Can You Answer These Five Questions About Your Child’s School Safety Plan?

School safety | Austin Texas | Spencer Coursen | Coursen Security Group

When parents ask the right questions, schools get safer. Today’s parents are no longer satisfied with being told that “everything is being done” to keep their children safe at school. They want to know exactly what their school is doing.

These are the top five school safety questions every parent should ask — and every school should be able to answer:

1. When was the last safety and security assessment conducted? Who conducted it? What were the findings? What enhancements were recommended? What actions were taken? When is the next assessment scheduled?

School safety requirements are mandated at the state level, but local school boards still have a lot of discretion in how those directives get implemented. Virginia, for example, requires schools to have a security audit conducted every year, but not all states adhere to these same standards. Furthermore, not all states place the same emphasis on the safety of their students. Some schools choose to have their audits focus on property-related concerns like computer theft and vandalism rather than student safety.

2. Who is the administrator responsible for handling the school’s threat assessment and management program?

The Secret Service urges every school in the United States to establish “Threat Management Teams” to assess threats. They have published an operational guide to help. It offers guidance on spotting suspicious behavior and figuring out when and how to intervene. In almost every incident of school violence, warning signs were present. but too often, concerns “slip through the cracks” because too few people had too few pieces of important information.

Ask about the methodology for how concerns are assessed and managed? Is there a central processor of all concerns? Are reports written on paper and filed away or are they recorded electronically for follow-up later? Can concerns be reported anonymously? Can parents report concerns? What is the social media and bullying policy? Ask how you can help.

3. What is the school’s access control policy for visitors and student re-admittance once classes are in session? How is this policy enforced?

In most cases, schools have a very well-written policy for granting entry into the school once classes are in session. In reality, those who are responsible for putting that policy into practice are often inundated with other responsibilities. The result is buzzer pressed = access granted. This means, for example, the “gate-keepers” may confirm the legitimacy of a visiting parent, but may miss the ill-intended intruder “tailgating” behind them. One of the biggest risks facing many schools is the wide divide between policy and practice — between what they say is being done and the reality of what is accepted as the everyday practice.

4. What are the determining factors for when to evacuate and when to shelter-in-place? Who is the decision maker?

The difference between when to evacuate and when to shelter in place is pretty cut and dry. As general rule, if the threat is external to the school (high winds, falling trees, severe storms) you stay inside and shelter-in-place where it is safe. Conversely, if the threat is internal to the school, (fire, gas leak, active shooter) the best practice is to evacuate in order to put as much time and distance from the threat as possible.

5. What nearby safe-havens are in close proximity (running distance) to the school where your child could go in the event of an emergency evacuation? What is the school’s “family reunification” plan?

“Safe Havens” are places which offer safety, support, and protection. Restaurants are great. They have food, water, bathrooms, and landlines for making phone calls. When in doubt: Run to a restaurant. (Hint: Restaurants are great for family reunification too.)

Most schools are designed as a series of interconnected and compartmentalized areas that offer their own pockets of protection in the form of dispersion and separation. Evacuation locations negate this protection by having everyone move from their respectively disjointed areas to a single, pre-designated position. If someone really wanted to do the most harm, the evacuation point would offer the greatest “likelihood of success” because most evacuation points are outside of the secure perimeter and are easily researched on social media.


The physical and emotional safety a student feels at school directly impacts academic performance. Students deserve a safe environment in which to live, learn and grow. When everyone participates in the protection plan, schools get safer — and that’s a small price to pay for the liberties, and the freedoms, which flow so freely from peace.


Coursen Security Group is a premier threat management consulting firm providing protective strategies to corporations, organizations, schools, public figures and private families.


The Problem With Yesterday’s Emergency Alert In NYC

Spencer Coursen discusses NYC Emergency Alert with Refinery29
In the past, your phone has likely emitted a hideously blaring, horn-like sound to indicate you were receiving a flash-flood warning from the national emergency alert system or an Amber Alert for an abducted child — emergencies everyone should be alerted to. Yesterday, phones in New York City rang with that same sound, but with an unfamiliar, alarming message about the suspect wanted for Saturday’s bombing.
According to The New York Times, this alert — a digital wanted poster of sorts — was the first of its kind. The alert was part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which, the Department of Homeland Security says, “are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.”

These kinds of alerts require the support of your smartphone’s operating system and your carrier. All iOS phones have built-in support, but you can choose to turn the alerts on or off simply by going to your Settings and scrolling down to the bottom of the Notifications tab.

The only notifications that can’t be turned off are presidential alerts. According to CNN, yesterday’s alert went out to everyone, including those who didn’t have notifications turned on. But was it a real emergency? Should, what The New York Times has termed a “wanted” alert, be issued to phones at all?

Some took to Twitter saying that the message ignited unnecessary panic. Others noted that the inclusion of the suspect’s name — but not his photo — introduced racial profiling and put anyone of a similar ethnic background in danger. Both are fair points.

Emergency alert said “see media for photo,” but what they MEANT was “see Facebook for unfounded panic” & “see Twitter for knee-jerk racism.”

Shoutout to my fellow brown persons who originally planned on taking the subway to the airport today with luggage

And of course, there won’t be any “stop feeling like a hero for glaring at brown men” alert now that the guy is caught.

But it’s also worth noting that smartphones are far and away the primary source of how we communicate today. Local news viewership has dropped substantially (when was the last time you turned on the 7 a.m. broadcast?) and texting is the 21st century word of mouth. So, how else will people know about a pressing issue of national security?

Nevertheless, there is a “cry wolf” risk involved. “When used sparingly — when there is a clear and present threat to the life of a known victim — they help engage the public into a ‘heads up’ or ‘see something, say something’ mindset,” says security consultant Spencer Coursen. “What we don’t want is for them to become the everyday car alarm blaring from a random city street, heard but discarded, or just one more push notification that is seen but too easily deemed irrelevant.”

Coursen believes that ultimately, we’ll see more options around turning on and off certain kinds of alerts, especially as the Wireless Emergency Alerts system broadens the types of alerts it pushes to our phones.

Yesterday’s alert ignited a call to action that worked — the suspect was apprehended. But it could have been handled better. In issues that concern national and international security, push notifications are a reasonable and necessary way to ensure citizens are informed. But those notifications need to follow parameters to ensure that they are not sent too early in an investigation — or too often — and should make an effort to include a photo, in addition to text. Otherwise, these calls to action could elevate situations to even more dangerous proportions and, scariest of all, create a culture of fear.

Read more by Madeline Buxton <here>  and follow her on Twitter @MadelineBuxton
Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

“No Problem Sneaking Past Security”

Harmless breaches and successful stunts serve as a planning guides for those who intend serious harm. The jacket-wearing stadium staffer is an antiquated approach to a modern-day concern. Their colored jackets are a psychological barrier. Nothing more. It’s window dressing. Security “theater.” This recent breach should serve as a warning cry to the complacency stadiums put toward safety. The chance of something happening? A statistically low percentage. Like driving your car. The accident isn’t likely. But when it happens , you know your seatbelt works. Stadium security is still buckling-up after the crash.


Remember this: Taken as a whole, event staff is largely undertrained, underpaid, and lack any social accountability. There is almost no incentive for them to do their job particularly well. Why? Because they have a built in excuse: “I’m a $10/hr staffer. What do I know?” The result is a very diluted focus on safety. Rather than rising to the level of your expectation, they falter to the standard of their training. This means they’re more likely to watch the event than the crowd while they stand around and simply wait for something to happen.

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

Staying Safe on the Trail of Pikachu

Spencer Coursen discusses safety tips for privacy and safety while playing pokemon go

If you are among the millions of users who have already downloaded the Pokemon GO application, stop what you’re doing right now and download the new update which is available now in the App Store. In addition to fixing a few programming bugs, the update changes the scope of the application from allowing administrators to view everything you do on Google and will now protect your privacy by limiting access to just your User ID and email address.

For those not in the know, Pokémon GO is a gaming application that fuses augmented reality with real life interaction by placing virtual creatures and items in real-world locations. This means game play has brought people to places they don’t normally go.

There have been a few mishaps along the way:

A Wyoming woman found a dead body. The Holocaust Museum has had to ask people to leave, and police are warning the public to be aware that muggers can “add a beacon to a Pokéstop to lure more players.

Security expert Spencer Coursen offers safety tips to help users protect their privacy and stay safe while playing Pokemon GO

Any game that takes you from inside the safety of your home and into the realities of the outside world is going to require the user to employ a higher level of situational awareness. Pokemon GO warns users right when they start to: “Be aware of your surroundings,” but the University of Maryland has already had 3 students robbed while being unaware of their surroundings during gameplay and a 28-year-old man crashed his car into a tree after being distracted by the game.

After all, while you’re tracking down Picachu in his world, it’s important to remember that you’re actually playing in ours. Here’s a few tips to keep you safe on the trail:

  • Be careful when crossing streets, using public transportation, driving, riding a bike, or walking down the street. Keep your head up and your eyes open;
  • Do not go onto private property, dark alleys, or remote areas you would not typically go if you weren’t playing the game;
  • Identify safe havens in nearby areas…those places where you know you can go for help if you feel unsafe;
  • Respect private businesses; museums, and memorials;
  • Consider playing in groups so you can look out for each other.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

Ease Your Fears With Practical Awareness

Spencer Coursen Safe Haven

You’re marching in a peaceful protest when you suddenly hear shots & screams.

What do you do? Where do you go?

Police Shootings Protests Dallas
Protesters march during a Black Live Matter rally in downtown Dallas on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Multiple media outlets report that shots were fired later Thursday during the protest over two recent fatal police shootings of black men. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Learn to ease your fears by empowering yourself with awareness.

A safe haven is anywhere you can go to be protected, so take a few minutes every day — wherever you are — to identify the nearest safe place.

For most of us, the best Safe Haven will be our homes…but what about those times when home is too far away?

When moments matter most, you want to have a plan, you want to know where to go, and know how to get there.

The same things goes for your children.

No one fears that which they know well which means children are at their best when they are empowered to overcome to overcome their fears. Instead of burdening children with “what if” fears, empower them with “If this” solutions.

The following are three simple solutions for parents looking to empower their children with a positive personal safety strategy.

Traveling somewhere new? When in doubt: “Run to a Restaurant.”

Restaurants make great safe havens!

  • They are easy to describe
  • They are easy to identify
  • They can accommodate large groups of people
  • They will have food, water, and bathrooms
  • They are staffed by locals who know the area
  • And they will have hard lined phone an internet so you can still let your loved ones know you’re ok even if the cell towers go down

Make identifying safe havens a regular part of your family emergency plan so that everyone knows where to go and everyone knows where to be found if your family should get separated.

Identifying Safe Havens is a lot like wearing your seatbelt; most of the time you won’t need it — but in those unexpected times you do — you’ll certainly be glad you did.


Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert | Washington, DC

Should police screening require Harvard’s IAT?

I’ve fielded a lot of calls today about the recent police shootings.

You’ll be hearing a lot about Harvard’s ‪#‎ImplicitAssociationTest‬ in the next few days. I first learned about it reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s book ‪#‎Blink‬ (a must read.) The IAT measures racial prejudices that we cannot consciously control.

It’s the test every police officer should be required to take as part of the selection process. Regrettably, too few do.

Race IAT

Read this to learn more:

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

British politician Jo Cox dies after being attacked at public meeting

British politician Jo Cox dies after being attacked at public meeting

“Cox was attacked outside the Birstall library after holding a regular public meeting with constituents, said Robert Light, a Conservative councilor from nearby Birkenshaw.” via CNN

British politician Jo Cox dies after being attacked at public meeting

While most executives, politicians, and public figures are able to go about their daily lives without a protective detail following their every move, their lives do become become inherently more complicated whenever they agree to a planned public appearance.

Regardless of circumstance or scenario, whenever the general public has a reasonable expectation of a time and place public figure can be found, protective considerations should always be employed as preventative measure.

It is important to understand why these events have an increased level of risk. Unlike an off-the-record, or impromptu appearance (think President Obama making a pit-stop at Shake Shack) where the likelihood of an attack would be considered “Low” — events that are publicized in advance give a would-be-attacker critical information like dates and location, and most concerning, time to plan.

The chances of something happening? A statistically low percentage. But if it happens…it’s 100%

For the violent offender, the single most significant factor in targeting an individual for attack is likelihood of success. Without a high-likelihood of success, a would-be-attacker will transfer their efforts to someone who is more exposed and easier to approach. Eliminating those small windows of exposure when approachability is most likely to occur by unknown and un-vetted persons is of critical importance.

Securing transportation, leaving airports, checking into hotels, arriving/departing events, and partaking in public engagements all present variables of uncertainty that can be drastically minimized with effective planning and logistical coordination.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety

Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

Security experts discuss the shooting on UCLA campus

Spencer Coursen discuss the shooting on UCLA campus

“We can no longer afford to live in a world where we simply hope that nothing will happen, and then solely rely on the first responders to save us once something does.” ~Spencer Coursen, President Coursen Security Group


Spencer Coursen discuss the shooting on UCLA campus


Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.


5 Myths About PickPockets

Security Expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 common myths about pickpockets

Many travelers are concerned about identity theft, worried about a thief using an RFID reader to get their passport info or watching an ATM to steal a pin code. But what about pickpocketing, one of the world’s oldest crimes? It may not merit headlines, but it’s still a threat to tourists in many parts of the world. The old-school “lift” approach can be as devastating to a traveler as the new-school “tech” approach. Here’s a look at five myths about pickpockets.

1. I only travel to countries where pickpocketing isn’t an issue

Those countries don’t exist.

“Pickpocketing is one of the most widespread crimes in the world,” says Spencer Coursen, founder of the Coursen Security Group. “Anywhere goods and services are exchanged for currency is an area of pickpocketing appeal.”

Preparation for theft is a good idea regardless of where you’re heading. That starts with making photocopies of key documents, such as passports, vouchers, rail passes and even prescriptions, making sure to leave a copy with someone at home. Having a couple of extra passport pictures is also a good idea in case your passport needs to be replaced. You might also want to think about your choice of wardrobe.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that when you think about traveling somewhere, there will also be someone who thinks they can take advantage of your visit,” confirms  Adam Rapp, founder and designer of  Clothing Arts, which makes pickpocket-proof pants and other travel clothing designed to foil common thieves.

2. I’d feel it if someone stuck his hand in my pocket or bag and tried to remove my wallet

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel anything.

“It is a practiced profession, and like any sleight-of-hand demonstration, employs distraction, misdirection and even compassion to enable success,” Coursen says.

Coursen adds that “a skilled practitioner will use their environment to their advantage. Subway cars, busy crosswalks and crowded elevators are all normal ‘bump’ environments where we willingly participate with an expectation of normal crowd dynamics. In this environment, it’s very unlikely you would think twice about someone pressing up against your purse or pocket. “

Rapp agrees that pickpockets are very hard to spot and that the theft is almost always discovered too late. There’s every chance that the pickpocket is far more skilled at theft than you are at observation.

“Working pickpockets, the key word being ‘working,’ train to be very good at stealing from you and doing so without you noticing,” Rapp says. “They’ve done it to many before you and will continue to do so long after they’ve taken your wallet. Thinking that you’ll be sure to catch them trying to steal from you is like saying that you can predict when it will hail.”

Rapp’s product was inspired during a trip to Xian, China, in 2007, a much-touristed city “where theft is a major problem and where signs says ‘Beware of Pick-Pockets’ everywhere.” Walking in a tunnel beneath the giant Drumtower, a major tourist destination, “my companion felt a tug on her backpack. She turned around and spooked the team of pickpockets who were going for both of us at the same time. They disappeared into the crowded mass of people behind us. This is when I looked down at the wide open pockets of my chinos.” So he decided to create a product that puts “security right into the pockets of my travel pants.”

Security Expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 common myths about pickpockets
Security Expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 common myths about pickpockets

3. I always keep my money and passport in an inside pocket

Inside pockets of jackets and front pockets of jeans are all commonly thought of as more difficult to access. But to a trained pickpocket, that won’t make much of a difference. If they target you, it’s more than likely that they’ll get at your valuables.

“Pickpockets know exactly what you keep where,” says Coursen. “A good pickpocket will ‘mark’ their target in order to determine the likelihood of success. Many pickpockets will surveil retail shops, hotel lobbies, and popular areas of attraction to identify targets of opportunity. “

What are they looking for? Coursen says that ideal targets “are not local, alone, paying in cash or have recently visited an ATM, displaying an inherent vulnerability such as talking on the phone, wearing headphones, or carrying items in their arms.”

Old-fashioned money belts can be useful, says Rapp, since accessing them is difficult for both you and the pickpocket. They can be unwieldy, but offer a level of protection against pickpockets you can’t get with standard pockets.

4. I always avoid crowds, so there’s not much of a chance that I’ll get pickpocketed

While crowds certainly offer a pickpocket a better chance at anonymity, pickpockets don’t limit their activity to crowds alone, Coursen notes. “Pickpockets often work in teams and will orchestrate a scenario to engage their mark. A common scenario may employ a ‘pick and roll,’ a ‘sandwich,’ or a ‘stall,’ where the target will be forced to stop suddenly and then be accidentally ‘bumped’ from behind by the ‘lift.’”

5. When I visit a new city, I avoid bad neighborhoods

“Avoiding a neighborhood is not exactly going to prevent a good or bad experience from happening,” Rapp says. “Pickpockets will go where the tourists go. Planning your visit and being aware of your surroundings is the best way to not look like a tourist, plus make the most of your visit. “

Many of us know our home neighborhoods very well, Coursen points out, but it’s not so easy to be so certain of unfamiliar environments. Street signs don’t say “Bad Neighborhood Ahead.”

“In most cases, it’s an individual’s own actions that make them a target,” Coursen observes. “Like lions in the wild, predators don’t target the strongest among us, they target the weakest. Being aware of one’s own environment is important. But acting with a positive protective posture is more so:  Awareness + Preparation = Safety.”

This article by Everett Potter originally appeared in USA Today:

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

Protect Your Data…And Your Privacy

Spencer Coursen | Security Expert | Protect Your Data and Your Privacy | Coursen Security Group | Surveillance camera peering into laptop computer

“The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home,” says Spencer Coursen, President of Coursen Security Group based in Austin, Texas. “So long as valuable data remains unsecured or poorly protected, there will always be those who are willing to take advantage of inherent weakness for personal gain. Protect yourself accordingly.”

security expert spencer coursen discusses privacy and protection of information
“The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home,” says Spencer Coursen, President of Coursen Security Group based in Austin, Texas. “Protect yourself accordingly.”

Steve Burgess recalls a friend who had just returned from a long trip to India. Six months in a monastery, and he had yet to link back to the hustle of an airport. Turning his back for a moment, he found his tote bag pinched.

“Total wipe out,” says Burgess, a computer forensics specialist who owns his own firm, Burgess Forensics, in Santa Maria, California. “Macbook, iPad, lots of cash … passport, ID etc, credit cards, hundreds of hours in work, hard drives (including backups), variety of tech instruments and devices, India iPhone, personal items and gifts.”

Cash, passport—even gifts are painful to lose. But they’re replaceable. Data? If not backed up, that’s gone for good. Think baby pictures, personal writing, even family histories carefully recorded and stored. Not surprisingly that many experts suggest you keep a second copy of important details and documents.

“Fires and flood, there’s so many things that can happen,” says Matthew Harvey, Communications Manager for IDrive, Inc, an online back up service located in Calabasas, California. To protect your digital Harvey suggests “a two-tier hybrid back up approach…back it up locally onto an external drive, and in the cloud.”

Good news for consumers? Recent price wars in the cloud storage industry have driven the average cost of a year’s storage in the cloud down to $59.95. For that price IDrive backs up every device in a subscriber’s home. Boston-based Carbonite, for the same amount, provides unlimited backup, according to its site. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo also have services that allow consumers to protect and encrypt their email and data off-site in the cloud.

Lock your data down

Once you have a backup system in place, consider encryption to protect your data from hackers. Many laptops, for example, come with automatic full-disk encryption so that if someone steals the laptop, they can’t get to your data. However, that can be inconvenient, plus full-disk encryption stops working once you log into your laptop. At that point, a hacker spying on what you are doing has full access to everything on the device. Of course there are also applications available to encrypt individual folders on a computer, so that even if someone does break in, they can’t get to your most sensitive data.

“Encrypting is a good idea, but you’re not going to talk people into that,” says Burgess, adding that really the only way you can be 100 percent safe is not connecting to the Internet at all.

That’s hardly practical either. Instead, Burgess suggests storing sensitive data and even credit card information separately from any computer that’s attached to the Internet. Instead keep that information on a portable thumb drive and physically transfer it from one device to another when you do go online. “Then nobody can get at it unless they steal your hardware,” he says.

Lighting, Battery Burnouts and Fido

Once you’ve taken some protective steps against digital thieves, it’s time to start tackling other potential disasters. Like your dog. Fido? He’s a shedder. And those hairs get into much more than your rug and couch. Leaving your computer sitting on the couch where your dog or cat also likes to nap can cause computer malfunction—and data loss.

“The biggest enemies of computers are heat, and one of the biggest things that generate heat is a blanket of dust or fur,” says Burgess. “So you want to vacuum that out from time to time. Also, keep the computer off the floor, out of the sun, and away from whatever you are drinking, he says.

Sure, your battery surge protector will cushion your computer from a spike in voltage. But from a direct lightening strike? Hardly. Again, backing up data is key here—particularly into a cloud and an external hard drive that you can keep unconnected to the computer.

Plus, backing up data doesn’t just protect you against natural disasters but man-made ones as well. Computers can get infected with ransomware, a type of malware such as the virus that recently attached Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, encrypting all the system’s files. Hackers demanded, and got, a ransom payment of $17,000 worth of bitcoin to decrypt the hospital’s patient files. Regularly backing up to the cloud instead could have said them not just money—but time.

This article first appeared in GearBrain: 

Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help large corporations, small businesses, schools, and private families to ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.