PASS Guidelines Provide Advice on Safely Securing K–12 Schools

PASS Guidelines Provide Advice on Safely Securing K–12 Schools

As security professionals, we have an immense responsibility to protect people, places, and things across many different sectors. This responsibility feels especially crucial in K–12 schools. Fortifying them against emerging threats while still maintaining a nurturing learning environment is complex, challenging, and ever-evolving.

There are many effective approaches and technological solutions available today that can help overcome these challenges. Assessing which ones are the best fit for a school requires due diligence by a cross-functional security planning team of key stakeholders. That’s why districts are taking a more holistic approach to security planning, with greater coordination among people, departments, and technology partners. Many are also benefiting from the vast experience and insights that the education, public safety, and security communities have to offer.

How PASS Came to Pass
An inspiring way the industry has come together to support this common mission is through the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). Brand-agnostic, PASS provides a wealth of authoritative information about how to make effective use of proven K–12 security practices and technologies, as well as how to make more informed spending and training decisions.

Catalyzed by the tragedy of Sandy Hook, PASS was established in 2014 by the security profession to address the education community’s concern about how to better secure schools. Spearheaded by the National Systems Contractors Association and the Security Industry Association, the goal was to form a partnership among stakeholders who volunteer their time and expertise to help ensure school systems invest in the right security solutions, regardless of brand.

Within a year of its inception, the alliance released the first edition of the PASS Safety and Security Guidelines for K–12 Schools, developed by subject matter experts from education, public safety, and the security industry. As the sixth edition nears completion, these easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement “guidelines” continue to provide the most comprehensive information available on best practices and technology categories for securing school facilities.

The fifth edition, released in late 2020, built further upon the guidelines’ foundation with a focus on best practices for architectural elements and the use of communications systems for enhancing emergency response capabilities. Just over 100 pages, it also included a section on enhanced technologies piloted by schools, such as vape detection and passive weapons screening technology.

Updates are made as conditions and events unfold, solutions emerge, and policies and procedures are enacted. PASS also publishes an ongoing flow of high-value articles, white papers, and school security news on its website.

To illustrate just how valuable PASS has become, its content and information have been shared with agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, the School Safety Task Force, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. PASS has developed strong relationships with these agencies, and the guidelines have been recognized by policymakers and subject matter experts at both the state and federal levels.

What the PASS Guidelines Include
The guidelines cover topics ranging from risk assessment and strategies for formulating a comprehensive plan (including how to best assemble a security planning team) to safety and security components, technological solutions, and much more. To get the complete picture of all the PASS Guidelines have to offer, you’ll want to visit the PASS website. But here are highlights of the critical information they provide:

  • Specific actions that can effectively raise the baseline of security
  • Vetted security practices specific to K–12 environments
  • Objective, reliable information on available safety and security technology
  • Assessment of current security measures against nationwide best practices
  • Multiple options for addressing security needs identified, based on available resources
  • How to distinguish needed and effective solutions from sales pitches on unnecessary products

While technologies are an important component within the guidelines—and a force multiplier for K–12 security—people are the force. “We need to think about how we’re empowering people in our schools to respond to different emergencies,” said Guy Grace, Chair of the Advisory Board for PASS and former Director of Security and Emergency Planning for Littleton Public Schools. “Whether it’s a student, teacher, or custodian, they’re often the first to pick up on potential trouble and alert others. They just need to be empowered to take appropriate action.”

That’s why it’s critical to engage all stakeholders during the rollout of new security technologies to ensure end users understand the rationale and are equipped and allowed to use them effectively. Grace should know, having been on scene as the command coordinator during the active shooter event at Arapahoe High School in 2013.

Grace cites how he and his team had the presence of mind to use the full capabilities of their video management system’s motion detection and heat mapping features. Normally inactive during school hours, his team activated the sensors to locate those sheltering in place so rescuers could find and comfort them after the danger was over. That feature would have also allowed the security team to track any other perpetrators on the premises if that had been the case.

This is just one example of the insight and experience that PASS experts offer schools as part of the effort to create better learning environments where students and teachers feel comfortable, safe, and confident enough to truly thrive. Grace added, “Robust school security also goes a long way in retaining talented educators.”

In addition, PASS Guidelines help school districts make their case for grants to fund security improvements. The guidelines and related publications and presentations also provide a valuable resource for reassuring parents and communities about school district preparedness and the advanced security measures being considered, implemented, and enforced.

What’s Current
Before touching on some of the changes slated for the upcoming sixth edition, let’s look at the Essential Concepts in the PASS Guidelines. As you explore them online, you’ll see they center around physical security and life safety. They address the organizational structure of school districts through layers to form a holistic view of security. Note that the Guidelines’ recommendations are limited to related policies, procedures, equipment, and technology. The Guidelines do not address every risk and every situation, and they do not include product-specific, provider-specific, or brand-specific recommendations.

PASS Guidelines use four fundamental concepts to help schools evaluate and prioritize their approaches to safety and security:

  • Layers: the five physical layers shown in the image [Layers of Protection image]
  • Components: protective elements within each layer
  • Best Practices: recommended safety & security measures within components
  • Tiers: each best practice is ranked on a tiered continuum from 1 to 4; the higher the tier number, the higher level of increased protection

Each successive layer provides specific safety and security components to deter, detect, or delay adversarial behaviors in the event a layer is bypassed or breached. They focus on the following elements:

  • Policies and Procedures
  • People (roles and training)
  • Communication
  • Architectural
  • Access Control
  • Video Surveillance
  • Detection and Alarms
  • Transportation
  • Cybersecurity
  • Network Infrastructure
  • Visitor Management

Grace emphasized, “All of us are dealing with all the layers of protection on any given day. There aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions. Each district will address its perimeters in different ways, depending on its budget, perceived risks, and a range of other factors.”

What’s Coming
Here’s what Grace says to expect in the soon-to-be-released 6th Edition of the PASS Safety and Security Guidelines for K–12 Schools:

- A streamlined, more easily digestible format
- More specific guidance for securing schools properly
- More toolkits and training resources
- Consolidated messaging elevating the baseline for school security with updates to tiering:

  • Tiers 1 & 2 will provide a better balance between security and budgeting for retrofit applications
  • Tier 1 will state that, at a bare minimum, classroom doors must have appropriate locking hardware where the exterior lever can be locked with a key from either side of the door while maintaining free egress; lock status indicators also recommended
  • Tier 2 will now introduce access control
  • Tiers 3 & 4 will feature solutions that are more of an ideal state for new school construction and major remodels

- More information on enhanced solutions in cybersecurity
- Greater emphasis on implementing open architecture solutions versus proprietary to ease adoption of evolving physical and cybersecurity advancements and avoid obsolescence
- Why security should be viewed as a life safety measure, just as fire codes are

As a passionate PASS Partner, ASSA ABLOY and its Academy will be conducting training throughout the country to help educate school districts on the new PASS Guidelines soon after they’re released.

Grace added that PASS will continue to provide training to vendor organizations. “If you’re a PASS Partner, there will be different training scenarios available, conducted by PASS volunteers who can come to your company to provide in-person training on the various levels, tiers, and parameters. These sessions are also an opportunity to discuss what could be on the horizon.”

In the meantime, be sure to check out all that PASS currently offers, not only with its free Guidelines and Checklist, but also through the plethora of PASS white papers and other rich content that are available for free on its website. Along with its success as a prolific resource, it’s impressive how well PASS has continued to sustain itself on such impassioned volunteerism and support from its partners. Pass it on!

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.


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