The solution to ending school shootings does not rest in the hands of Congress. Again and again I hear there needs to be a ‘conversation' about how to prevent school shootings. Yet all I have seen from both sides is a politicized, argument that is focused on attacking the morals of those who have a different point of view. I believe that the majority of people calling for increased gun control, as well as those opposed to these proposals, genuinely and passionately want to prevent the next mass shooting. The difference between the two sides is how to address the issue.
The current environment is politically polarized, which has crippled the effectiveness of Congress (as if it needed any help.) A productive conversation that leads to real solutions, will only happen if we don't succumb to the same political, dogmatic arguments that we see in Congress. It doesn't take a genius to realize that productive dialog won't begin when people are called ‘libtards' or ‘child murderers.'
Ask yourself, do you want a solution, or win a political argument? We first must start with an understanding that neither side wants children or anyone for that matter to die. Only then can we objectively discuss solutions to the problem. Positive results will come from a people united in purpose: to make our children's schools safer.
I am purposely not going to focus on mental health issues, the breakdown of morals in society, or the gun control debate. These should be part of a much broader debate, however they quickly break us into our political tribes and shut down communication. Moreover, what makes someone capable of killing innocent children or why they choose a specific weapon is irrelevant to the topic of improving security school.
The real question we need to answer is, what can we do to ‘shooter-proof' our schools?
A Flawed Predisposition:
First, the truth of the matter is that regardless of what we do, people will do horrendous things. This has been true since the beginning of time and will exist as long as we have free will. We will never be able to completely eliminate tragedy from our lives. More importantly, it is not the role of the government to instill morals. For that, we need to look at ourselves and how we positively or negatively interact with those we contact.
Secondly, when it comes to tragedies such as school shootings or mass shootings in general, no two are exactly alike. We can never anticipate 100% what actions the criminal will take, and thus we cannot become stagnant in our responses. Our preventative posture and the way we respond must constantly evolve for the same reason we no longer fight battles using the tactics of the civil war. While we may not be able to anticipate every action or eradicate evil from humanity, we can take a pragmatic approach to how we protect our children.
Since 1958, in the United States, there has not been a school fire that claimed the lives of 10 or more children. Why does this matter? Because in the 50 years prior, 755 children died in school fires. We can apply the same concept to school shooting deaths. We saw the benefit of routine and well-organized fire drills and automatic notification of the fire department when an alarm was activated. Fire suppression systems, flame retardant materials and having fire extinguishers nearby all were elements of a plan that was designed to make schools safer.
The Apolitical Approach to Safety:
- Training: Local law enforcement, must realistically train and prepare school staff on proper ways to respond to school shootings.
- Shelter in Place is a training method used in many schools as a response to an active shooter or similar event on campus. This technique is effective in some scenarios, but not all. The Run, Hide, Fight model was created to give those involved in an active shooter event more options for situations where simply sheltering in place would not work.
- Drills: Active-shooter drills need to be as routinely practiced as fire drills. They also must be scenario based and not become a scripted event. Active-shooter events are not all the same. Faculty must be encouraged to think on their feet and adapt to the changing incident.
- Panic/Active-Shooter Alarms: When pulled, fire alarms immidiately dispatch fire crews, as well as alert everyone that there is a fire in the building. Similarly, an active-shooter alarm would dispatch law enforcement and alert staff to go into their protocol. Many banks and other high profile locations have these ‘panic alarms' installed.
- This would be critical especially on larger campuses where a distant gunshot may not be recognized.
- Audio/Video: Video cameras inside the building and classrooms, accessable by law enforcement are benificial in a critical event. They allow officers to formulate the best response, and locate the shooter(s) more quickly.
- Access Points: It is no secret that to secure an area, you must limit and monitor the access points. One entrance, and doors that remain locked from the outside is already common practice at many schools. However, this method is ineffective if there is no one who can respond to a threat that gains access. So there must also be control of the entrance.
- Control of the Access Point: The sole entry point should remain locked. Access should only be given to people who are recognized, or have proper credentials. To secure the access point, armed security must be used. When physical security measurs are defeated by an armed threat, only an armed response can stop it.
- Security could be a school resource officer, private security or properly trained civilian, veterain, staff or even parents. The point is you must be able to defend against an armed threat at the entry point. On a side-note, I don't believe teachers should take the place of law enforcement officers. However, those teachers who have a concealed handgun license, receive special training and have a desire to assume a sheepdog role should not be barred from being armed.
- Metal Detectors: Nothing is 100% effective, but metal detectors can have an impact in two ways. First in identifying those concealing weapons, and secondly as a deterrent.
- Continuous Observation: Staff whose sole purpose is observing the campus would ensure doors and windows are not propped open and unknown/suspicious people are challenged.
- Staff Mobile Communication: Technology like Voicera which is commonly used in hospitals proved a compact and reliable mobile communication solution.
- A True, ‘See Something Say Something' Philosophy: School shooters are almost always identified beforehand by students and teachers. People who see these red flags don't always report them, for fear of being wrong or looked upon in an unfavorable light. Students and teachers must have the confidence that they can report something disturbing without retribution.
- At the same time, we must not treat every allegation as a conviction. This is a balance that is important to the process working.
- Interior Design: The use of ballistic glass and devices in each room that quickly allow the door to be locked are simple design features that help in a shelter in place response.
- Exterior Design: When possible, fences around the campus should be used to guide all entry to the one access point.
- Cooperation With Law Enforcement: Demand that local police know the layout of the school. Officers should have at least a basic understanding of the layout of the school. If staff inside the school are giving realtime information that the shooter is in the cafeteria, wouldnt the officers responce be better if they knew where the cafateria was on campus and how to access it?
- Encourage schematics of the school, noting key areas are provided to law enforcement. I know as a police officer responding to incidents to large campuses, it was an unbelieveable help to be able to pull up a map while enrout.
You may be saying, great ideas, but there is no way our school can afford to implement this. I would dare you to research how expensive it is for schools to install fire suppression systems that are code compliant. These systems are expensive and yet we justify the cost on the rare chance there is actually a fire. The federal government regulates a large education budget and often times spends vast amounts on research and policies that are an utter waste. Funnel this money to the states, to help mitigate these costs. The government incentivizes the use of solar panels, how about the use of adequate physical security measures at our schools?
Another hurdle is manpower. Across the country, departments have a shortage of officers on the streets and quality applicants. We must reinforce the notion that being a police officer is a noble profession, and back our first-responders whenever possible. Public Safety budgets must be appropriate and not wasteful, but they can not be neglected. We also can't overlook our responsability to volunteer. Yes, I use the word ‘responsability' purposly. Not every solution has to come from outside the community. Similar to a neighborhood watch, schools may be able to gather volunteers who are able to provide another set of eyes looking for anything out of ordinary on the campus.
An Outdated Approach to Security:
According to The Crime Prevention Research Center, since 1950, 98% of all mass shootings have occurred in gun free zones. Since 1990 we have tried the Gun-Free School Zones Act approach.
The reason this method could never work is painfully obvious. The law is not preventative, it is merely punative. This means it was never truly designed to prevent someone who wanted to shoot up a school from doing so. It goes without saying that someone willing to murder humans is not concerned with the punative nature of the law. The law's design punishes those who are found possessing a gun on campus, even those citizens who are trained and could stop a murderer.
It is hard to argue that putting up no gun signs at campuses has worked. Not only does the data show that these signs do nothing but embolden criminals, it underscores our stagnated approach to school security. For the context of how long we have gone without reassessing our security posture on campuses, look at the cell phone that was most popular in 1990! Think times have changed since then? Why hasn't our concept of security at school?
Why do I think these things would make a difference? Because these are the security measures we implement at other places when we want to screen those entering: banks, sporting events, amusement parks, courthouses, and airplanes are just a few. Why wouldn't we want this level of security for our most precious assets, our children? If the answer is ‘we shouldn't have to' or ‘it will look too scary', the problem will never be solved.
The fact is, there has been and always will be evil that walks amongst us. To turn our back to it, will not make it go away. We have to confront evil and fight it, no matter how uncomfortable or scary. The solutions I have laid out are not political and do not have any underlying agenda. They are simply a pragmatic approach to securing our campuses.