Disaster control

25th October 1996 at 01:00
In his report on Dunblane, Lord Cullen urged schools to step up security without becoming fortresses. But how does a school assess what measures it should take? Alastair Buchan suggests starting with a crime risk survey.

Lord Cullen stressed that each school should have its own customised safety strategy. In some, that might mean panic buttons or telephones for staff in outlying buildings, personal alarms for teachers or closed-circuit television. Other measures might be more appropriate, for example, in a small rural school.

A crime risk survey will help each school work out what is best for its particular circumstances. A definition of such a survey is that it is the beginning of an intelligent appreciation of past events in an effort to influence the outcome of future incidents - for the better. The scale of risk is a combination of frequency and loss. A thousand broken windows, a hundred burglaries or a single fire might all have the same total cost. The classic question is whether to use slender resources to guard against small, frequent, recurring losses or the occasional one-off disaster.

There is a danger in blindly applying blanket definitions of risk or accepting unquestioningly claims on the efficiency of security measures. Local conditions must be taken into account. As a rule, trespass is not good news, but the kids playing football in a corner of the field might be deterring a burglar and that corner of the field might be the only off-street play area in the neighbourhood. If they were not playing football, they might be smashing windows. Security lighting can be an effective security measure but it can also create well-lit play areas for vandals.

A checklist is an aide-memoire to areas of potential risk and a reminder of some options which can be used to modify them. There is no such animal as a low-risk school - all are at risk and if no action is taken the risk will grow.

Checklists lean heavily on value judgments, especially when placing losses in rank order. An insurance company may put burglary at the top of their list as the highest financial loss. A school might well be more concerned about bullying which has no obvious cash price.

Managing risk is endless. Your assessment must be updated as controlling one risk affects every other. This may not always be under your control. Crime displacement is a common example - the school next door becomes a fortress and yours the soft option.

A good risk management regime must include a reliable incident reporting procedure backed up by daily, weekly and termly checks. A daily check can be nothing more than confirmation that:u all external doors and windows are secure all internal doors are closed corridors and classrooms are free from litter intruder and fire alarms are set and working properly.

Good management uses the information from regular checks to ensure measures are always in balance with the risk.

For convenience, this survey is divided into four linked sections. Security measures must reflect the risks they are meant to control and will only be effective if they are properly managed.

Risk surveys ought to cover at least one full term and should be updated once a term and after every major incident. Areas which have high losses or where the "NO" box is ticked deserve closer attention.

Alastair Buchan was a founder member of the North East Risk Management Group.


This underlines the value of a simple incident reporting procedure. If you have to fill in the number of incident column with "high", "medium" or "low" then you should consider introducing one.

You might find it useful, particularly with personal safety and substance abuse, to divide costs into "financial" and your best estimate of "non-financial".


This section deals with the area in and around the school. Not all environmental factors are within a school's control but it should be aware of their existence.


Security measures are intended to assist in minimising the risk of crime. They are tools and how they are used is as important as their presence at a school.


This is an often overlooked area, yet without good management there can be no worthwhile security. Reactions to incidents are invariably accompanied by comments to the effect that as soon as the horse is available a statement will be made about the open stable door.

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