ASSE Survey: Schools Unprepared for Coping with Violence

Schools lack effective policies, plans and procedures to respond to acts of violence and terrorism, according to a recent ASSE Foundation survey.

A recent survey of West Virginia schools on violence funded by the American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) Foundation found that schools participating in the study lack effective policies, plans and procedures to respond to acts of school violence and terrorism.

The survey, done by researchers at West Virginia University and titled "Terrorism/Violence in the Schools, How to Cope," was comprised of 25 questions designed to assess whether schools in that state have procedures in place to deal with acts of terrorism and violence and to assess how these school districts developed and approved activities designed to prevent or reduce violence committed on school property.

Responses, taken from selected counties, were analyzed to determine whether faculty, staff and administrators possessed the knowledge and skills to successfully implement preparedness and response plans to address violent incidences that may occur in their schools.

Dr. Daniel E. Della-Giustina, CHCM, professor of safety and environmental management at West Virginia University, led the project. A follow-up study involving schools in all 55 counties in West Virginia is also planned.

After finding that these districts were unprepared, the researchers recommended, among other things, that each school system develop customized guidelines that can be incorporated into a comprehensive plan "that best serves its distinctive needs." Researchers also recommend that schools:

  • Develop a student-run organization such as Students Opposed to School Violence (SOS-V) with an objective to develop knowledge about violence and terrorism in schools and various preventive methods;
  • Create a standardized complaint form to encourage students to submit sensitive information anonymously regarding potential threats to school safety;
  • Work with local authorities and submit scale diagrams of their facilities to local first-responder authorities such as the police and fire departments;
  • Conduct school drills to prepare all for such a crisis; hold biannual assemblies to discuss conflict resolution and how to identify violent behavior; and
  • Improve school security by installing magnetic metal detectors and setting up other ways to keep a "closed campus."

"In light of the increasing amount of deadly shootings that have been occurring in our schools the past few years, we thought this to be an extremely timely and helpful research project for us to fund," said Larry Oldendorf, CSP, ASSE's Research Committee chair and vice chair of the foundation. "Children killing children is, needless to say, an important safety issue that tears away at all of us."

The ASSE Foundation, an arm of the ASSE, awards grants not in excess of $5,000 each on a quarterly basis to projects aimed at advancing accident and illness prevention. Findings of the survey are accessible on ASSE's Web site (www.asse.org) under publications.

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