More of the same a year after the Parkland shooting

The solution to school security is not more of the same

With the anniversary of the Parkland shooting there have been a lot of articles about the changes over the last year.  The interesting observation is that nothing has changed but rather a double down on more of the same.  The response to these events usually ends with the same options being put out as enhancements.  These options portray the impression to the public that our schools are safer without resulting in improvements that address the threat from an active shooter.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on the Parkland anniversary mentioned several expenditures over the last year.  The school added fencing to several schools.  The 45 acre Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus was fenced in at the time of the shooting.  Upgrades and additions to the security system were purchased.  The school has a robust camera system and the shooter’s every movement is captured on video.  A recommendation was made to have more armed personnel at all Florida schools.  One district hired combat veterans to patrol the grounds with rifles.  We forget that there was an armed officer on the grounds that was at the scene in roughly 1 minute 45 seconds but failed to confront the shooter.  The other armed responders were given confusing information and didn’t make entry until 11 minutes into the incident which was long after the shooter fled.  So the solution is to continue doing what we have been doing for years hoping for fewer casualties.

A true solution comes from looking at what has happened in the past and figuring out what will make a difference. Not hypothetical solutions but thwarted attacks or attacks where the shooter was interrupted.  The 2017-2018 school year was the worst year for the number of school shootings.  Outside of the three major shootings there were others with minimal casualties.  While the intent of the shooter appeared to be a mass casualty incident the impact was minimized by two things.  Notification to the buildings occupants to lockdown saved countless lives.  Actions by teachers to thwart or stop the attack was just as impactful.  If the new strategies for security don’t improve notification or empower teachers then your readiness for a hostile intruder or no better off with a hardened building.

We have had the same approach to school shootings since the 1980s when we started some of the current measures. There have been improvements to the technology for locked doors and surveillance.  These have never stopped an active shooter, they were not effective in Parkland, attempting to address a threat with these improvements will have similar ineffective results.  The SafeDefend system was designed to solve the notification process to building occupants and police while empowering staff to protect students until help arrives.

Train according to the possibilities not the protocols

With the changes to the crisis drill requirements in the country the addition of intruder response drills and lockdown drills have been an overall positive thing. Most school administrators had already added these types of drills to the preparedness training by staff.  At SafeDefend we encourage schools to regularly discuss response options and consider scenarios for notification in the event of hostile intruders.  The manner in which these drills are conducted, however, can greatly impact the way the information is conveyed and maintained.  The idea should always be to prepare not to scare.

Fire drills and tornado drills have consistent response protocols. Regardless of where the fire starts the goal is to exit the building.  A tornado warning clearly indicates the need to take shelter in designated areas.  Very little deviation from these protocols is required.  Practicing these responses and having students be familiar with expectations is necessary to achieve the goal of keeping everyone safe.

Hostile intruder drills cannot be so easily handled. There is no one response option that keeps everyone safe.  Real attacks have demonstrated that the events are fluid and require various responses.  Simply instructing staff to lockdown and wait is an option but it shouldn’t be the only option.  Teachers and staff need to understand that until help arrives their actions can have important consequences.  If you can get out safely then that should be an option as well.  If the intruder is trying to get into the classroom be prepared to drive them back out. In order to accomplish this the drills should revolve around mental exercises and discussions about options.  Having kids hide in a corner while the teacher locks the door and turns out the lights does not prepare them to adapt when the situation changes.

Staff should spend more time learning how to communicate a threat over the intercom with simple commands like ‘Lockdown, Lockdown, Cafeteria Intruder!’ Staff that are informed can make immediate critical decisions that will reduce casualties and save lives.  Simply hoping that police will arrive in time and locate the intruder has shown to fail time and again.  Empowering staff and faculty has had measurable results in numerous unreported low casualty events around the country.