Auditor General DePasquale Talks School Safety at Senate HearingSays School Safety Audits Filling Gap that Could Help Prevent Tragedy in Pennsylvania
Auditor General DePasquale Talks School Safety at Senate Hearing
Says School Safety Audits Filling Gap that Could Help Prevent Tragedy in Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG (March 13, 2013) – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today told Senate leaders that school safety audits are filling a gap and could help prevent a tragedy.
“As a father, the safety of our schools and our children, teachers and staff is very personal to me,” DePasquale said before a joint hearing of the Senate Education and Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees.
“Our audits fill the gap between the Department of Education collecting data on school related violence and the State Police conducting physical security and vulnerability assessments,” he said. “While each of our agencies has a different role, we share a common goal of ensuring that our schools are safe places where students can concentrate on learning and teachers can focus on teaching.
“It is better to ask the ‘what if’ questions now and work together to develop a comprehensive plan of prevention,” he said, noting that through January, Department of the Auditor General staff conducted 570 initial safe school reviews, including basic on-site security reviews of more than 1,000 school buildings across Pennsylvania.
Safety audits are part of routine school audits conducted of all school districts by the Department of the Auditor General approximately every three years. Auditors review basic physical elements — such as locked doors and windows and controlled points of entry and exit — as well as other items including the district's emergency plan, emergency responder involvement, bullying policies, visitation policies, and appropriate Internet filters.
The three major areas consistently identified for needing improvement during initial school safety audits are: planning, training and physical security. Among the most common findings are incomplete, underdeveloped and untested crisis plans or emergency response procedures.
“Our audits are making a difference,” DePasquale said. “For the most part, on follow-up reviews, the schools have implemented our recommendations. Still, we are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and help provide even greater safety for school students, teachers and staff.”
Editor’s Note: Attached is a list of the Top 10 Safety Recommendations and text of Auditor General DePasquale’s testimony.
Top 10 Safety Recommendations
Department of the Auditor General School Safety Audits
- Ensure crisis plans and emergency response procedures are up to date and include clearly defined roles and duties during an emergency, and procedures for accountability of all individuals at the time of an emergency.
- Incorporate individual school building emergency plans and procedures into district-wide plan.
- Include procedures for parents to follow in emergency plan.
- Conduct a survey of stakeholders regarding perceived school safety and climate.
- Provide annual emergency preparedness training for all school staff — including cafeteria staff, custodial staff, and bus drivers — regarding their role in supporting the crisis plan and emergency procedures.
- Conduct functional exercises such as table top exercises or practice drills with first responders to test implementation of emergency plans and procedures.
- Label exterior doors on the outside to assist emergency responders.
- Secure all areas of school when not in use.
- Install communication systems to reach outside classes such as gym and band.
- Install alarm systems on exterior doors.
Submitted Testimony of
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness and Education Committees
School Safety and Emergency Planning
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to discuss the role of the Department of Auditor General in assessing the safety of Pennsylvania public schools.
I commend the Senate for holding hearings on this issue. Unfortunately, there are times when tragedy – such as what happened in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut – prompts us to take a closer look at our own backyard and to do everything in our power to prevent such a horrible incident from happening here in Pennsylvania. It is better that we ask the “what if” questions now and work together to develop a comprehensive plan of prevention.
The Department of Auditor General is pleased to be an integral part of the effort to protect our children and the schools they attend. We join with the Department of Education and the Pennsylvania State Police in continuing to seek ways to improve school security. While each of our agencies have different roles, we share a common goal of ensuring that our schools are safe places where students can concentrate on learning and teachers can focus on teaching.
The Department of Education requires schools to collect, and report annually, data on school related incidents of violence.
The Pennsylvania State Police conduct physical security risk and vulnerability assessments free of charge for school districts, upon request. The State Police's review provides an in-depth analysis of a district's physical threats, including aerial photographs, etc. Due to the detailed nature of its review, the State Police limits the review to only one school building within a district. It is then the district's responsibility to apply the findings and recommendations to the other school buildings within a district. Additionally, the State Police’s review is limited because it has only one or two officers dedicated to conducting the school risk assessments; the result is a long waiting list for schools.
The Department of Auditor General is part of the safety equation because we conduct a safety review as part of our routine school audit. Our safety reviews cover basic physical elements — such as locked doors and windows and controlled points of entry and egress — as well as a review of other items ranging from the district's emergency plan, emergency responder involvement, bullying policies, visitation policies, and appropriate Internet filters.
Through January of this year, auditors conducted 570 initial safe school reviews, including basic on-site security reviews of more than 1,000 school buildings across Pennsylvania. Additionally, nearly 400 follow-up school safety reviews were conducted.
There are three major areas of concern that were consistently identified for needing improvement during our initial school safety audits: planning, training and physical security. Among the most common findings are incomplete, underdeveloped and untested crisis plans or emergency response procedures. Examples include the lack of communication with parents about relevant emergency procedures; and failure to dictate clearly defined roles and duties during an emergency, including a media spokesperson.
We also frequently found a lack of annual training for all school staff — including cafeteria staff, custodial staff, and bus drivers — regarding their role in supporting the crisis plan and emergency procedures. Specifically, we often found failure to conduct table-top exercises or practice drills with first-responders to test implementation of emergency plans and procedures.
In the area of physical security of schools, we have encountered exterior doors not labeled on the outside to assist emergency responders, and unlocked unassigned lockers, storage areas, cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums and vocational shops. In addition, our auditors have reported the lack of a communication system between a school’s main office and outside classes such as physical education and band, and a lack of exterior door alarms.
Our auditors take school safety very seriously, so we don’t just audit and run. We conduct follow-up safe school reviews to determine what action, if any, is taken by the district. Follow-ups also include a review of any newly implemented safety measures. And, for the most part, the schools have implemented our recommendations. Our audits are making a difference.Return to search results