Author: Dr. David Mussington, Executive Assistant Director for Infrastructure Security
The start of a new school year is an important time for parents, teachers, faculty, and the millions of primary and secondary school students in the United States. As the kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) academic community kicks off the school year, it’s also a time to prepare for potential threats and risks that may arise. All students have a right to access to a safe school environment and maintaining the safety and security of our nation’s schools is a top priority for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
School safety encompasses a range of measures, systems, and strategies schools should implement to be prepared for the diverse and oftentimes evolving threats and risks they may face. In addition to the physical security of buildings and campuses, schools should remain vigilant against the threat of potential targeted violence attacks and malicious cybercriminals seeking to exploit systems or obtain valuable information.
As part of CISA’s mission to manage and reduce risk to our cyber and physical infrastructure, we offer K-12 schools and districts resources, tools, and community-wide stakeholder events to help bolster and strengthen their security postures and build resiliency against a range of threats and hazards, both now and in the future.
Physical Security and Targeted Violence
Today’s threats to school communities can include potential acts of targeted violence and exploitation and disruption of physical systems in and around campus. According to a 2021 study from the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, perpetrators of acts of school violence often choose dates around the start or end of school breaks. This heightened environment is an important reminder for schools to remain vigilant and enact impactful and comprehensive security programs and plans.
CISA recently developed the third edition of the K-12 School Security Guide Suite, a set of products to support K-12 schools and communities in their efforts to strengthen security and protect against targeted violence and other threats. The guide and accompanying web-based tool provide schools with a comprehensive doctrine and methodology to assess vulnerabilities, plan for emergencies, and implement layered elements of security. In addition, CISA offers active shooter preparedness trainings and resources consisting of instructor-led webinars and workshops, online training, and best practices documents that focus on behavioral indicators, emergency action plan creation, actions to reduce consequences, and how to safely recover from an incident.
There have also been numerous bomb threats against schools this year. School leaders can learn more about how we can help communities prevent bomb attacks and handle bomb threats, and access a variety of bomb threat resources which can help schools prepare for different scenarios. Additionally, this video provides tips and resources that can support schools in making informed risk management decisions to protect faculty and students.
In addition to physical security threats, the risk of cyberattacks from malicious cyber actors is ever present in today’s digital world. Every organization in the U.S. – including K-12 schools – is at risk from cyber threats that can disrupt essential services and potentially impact safety.
To combat these threats, CISA offers resources, services, and tools to educate personnel and students on smart online practices and help schools reduce their exposure to cyber risks. These efforts include a dedicated campaign around the importance of multi-factor authentication, which is a combination of two or more security measures to verify identity, and resources to tackle ransomware. School communities can also access CISA’s free cybersecurity services and tools, and check out the Cyber Safety Series for actionable tips on some of the most common online safety issues.
Educating the entire school community on potential cyber threats and online safety risks – and taking proactive steps at the start of the year and beyond – can make the digital world a safer place for everyone at school. CISA was proud to join with the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology at the outset of 2022 for the Digital Forum on Digital Ecosystems for Student Security, Safety, and Well-Being. Through the Digital Forum, we engaged with the education sector, school safety stakeholders, civil society, and technology companies for panel discussions on topics such as online safety, improving digital literacy and critical thinking skills, and cybersecurity resources to build resilience.
Recognizing that school safety extends beyond CISA, we also work in collaboration with our federal partners to advance a whole-of-government approach to the issue. As part of this, we helped launch and support SchoolSafety.gov, a comprehensive, one-stop-shop for school safety resources and information. This website houses actionable recommendations, tools, programs, and guidance on a range of school safety topics, including targeted violence, emergency planning, mental health, and bullying and cyberbullying.
SchoolSafety.gov also includes helpful tools for the school community to assess, develop, and strengthen their school safety plans, and features to sort through and locate federal school safety-related grants and funding opportunities. In support of National Back to School Month, SchoolSafety.gov recently created a special infographic that outlines key school safety topics and tips for a safe return to the classroom.
School Safety Campaigns and Events
To bring greater awareness to CISA’s school safety mission and resources – and to reach parents, educators, and school leaders across the country – we recently launched a nationwide advertising campaign. Running in alignment with back-to-school season, the campaign includes both a public service announcement and array of online advertisements highlighting our key resources and the work we do in the realm of school safety.
CISA is also proud to host the inaugural National Summit on K-12 School Safety and Security this coming November as part of our continued efforts to build partnerships with the K-12 community and provide access to the latest school safety resources and solutions. The Summit is a virtual, three-day event that will convene school safety experts, practitioners, and leaders from across the country to discuss current threats and explore research-informed strategies for addressing risks in K-12 schools. All members of the K-12 community are encouraged to attend and can register now for this exciting and important event.
CISA Support Year-Round
Keeping our students and teachers safe doesn’t end after the first day of school; it’s a year-round endeavor that requires deliberate, conscientious, and collaborative attention. CISA stands ready to support the school community with resources, best practices, and information to help make schools more secure throughout the year. In addition to the resources above, we provide complimentary assessments of safety and security plans and protocols for any school. We encourage school officials and administrators to reach out to their CISA regional representative today to learn more about how we can help.