The Critical Difference™


The Guardian SafeSchool Program®

A holistic and effective school security program model for protecting students against violence

Over the past three decades, horrific acts of mass violence have occurred in schools ranging in size and complexity from state universities and large public schools to a one-room Amish schoolhouse. As witnessed time and again, no school is immune to the risk of targeted violence.

In response to the public need for an effective strategy for reducing the risk of school violence, Critical Intervention Services launched the Guardian SafeSchool Program® as a holistic, integrated program employing a multi-layered strategy to reduce risks of mass homicide. The strategy and methods underlying the program are based on hundreds of hours of development and supported by over 25 years of experience in controlling risks of targeted violence in diverse social environments.

Since the program’s launch in 2013, the uniquely integrated and comprehensive nature of the program has earned national-level recognition from the criminal justice and school safety communities including accolades in peer review by John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Over the past nine years, our consultants have assisted a diverse range of schools, district organizations, and post-secondary institutions in improving their level of security and emergency readiness in alignment with our Guardian SafeSchool Program® standards.

The Guardian SafeSchool Program® Risk Management Strategy

At the foundation of the Guardian SafeSchool Program® is a multi-layered strategy aimed at preventing violence while employing performance-based physical security measures and emergency preparations to reduce the impact of events.

The following diagram describes how these measures contribute to risk reduction graphically depicted as rings of protection.

School Security and Safety Risk Management Measures

Positive School Climate and Culture

In the Guardian SafeSchool Program® strategy, proactive risk management starts with reducing potential threat. This is first accomplished by reducing potential conditions that contribute to violent intent and acceleration on the pathway to targeted violence. Examples of measures aimed at reducing threat include establishing policies and practices that reinforce positive school climate and culture, social-emotional learning programs, engendering trust and rapport between staff and students, mentoring students with problems, actively intervening in bullying situations, and restorative practices.

For schools pursuing compliance with the Guardian SafeSchool Program® Standards, Standards 2.1-2.3 are dedicated to issues related to school climate and culture.

Student Threat Assessment and Management

In addition to measures designed to reduce violent intent, the Guardian SafeSchool Program® defines requirements for establishing a formal system for identifying and reporting potential threats and behavior of concern, investigating and assessing threats, and managing potential threatening situations. When engaged as consultants to develop a threat assessment program, we employ a threat assessment approach based on the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) as the base methodology with additional assessment considerations based on validation research by Dr. Jens Hoffmann using the Warning Behavior Typology as related to juveniles.

For schools pursuing compliance with the Guardian SafeSchool Program Standards, Standard 2.4 addresses threat assessment plans, reporting measures, threat assessment teams, and faculty training.

Performance-Based Physical Security Measures

Positive school culture and threat assessment measures reduce the risk of a student progressing toward violence, but these measures have little benefit against outsider adult adversaries or students who progress undetected toward violence. The only way to effectively mitigate potential tragedy in these situations is having effective physical security measures. Effective physical security requires that a threat is detected early and delayed from committing mass homicide sufficiently for a response force to intervene.

Accomplishing this performance-based goal requires effective layers of barrier delay (e.g., intrusion-resistant windows, doors, etc.), ample availability of intrusion-resistant classrooms, careful access control design and hardware specification for simplicity and quick performance under high stress conditions, effective egress measures, and having an on-site armed response capability.

For schools pursuing compliance with the Guardian SafeSchool Program® Standards, Standard 3 is devoted to physical security measures including outdoor grounds, building facade and entrance design, secure visitor reception and control, access control systems, secure classroom design, and egress conditions.

Emergency Response Plans, Infrastructure, and Training

The last layer of defense in the Guardian SafeSchool Program® is emergency preparation for managing crisis situations safely, effectively, and restoring school operations as quickly as possible. Examples of measures include having effective and well-organized school emergency response plans, reliable and rapid emergency communications systems, reunification preparations, and training faculty on critical emergency response procedures.

For schools pursuing compliance with the Guardian SafeSchool Program Standards, Standard 4 addresses emergency response teams, communications systems, medical preparations, emergency response plans, drills, and employee training.

Reconciling the Irreconcilable: Creating Effective Security While Reinforcing Positive School Climate & Culture

In 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists warned against the implementation of high profile security measures in schools due to their potential detrimental effect on school climate.

We strongly agree with NASP’s position. High profile security measures and haphazard implementation can easily damage school climate and have a negative psychological effect on the learning process. As stated by K.C. Poulin, the CEO of CIS, “If you make an environment feel like a prison, don’t be surprised when the community members feel and act like inmates.”

Measures recommended as part of the Guardian SafeSchool Program® are carefully engineered to create “invisible” layers of prevention and preparedness that are unnoticed by students. This low-profile approach is consistent in all aspects of the program, from procedural design to recommendations on physical security improvements.

This approach also extends to the selection, training, and deployment of SRO’s and security personnel. If implemented correctly in accordance with Guardian SafeSchool standards, the most visible element of the school security program (security and police officers) not only counter any negative psychological impact on students, but function as a contributing force for building and reinforcing positive school climate and culture.

What distinguishes CIS Guardian SafeSchool Protection Officer training from traditional SRO training programs?

The most important distinction is the emphasis we place on the officer’s role in actively developing a strong network of relationships in the school community. When we train school security and police officers, a major component of the course is devoted to building relationships and trust with students, parents, and teachers as a means of reinforcing social capital and positive school climate, identifying and resolving potential problems, and assisting students in potential crisis.

Dr. Nemeth of John Jay College of Criminal Justice summarized this matter well in his 2014 Peer Review Report:

“Under CIS principles, the SPO is a vastly different player in the school setting for the emphasis shifts from traditional law enforcement tactics to an “integrative” force in the community known as school”

Charles P. Nemeth JD, PhD, LL.M
Chair and Professor of Security, Fire and Emergency Management
Director of the Center for Private Security and Safety
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Guardian SafeSchool Program® History

As the frequency and magnitude of school shootings accelerated in the 1990’s and 2000’s, there was no unified and effective security program model for schools in America. No best practices. No standards. Nothing. During that period, all that was available to advise schools was limited guidance provided by the U.S. Secret Service and School Resource Officer programs. Although these sources contributed to improvements in school protection, none provided a comprehensive and integrated approach to managing risks of school violence. As a result, the level of security and emergency readiness remained diverse across the nation, varying greatly district-by-district and school-by-school.  

That situation changed in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy when CIS was engaged as consultants and provided opportunity to further develop a risk management strategy for schools which had been in the making for over a decade—The Guardian SafeSchool Program®.

Since its launch in 2013, the CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® has earned a reputation as the gold standard for school security and emergency readiness.

Following are highlights of the program’s history.


The Concept is First Conceived

After the Thurston High School and Columbine shootings, CIS conceived the idea for a holistic and integrated risk management strategy for protecting schools. The idea continued to incubate and mature without action through the 2000’s in the absence of compelling commitment in the educational community to finding solutions at the time.

The Guardian SafeSchool Program is Launched

After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, a Florida preparatory school approached CIS for assistance. While working with the school as consultants, ideas originally designed in the 2000’s materialized into the Guardian SafeSchool Program. To implement the program, CIS created a special division of School Protection Officers (including a new officer training program, SOPs, etc.) and support infrastructure (e.g., new mass notification system, operations center personnel, etc.).

Peer Review by John Jay College of Criminal Justuce

Professor Charles Nemeth of John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted a peer review of the Guardian SafeSchool Program comparing the CIS model to existing school security and School Resource Officer programs throughout the nation. In conclusion, Professor Nemeth lauded the Guardian SafeSchool Program for its comprehensive approach and emphasis on violence prevention.

CIS Trains Newtown Public Schools Security Force

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Newtown Public Schools adopted the CIS School Protection Officer course for training its new armed security force. CIS Guardian SafeSchool consultants conducted the course on-site in Newtown, CT.

CIS Begins Training School Leaders

John Jay College of Criminal Justice engaged CIS to develop an 8-hour training program on school security planning and emergency preparation for school leaders in the New York City and tri-state area. Between 2014 and 2018, CIS consultants trained over 300 NYC-area school officials in pricniples of the Guardian SafeSchool Program. The new seminar was also presented to hundreds of additional school leaders through special workshops conducted across the nation.

CIS School Security Consultants Assist Schools Throughout the U.S.

As the program’s reputation expanded, dozens of independent schools and colleges turned to CIS consultants to assist in school security assessment, physical security design, emergency response planning, security officer and faculty training, and developing student threat assessment programs. In the following years, schools throughout the U.S. adopted the Guardian SafeSchool Program as their strategy for managing risks of school violence.

CIS Publishes The Guardian SafeSchool Standards

In 2019, CIS published the Guardian SafeSchool Standards for the purposes of formally defining effective school security and emergency preparation measures and providing a basis of measurement for schools seeking to achieve a 'gold standard' level of protection and readiness. Although many CIS client schools achieved compliance with most measures defined in the GSSP Standards, none complied with all requirements as of 2020.

North Cobb Christian School Becomes The First School to Comply with All GSSP Standards

Driven by a goal of providing the safest environment reasonably possible for their students, North Cobb Christian School worked through the challenge of becoming the first school in America to be validated in compliance with all Guardian SafeSchool Program Standards.

Guardian SafeSchool Program® Webinar Videos for School Leaders

The following series of videos were produced as a webinar to educate school leaders on how to develop an effective school security program and principles of the Guardian SafeSchool Program®.

Play Video

ISPSA Video 01/04 – Security Risk Management & Safe School Climate
(Time: 56:06)

Video One explores the dynamics of mass homicide in schools, risk management strategy, components of an effective school security program, and establishing a safe school climate and culture as the first layer of defense against active shooter attacks.

Play Video

ISPSA Video 02/04 – Student Threat Assessment & Management
(Time: 1:20:07)

Video Two explores the pathway to targeted violence in schools, threat assessment principles, and approaches to managing student behavior of concern.

Play Video

ISPSA Video 03/04 – Physical Security and School Facility Design
(Time: 2:15:33)

Video Three explores important aspects of physical security and access control in schools, life safety design, and response to imminent threat situations.

Play Video

ISPSA Video 04/04 – Emergency Response Planning and Preparation
(Time: 2:16:07)

Video Four explores characteristics of effective emergency response plans, infrastructure preparations, reunification planning, and model procedures for responding to school emergencies.

Learn more about our school security experience and expertise...

Contact Us 

Contact us to discuss your school’s needs by calling Tel. +01 (727) 461-9417 or by completing the following form:


Toll-free: (800) 247-6055 | Tampa Bay Area: (727) 461-9417 | Hillsborough: (813) 910-4247 | Orlando: (407) 420-7945

The staff of CIS is dedicated to providing each client with the finest quality of protective services available.

Our commitment and dedication to professional, ethical, and protocol conscious service is our trademark.

Preserving, projecting, and protecting our clients’ image and interests is our business.

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