By Lisa Durel
It has never been more important to ensure the safety of educational facilities, their students, and staff from dangers that lurk just outside the campus. In fact, there’s been an ever-growing concern about the dangers that manage to make it inside the school walls without detection.
On-campus safety has typically been managed by reactive protective measures, and while they can be effective, they only solve a threat after it’s already been planned, or in unfortunate cases, already been actioned.
Proactive measures, however, led by digital tools that seek out risk data on the Web, can help mitigate or even avoid damaging events before they occur.
The Current State of Affairs
For many years, the challenge of maintaining school and campus safety was reactionary; if an incident occurs, administrators, local law enforcement officers, and others work to resolve the issue. This system is still in place in public and private schools of all levels across the nation.
For some events, though small and largely unimpactful, this system may work. But for large, impactful, and exceedingly dangerous events, reactionary systems fail to protect students and teachers.
Some will argue that physical measures are enough. Video surveillance, door barricades, even security turnstiles at the entrances of buildings are being installed in school buildings to protect those within them. And while those measures may give off the appearance of modern protection, they continue to fall behind.
According to research by Education Week, 2022 “had the most school shootings over the past five years,” and these perpetrators are not stopping because they see a camera in the corner or have to walk through a turnstile. Reactionary measures are no longer capable of keeping schools safe.
While the importance of the measures taken to mitigate physical threats cannot be overstated, they don’t protect from the whole of the threat landscape. There’s a growing threat landscape that continues to be overlooked and under-monitored – the online world.
If we want to protect our students, institutions and school districts from danger, our security measures need to protect them from the dangers that are being uttered and planned for online.
Digital Protections for Resilience
Schools that want to be truly resilient need to think about more than their reactionary physical security measures and begin to explore and invest in solutions that protect their students, teachers and administrators in person, and online.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have thrust remote learning into the spotlight, the truth is that parents and students have been spending more and more of their time on the Internet.
Gone are the days of a household with a single Internet-accessible device, and whether it’s cell phones in their pockets, laptops on their desks, or video game consoles at home, being connected to the Internet for work or pleasure has become the norm.
A 2021 study by Common Sense Media found that “on average, 8- to 12-year-olds use about five and a half hours of screen media per day (5:33), while 13- to 18-year-olds use about eight and a half hours of screen media (8:39).”
To understand the full picture of what happens when students and teachers come to school each day, educational facilities need to know what happens when their community turns on their screens. While the Internet is a vital tool for learning, it can also be a dangerous place when left unchecked.
Bullying and threats are no longer purely verbal, nor are they easy to spot on the playground; they’re found online in comments, videos, and messages between those often not old enough to understand the damage they cause.
This is not to propose a ban on Internet-accessible devices, but a pitch to consider what’s in the realm of possible for how we monitor where people are spending their time online, including social media networks, forums, and even the dark web.
Growing Into Resilience
To be truly resilient, schools and their districts need to seek out ways to enhance their once-reactive safety measures to proactive, preventative solutions that seek to find and halt incidents before they happen.
One of the best ways to do this is by using an open-source intelligence tool that finds and leverages data scraping and data aggregation to get a full picture of what is being said and shared online.
With that knowledge, not only do you build digital resilience to protect your communities, but you can help to prevent physical incidents before they occur by finding the planning or the discussions of events online before they happen.
An open-source intelligence tool is simply a tool that looks through all public-facing data that’s online, be it on the general open web or on the dark web. These tools have all sorts of use cases, from serious concerns like extremism and violence being spoken about on social media, to concerns of damaging statements or employee misconduct that impact your school or district’s brand reputation and safety of students.
Users can set certain key terms, phrases or even topics in these tools, and it will monitor these items online. Comprehensive tools do this monitoring alongside a notification process, so when something does appear, pre-defined users or admins can receive an email or text notification alerting them of the find.
Keeping students and facilities safe requires a comprehensive approach, one that considers everywhere threats could be lurking.
With digital tools that proactively protect your students and facilities from risks that begin online, and the existing reactionary measures already found at schools today, educators and districts can feel confident that they have developed truly resilient, future-proof protection systems.
For 17 years, Lisa Durel, Education Solutions at Everbridge, has been helping education leaders protect their most valuable assets, their people. Everbridge empowers enterprises and government organizations to anticipate, mitigate, respond to, and recover stronger from critical events, www.everbridge.com.