter’, and ‘Classroom Interior Perimeter’. 

There will be aspects of a comprehensive security plan that will be implemented across the school district, but individual buildings might have different implementations at the other Layers based on the circumstances of individual schools. An example here would be the property perimeter in a suburban school versus one in a city.

  • Components

Seven different components are identified by the guideline that are applied to each of the Layers.  Components are considered actionable and include the following:

  1. Policies and procedures
  2. People (roles and training)
  3. Architectural
  4. Communications
  5. Access control 
  6. Video surveillance
  7. Detection and alarms 

Components are not as universally understood as Layers, since most refer to specific security technology with which some stakeholders might not have experience. Each is defined in the guideline in a way that is easily understood and applied directly to the school environment to provide context. 

  • Best practices

Best Practices are used for each Component, further clarifying and answering the questions posed earlier: What should we do, and how should we do it? 

An example of a best practice for the ‘Communication’ component would be to have a public address system that could provide announcements to all common areas and classrooms throughout the school. Hundreds of best practices are identified across the seven layers, and each has a narrative explaining what they are and why they are important for schools to consider.

Best practices for video surveillance in schools

There are several foundational best practices for deploying video surveillance in schools. The image below is taken directly from the guideline and shows the district-wide layer for the video surveillance Component, and the Best practices identified. You will also see a tiered continuum that defines increasing capability from Tier One to Tier Four. 

Tier One is foundational and should be applied to most, if not all, schools based on the risk assessment. Tier Four might only apply to some school districts based on need and budget. 

  1. Tier One

Every school should have a documented ‘Use and retention policy’ for video surveillance that defines how long video is stored and who has access to it. That, along with the incorporation of video surveillance into emergency response plans and Law Enforcement involvement or action, are considered Tier One best practices.

  1. Tier Two

As we move into Tier Two, we see ‘Camera standardization’, which helps with lifecycle maintenance and uptime of systems. Not every district needs to do this or has the budget available to do this, so it is a Tier Two best practice. 

However, an important point to note here is that some districts have many different camera models across different manufacturers from one school to the next. Often, these schools have distinct software recording platforms, which can result in a staff training issue or event software compatibility problem between schools. Standardizing this surveillance technology can help address this. 

  1. Tier Three

Ideally, a district will have one recording solution to be trained on and can access each school in a unified manner. This is an even more costly proposition, and can be considered non-essential, so it sits under Tier Three. 

  1. Tier Four

Finally, we arrive at Tier Four, which is defined as having a ‘Security operations center’ that is staffed 24x7 with trained security professionals who have access to video from all schools as well as a host of other components (technologies) that are used to address security and safety incidents as they happen proactively. 

Creating a safe learning environment is critical to properly educating our children and requires a holistic approach across multiple disciplines. The Safe and Sound Framework identifies those disciplines, with physical security being one that the PASS K12 guideline addresses. There is no one correct answer that solves the dilemmas that schools face today but both of these organizations can help. 


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James Marcella

With over 25 years of experience at Axis Communications, I oversee industry relations for North American operations, including ASIS International and SIA. I am a Community Vice President for three ASIS communities. I also serve as the Chair of the Video and Vision Subcommittee at SIA and recently appointed Chair of The Monitoring Association’s Government Relations Committee. As a member of IAPP, I am pursuing their AI Governance certification.

James Marcella
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