Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Recently, I received the following email from longtime reader Mark M.:
I have young children and often have to load them into our vehicle’s car seats at grocery stores, shopping centers and other vulnerable areas. Keeping vigilant, I always exhibit heightened situational awareness in these moments, but what additional suggestions do you have for this type of scenario?
My fear is that — once I have her clicked in — in the small amount of time it takes for me to walk around the car, someone could try and harm her, me or steal the car with her in it. You should know I carry concealed, train regularly, have an appropriate holster and accept the risks.
My daughter has also started attending a private Montessori school, which is about as secure as a wet cardboard box. They have asked me for suggestions on better security for the campus. I am wondering how to help them or what direction to steer them in.
I’ll start with Mark’s first question. As he mentioned, when putting your children into your car you are extremely vulnerable. Not only are you distracted by buckling in your kids, but you also typically have your back toward other cars and people.
Of course, maintaining situational awareness is the key to staying safe in any situation and in a scenario like this you should absolutely have your head on a swivel. In other words, when putting your kids in the car — or even just loading groceries — you should constantly be looking around you. I suggest looking up and around at least every five–10 seconds to make sure nobody is approaching you from behind.
Also, once you get to your car and before you start dealing with your kids, make sure to do a full 360-degree scan of your surroundings in case someone has followed you to your car.
Don’t Be Fooled
Since you are more vulnerable when putting kids in the car, you need to be careful of people looking to commit a crime of opportunity. What I mean is some criminals will hang out at shopping centers and wait for someone they believe they can take advantage of.
For example, while you are putting your kids in the car, a criminal might try to distract you while one of their cohorts steals items from your car — or even tries to steal your car.
Another common ploy is for a criminal to pretend to have car trouble or ask you for help with something. Again, this is simply a ruse to divert your attention while they steal from you.
So what do I do when I load my kids into the car? Well, in addition to good situational awareness, I always make sure my vehicle is secure while putting my kids into their car seats. I keep all the doors on my vehicle locked except for the door I’m using.
Lastly, if you’re the type of person who starts the car and then loads the kids into their seats, don’t. I strongly advise against this.
Back to School
Now to tackle Mark’s second question. Security at your child’s school is absolutely something you should take very seriously because schools can easily be the scene of domestic disputes, custody issues or other family drama.
The first thing I would recommend to the school is to ensure they have some sort of “gatekeeper” for everyone who enters the school. This could be an administrative assistant whose office or desk is right inside the main entrance so they can check in and out all visitors. Also, all outside doors aside from the main entrance should be kept locked to control where visitors can enter.
Next, I would encourage the school to make sure that all classrooms have a way to communicate with the main office. Obviously, most teachers have cellphones, but I recommend an intercom system (or even walkie-talkies) so that all classrooms can communicate with each other and the main office in the event of an emergency.
Lastly, I would recommend that administrators keep a map of the entire school at the main office. They should have multiple copies of the school map so if a dangerous situation arises, the school can provide law enforcement with a detailed layout of the school as soon as first responders arrive.
The Bottom Line
Ideally, all schools should have some sort of security system with cameras that cover every part of the school as well as the exterior. These days, I know many schools also employ a security guard (or there’s a police officer assigned to the school), which I think is a good idea.
Ultimately, the school needs to be vigilant in monitoring who enters and exits the school — especially if they are leaving with a child.
I realize a lot of the information above is common sense, but when I visit schools, I am amazed at the lack of security measures in place. Anyone can just walk in the front door without being checked.
This is why — at the very minimum — there needs to be someone at the one and only unlocked entrance so every visitor can be verified.