Is It Time for Armed Security Guards at Your Educational Institution?
Key Points to Consider

Given the turbulent times we are living in, more and more educational institutions – schools, colleges, and universities – are considering hiring armed security officers to protect their students and staff, in addition to — or in rare cases, instead of – unarmed security staff.

We recently sat down with Michael Mullady, Vice President of Protective Services for Arrow Elite, a service of Arrow Security, to discuss some of the issues surrounding this topic, including what armed security would look like in an academic setting, which can also help to allay the fears of parents, community members, and decision-makers when considering armed services. Mullady brings more than three decades of law enforcement, military, and high-end private security experience to the Arrow Elite program, including 22 years with the NYPD.

Point #1: Considering Armed Security

There are many factors that could prompt the discussion of armed security in an educational institution, including “threats made to the individual school, national and local current events, copycat crimes and threats in other areas, as well as community demand,” explains Mullady.

While armed and unarmed security typically work together, armed security is not merely a supplement, according to Mullady. “Unarmed security has its standard operating procedure, and armed security also has its protocol on when and how to react to a situation,” says Mullady. “The main objective of an armed security guard is to neutralize the active shooter.” While there are exceptions to every rule, notes Mullady, educational institutions generally have unarmed security with the added protection of armed security, but not just solely armed security guards protecting its perimeters.

Point #2: Training and Qualifications

Armed and unarmed security guards are required to have state certifications, licenses, and undergo lockdown procedure training once assigned to protect a school.

Unarmed guards are required to have a New York State guard license and annual training. Armed guards are required to have a New York State armed guard license, bi-annual training with deadly physical force testing, as well as maintaining shooting qualifications. Then, once armed guards are added to the protection detail at a school, they are trained on the active shooter protocol for that district at the school building they are protecting, whenever possible. “If training cannot be executed in the specific building, it will be conducted in a vacant school building set up as similarly as possible,” explains Mullady. “This training always includes both armed and unarmed security officers, as well as law enforcement officers, as they work together in these emergencies. They all have their duties in these circumstances. This allows all security officers to know where they need to be when responding to the threat.”

Unarmed security officers are also trained in de-escalation techniques, crisis management, and conflict resolution since they are the officers posted inside the schools. It’s important to note, says Mullady, that armed security officers do not interact or engage with faculty or students at a school. “Our armed guards are stationed and positioned outside the school buildings, in the parking lots, and they do not interact or engage with faculty or students at a school,” explains Mullady. “That is how we minimize risk. Emotionally charged altercations are handled by the unarmed security guards trained in dealing with these situations.”

“Any instances of de-escalating a situation, crisis management or conflict resolution is handled by the unarmed guards inside the building,” Mullady continues. “The armed security guard may report those incidents to the unarmed security officers on the team, but armed guards carry a weapon, and we do not want that weapon near students or school personnel. This is an industry standard,” explains Mullady. “Worth noting is that many unarmed security guards are former law enforcement officers. They have had extensive training and experience on the job dealing with these situations.”

Point #3: Protocols, Procedures, and Communication

A typical school day begins with armed guards coming on shift and checking in with the unarmed security supervisor and staying in communication throughout their shift over portable radios and cell phones. The portable radio system connects the armed guard with the entire unarmed security staff, as well as some of the school administration.

Armed guards are typically positioned in an area where they can safely observe students and faculty as they arrive and depart each day. “The armed guards are watching the comings and goings of the students more closely at high schools and colleges since they could possibly be the armed perpetrator in a shooting,” says Mullady. Conversely, in an elementary school, armed guards are more focused on anyone suspicious trying to gain access to the building, since it is less likely one of those students would be the perpetrator, notes Mullady.

“We work with the school board in a given district to customize their security program, but when it comes to armed security personnel as part of the program for protecting a school, the baseline is the armed guards stay outside the school buildings,” explains Mullady. “There are always exceptions to that rule, but that is the industry’s standard operating procedure.”

Each school establishes a lockdown/security procedure, which the unarmed and armed guards are trained in. In the event of an emergency, typically school officials and unarmed security supervisors alert the team that a threat is in progress and law enforcement is notified. Communication is done through the portable radio system and cell phones to alert school officials, faculty, and guards to the situation.

“Unarmed officers, school administrators, and teachers all have areas to report to in the event of a security threat,” explains Mullady. “When this program is enhanced with armed security guards, a specific protocol is put in place. We identify where the threat is coming from, and the armed officer is dispatched to that area of the building.” In addition, law enforcement has copies of these lockdown and security procedures for the schools in the event of an emergency, notes Mullady.

Point #4: Use of Force Policies

New York State dictates a use of deadly physical force policy and guidelines. “Appropriate use of firearms is part of our training,” says Mullady. “Our armed security officers are required to pass a deadly physical force test with a score of 100 percent. If that 100 percent score is not met, they fail.” The training is specific to stopping a threat, he adds, underscoring the fact that armed guards are not allowed to have any direct contact with students or staff within a school.

Point #5: Legal, Liability, and Cost Considerations

School districts and universities have specific requirements regarding the type and amount of liability insurance needed for the relationship. Legal teams from both sides participate in developing the master agreement specifying the details of the security protections the guard will provide.

“All master service agreements are reviewed by our legal team, as well as the school’s legal team,” says Mullady. “This ensures everyone’s needs are being addressed.”

School budget allocation for security is one of the main factors in the customization of a security program, whether the need is for a team of both unarmed and armed guards or only the addition of an armed security guard.

“We work within the confines of a school’s budget to provide the needed protection,” says Mullady.

Point #6: Community Engagement

Armed security in schools is a very contentious topic for any community to consider, says Mullady. In an effort to allay the concerns of parents and administrators, Arrow Security offers informational seminars, typically presented at school board meetings, to provide as much information as possible to the community. “We focus on exactly what armed security would look like in a school setting, and we’re there to answer any questions they may have,” says Mullady. “When a district has made the decision and the armed service is in place, we keep an open line of communication with the school board and community. That way we can continually discuss their questions and concerns and provide accurate information to them about their situation.”