Preparedness and Polling Places 

The State of Texas recently passed a law (TX HB 332) that requires school districts to implement emergency plans and security measures that address polling places in schools.   Since 2002, SafePlans has provided recommendations to states and school districts regarding polling places in schools and our TX1Plan framework provides the resources needed to rapidly comply with this new law.

TX HB 332 requires the district to address potential polling places in its emergency plan, and local law enforcement to work with the district to determine what security measures are reasonable.     A good first step in this process is envisioning a timeline with an “X” in the middle representing an emergency on election day.  Everything to the right of “X” is the response.  Everything before the “X” is an opportunity to prevent or mitigate the impact of the incident.  The following election day strategies can get you before the “X.”

As leaders look to enhance security, it is important they understand the role of security; which is summarized by the 5 D’s.

  1. Deter criminal actions
  2. Detect intrusions
  3. Deny unwanted entry
  4. Delay intruders
  5. Defend people and property

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

When considering the overarching security plan for any location, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a great place to start.  CPTED has been around since 1970’s and while the term was coined by criminologist C. Ray Jeffery, the principles in practice today are a combination of multidisciplinary efforts.  Some key components of CPTED that related to more secure entrances include:

Natural surveillance

People are less likely to commit crimes if they feel they are being observed.  Natural surveillance involves the designing of features to maximize the visibility of areas that should be observed.

Access control

Limiting and regulating entrances reduces opportunities for crime and allows for more efficient screening of persons entering a facility.

Territoriality

Clear delineation of space creates a sense of ownership for legitimate users (staff and residents) and creates an environment where intruders are more likely to standout.

Security is more than the 5 D’s, and CPTED is much broader than these three basic concepts, but these concepts are a strong foundation for making schools safer; especially on election day.  All-hazards emergency plans is another vital consideration.  While the following target hardening concepts are more geared towards an active shooter type attack, plans for bomb threat and even natural hazards, like severe weather, should also be reviewed before the election.  If at all possible, this review should include election officials.

Six Steps to More Secure School Polling Place

  1. On-Site Law Enforcement.

 CPTED Elements:  Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, and Territoriality

 On July 20th, 2012 a killer opened fire on a crowded theatre during the opening night of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”   If you go to the opening night of any action movie blockbuster, you will now see uniformed law enforcement to serve both as a deterrent, and to provide embedded active shooter response.

During a presidential election, polling places in our schools warrant the same level of attention.  If your school has a law enforcement, make certain they will be on campus the entire day and not assigned to some other location or away at training.  If your school does not have on-site law enforcement, stop reading and start making calls.   Having a marked squad car out front and a uniformed officer on campus is far and away your best target hardening strategy; especially when the polls open.

  1. Separate points of entry.

CPTED Elements:  Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, and Territoriality

 Effective access control requires that entry to and from of a facility be regulated.  Separate points of entry for students and voters allows for such monitoring.  If the polling place is not compartmentalized from school, the point of entry into the school from the polling place must also be monitored.  To the maximum extent possible, the polling place and the school should not share any facilities.  A stranger coming to your school to vote should not be using the same restroom as a student.

For a point of entry to be regulated, no unauthorized person should pass through without drawing the attention of those responsible for the safety of the building.  Persons assigned to monitor points of entry should be trained in emergency response, be provided radios to alert others, and be aware of suspicious activity.

  1. Staff Awareness.

 CPTED Elements:  Natural Surveillance, Territoriality

 Staff must be required to observe and report suspicious activities.   This requires training on Pre Attack INdicators (PAINs).  Staff should understand reporting options beyond calling 911 and know how to implement heightened security procedures and respond to an attack.  This includes election staff.  Make certain they can immediately contact the front office for emergencies or possible danger, like an unattended bag or brief case.

Example Possible Pre-Attack INdicators (PAINs)

  1. Establish and Monitor Visitor Parking

CPTED Elements:  Natural Surveillance, Territoriality

Prior to entering Sandy Hook Elementary School, the killer parked his car in a fire lane near the main entrance.  He wanted to park as close as possible to minimize the distance from his car to the school entrance.  Set up visitor parking in an area that allows for convenient access to the polling place.  Place traffic cones to reinforce no parking in fire lanes.  A person ignoring convenient visitor parking and traffic cones in a fire lane, should immediately increase suspicion.

This will increase compliance and afford opportunity to observe voters and possible intruders in the parking lot – before they gain access to your school.  This early recognition of possible danger will improve response times and provide better options.

Our TX1Plan framework provides security/safety audits to help the district, polling place and local law enforcement comply with TX HB 332.

  1. All Hazards Emergency Plan

Each school/potential polling place should already have an existing all-hazards emergency plan.  While the addition of the polling place can increase the overall risk to the host facility, the emergency plans should already address the hazards exacerbated by the polling place.  These hazards include:

  • Bomb Threat
  • Improvised Explosive Device (IED)
  • Active Shooter-Type Attack
  • Vehicle Based Attack
  • Civil Unrest
  • Student Abduction
  • Interior Hazardous Materials Release

The polling place does not likely increase the risk of fire-related incidents and does not increase environmental threats like severe weather or exterior hazardous materials release.   Our TX1Plan system provides specific guidelines on integrating polling places into emergency plans and complying with HB 332.

  1. Deterrence Media

It is never too late to start a deterrence media campaign that proactively educates students, parents, and community members on measures implemented to improve safety and security.

Deterrence Media is a risk communications strategy that provides factual messages about capabilities and strengths; thus deterring criminal activity and creating a more positive safety climate.  Social media sites and mass notification systems can be effectively used to broadcast these messages in addition to standard press releases.

Sharing general aspects of security enhancements can increase stakeholders’ confidence in safety while possibly discouraging potential attacks.  Do not be afraid to get the word out before the election!

Do Something

Protecting schools can be incredibly difficult and tragically imperfect.  When contemplating the implementation of preparedness and security initiatives, leaders should consider the following decision-making possibilities:

  • Do nothing and hope nothing happens.
  • Do nothing and it does happen.
  • Do something and nothing happens.
  • Do something and it happens

Please contact us to learn more about how TX1Plan meets all your preparedness needs.