Addressing physical and operational hazards in schools

The United States Department of Education, in A Guide to School Vulnerability Assessments, identifies eight categories of hazards and risks that could impact schools.

“It’s important to consider all hazards and threats that could affect your school system when conducting a physical site assessment,” said VRSA Public Safety Specialist Gary Dillon. “From the types of community hazards that surround your facilities, to maintaining inspections of the physical environment and monitoring what types of threats in the natural environment your area may be exposed to.”

Categories to think about include:

  • Biological, including infectious diseases and food contamination issues;
  • Community, including nearby infrastructures such as chemical or nuclear power plants, military instillations, mass transportation hubs, and more.
  • Climate and culture, which can contribute or cause hazards in schools through drug usage/trafficking, hostile environments; or bullying truant actions;
  • Natural, including natural disasters or severe weather such as earthquakes, extreme temperatures, floods, wildfire, and more.
  • Technological issues cover any issues with technology in schools and can include cyber breaches, cyber bullying, power outages, and more. VRSA has resources available for school systems wishing to address cyber bullying.
  • Terrorism threats which may target schools with kidnappings or hostage taking, bomb threats, or bioterrorism or biological warfare threats.
  • Crime and violence, including weapons in school, gang violence, and active shooter scenarios.
  • Physical environment hazards include structural hazards such as weak roofs or trusses, maintenance hazards such as unstable bookshelves or general fire hazards, ground hazards such as inadequate lighting, exposed nails, access to roofs, or more.

VRSA Senior Safety Consultant Fonda Craig recently met with Prince William County Public Schools to learn how they are addressing a physical environment hazard – motorized partitions safety.

In 2018, an eight-year-old child was killed in a Virginia elementary school as a motorized partition was being opened. A new law was enacted after this tragedy preventing any students from being in the room when partitions are being opened or closed, and requiring annual training for anyone operating partitions.

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