Are Your After-School Events Safe Places?

You’ve done an impressive job of putting safety practices in place during the school day. After the school day starts, visitor access is limited to a single door, and all visitors must be buzzed in and check in at the front desk. You’ve been using a visitor management system that verifies people haven’t been banned by your district or aren’t on sex offender registries. An off-duty police officer walks the halls and verifies that all exterior doors are closed and locked several times throughout the day.

 Then the final bell sounds and the students and staff leave. But that doesn’t mean your building is empty. In the late afternoon and into the evening, clubs are meeting and teachers are tutoring students who are struggling to catch up. The basketball team is running layup drills in the gym, while the band director is leading one more practice before Thursday night’s concert. The evening custodians are preparing the building for the next day.

So where are your safeguards? How many people are in the school? Are you sure they all belong there? Are you sure they’re all going to leave when it’s time to go? What parts of the building are they able to access? Could a pair of students with non-educational activities in mind find a hiding place? Could someone with evil intent hide a weapon in a locker?

 The same questions could apply to churches and other organizations. The flaw in many security plans is that they’re designed solely for the facility’s primary use -- during class time, around worship services, or in the business day. Those are the busiest times of day, so they get the lion’s share of attention and protection.

But most schools, churches, and organizations see activity outside of normal hours, often with relaxed access controls. The basketball players drift in through the locker room door. The custodians prop open the door near the dumpster so they can sneak a smoke break. While the Bible study facilitator is enlightening his group, his preteen kids are running amok in the hallways. Add in after-hours events, from athletic contests, to choral concerts, to Scout meetings.

 The simple fact is that if your safety plan fails to address the other times of day, it’s inadequate. Your safety plan needs to incorporate all times in which people are in your facilities, whether that involves visitors or employees. The concern behind that approach isn’t only that someone who intends to do harm to others can access your facilities. Allowing people to roam your buildings unsupervised could create a liability issue if they were to injure themselves. In addition, what would happen if there were a fire or severe weather? Would occupants know what to do? Would first responders know where to check?

 First, take some time to do some planning. Focus on how your facilities are used and occupied during “off” hours. Look at activities and event schedules so you have a clear understanding of what’s happening and who is involved. Second, determine how people get in and out of the building after hours. Ideally, access and egress should be limited to a single entrance. Third, look for ways you can block off access to other parts of the building, such as by installing security gates. Fourth, consider how you can provide supervision of activities. If you’re expecting a big crowd for a band concert or a volleyball tournament, you may want to have security staff on hand. At the very list, administrators should be at the front doors to monitor who is entering. For activities such as after-school practices, make sure coaches know they are responsible for supervising the entire team while they’re in the building.

 Finally conduct spot checks of your facilities after hours. See if the activities match what’s supposed to be happening. Make sure the occupants belong, and that they aren’t in places where you don’t want them. Walk through empty hallways and look for unlocked rooms. Conducting such checks will not only reassure about the safety of your facilities, but they’ll also give you ideas for additional steps you can take to ensure everyone’s safety.