Long before a new school year begins, student safety and security are top concerns for those responsible for planning student events and activities. Approximately 60 percent of students throughout U.S. public and private high schools participate in some type of after-school activity, such as a student club/organization or interscholastic athletics.
In 2017, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association reported that there are more than 7.5 million high school athletics participants in the United States and an additional 300 million spectators who attend high school events during the year. Collectively, those numbers exceed the annual attendance at collegiate and professional venues.
Changing with society
In the past, training for school personnel in the areas of safety and security planning focused on activities taking place during regular school hours. In an effort to assist today's administrators, faculty and staff, the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi — in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service's National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center (TEEX/NERRTC) — developed an online training course focused on after-school activities and interscholastic athletics events.
"We are living in a society today that is very different than in previous years," says NCS4 director Lou Marciani. "Administrators, teachers, parents and even students are now concerned with the evolving threats presented outside of regular school hours, such as at their games, events and meetings."
The Risk Management for After School Activities and Interscholastic Athletics online course includes interactive learning modules that allow participants to become familiar with safety and security concepts, while also developing an increased awareness and understanding of planning, mitigating and responding to incidents that may occur outside of regular school hours. The online course is composed of seven modules with topics including an introduction to risk management, management and communication framework, risk assessment, planning and mitigation, complexities of event management, professional development, and risk management program resources.
The course represents the first course delivery to support the School Safety Initiative, whose goal is to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to school safety, as well as interscholastic athletics and after-school safety and security programs.
Risk Management for After School Activities and Interscholastic Athletics course participants will include athletic directors, school resource officers, public safety professionals, facility/operations managers, emergency managers/planners, school administrators and school district administrators. Faculty, staff and school club advisors will also benefit from the training. Moreover, while this course was primarily developed to focus on high schools, schools at all levels can find value in the content and should be open to taking the course.
There is no cost and no prerequisites. In fact, no existing knowledge of safety and security concepts is necessary for participants taking the online course. The course is also compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, enabling participants to listen via a screen-reader, tab through course content, and complete alternative activities. Upon successful completion of the course, participants will be awarded a certificate along with continuing education units from TEEX/NERRTC.
Reinforcing and formalizing
Jeffrey Sullivan, director of Systemwide Athletics in Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools, recently completed the online course. "The course is extremely well done and organized," Sullivan says. "The course was especially informative for someone like me — an athletics administrator who is responsible for safety and security after school, but who has not received formal training on the terminology and concepts surrounding risk management and emergency preparedness. The course reinforced and formalized some of the practices that we currently implement in Maryland County Public Schools and helped to identify some areas of growth for us moving forward."
Since 2015, NCS4 has hosted an annual National Interscholastic Athletics and After School Activities Safety and Security Summit where experts from event management, facilities operations, law enforcement, emergency management, fire, emergency medical services, technology firms and public safety agencies gather in an effort to produce a Best Practices Guide for Interscholastic Athletics Safety and Security. This guide forms the backbone of the new online training course and its production is done annually with the intention of keeping those responsible for the safety and security of students, participants and event attendees as informed as possible.
Importantly, the guide — like the new course — is driven by a diverse group of subject matter experts, who are synthesizing evidence gleaned from ongoing research efforts at NCS4. That research aims to solidify current best practices, develop new measures to assist in prevention efforts, and better prepare for potential problems should they arise. Existing best practices are amended when changes are deemed appropriate.
• The next Interscholastic Athletics and After School Safety and Security Summit will take place Feb. 4-6, 2020, in McKinney, Texas.
• In an effort to further promote awareness of the Risk Management for After School Activities and Interscholastic Athletics course, as well as the need for education on safety and security in this area more generally, NCS4 has partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations to cohost the inaugural National Interscholastic Athletics and After School Activities Safety and Security Conference in 2020, which will be held in Indianapolis.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "NCS4 takes risk management training online." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.