In the flurry of back to school emails that I received from administrators, teachers, and staff was a notice about the new buzz in system being implemented at our district. The requisite apologies for inconvenience and lack of access were included for sincerity purposes. It made me consider why we were apologizing for attempting to keep our kids safe but more importantly why this was considered the best use of limited security funds.
I certainly applaud the efforts of enhancing the security culture in our schools. What concerns me is the notion that continuing to approach security solutions with the same ideas that have repeatedly failed in the past has been the standard across the country. It is paramount that we look at past incidents to determine what failed and how this can be improved. Quick response by law enforcement and immediate lock down are the two factors that have proven to reduced casualties and save lives. If these things aren’t in place the external security measures will be ineffective in addressing a hostile intruder.
The Spring of 2018 was an atrocious time for school violence. Lost in the aftermath of these incidents was the existing security measures that each of the schools had already implemented in the hopes of thwarting an attack. In Kentucky, Florida, and Texas and many others the emphasis was on the access control, surveillance cameras and SRO as priorities for school security and safety. Missing from this approach is the realization that more than 94% of school shootings start inside the building according to the FBI. In the three major incidents the police response was delayed by a lack of information about exactly which room on campus was being threatened. Responding SROs on campus had little accurate information about where to go. More importantly the reliance on using 911 to notify police slowed down notification and resulted in confusing information for responding units. Likewise, the schools were not able to communicate the need to go on lockdown in a timely manner. Procedures to use public address systems or intercoms have not been timely in school crisis. We developed a quick notification for fire emergencies that accomplishes notification to building occupants and emergency responders in one step. We need to implement a single-phase notification system for violent intruders inside the building.
Physical security improvements have a place in our schools. Understanding the limitations of each is important. Access control will stem the flow of staff, students and visitors but has failed in every active shooter event. Cameras are great for bullying, theft, vandalism and fighting but has never successfully stopped an active shooter. Two-way radios in a crisis are overwhelmed and little information is available. Window laments slow a shooter down but most start in the building and can limit the egress of those inside. School resource officers will respond but if they aren’t informed what room is in crisis the response will be slow as we saw in the worst three shootings this year. These measures have their place but aren’t practical at saving lives in a crisis.
School security can only be addressed using a layered approach. Anti-bullying and awareness programs are step one. Developing response procedures and emergency action plans is paramount. Having physical security in place heightens the culture of safety. The addition of a notification system with alarms is the critical element that is often omitted. Our school staff members have demonstrated the ability to protect our students and step up to meet the challenge for protection but they need information and tools to do this. The SafeDefend system answers the problem of quick notification with accurate information.