The picture of the the sheriff’s deputy guarding the front of Marjory Stoneman portrays an extreme sense of security with the gates in the background. When we look at the campus photos we see fencing around the entire campus. We know that surveillance cameras were placed all over the campus as well. On the 45 acre campus the presence of the school resource officer from Broward County Sheriff’s Office was known by students and staff. Some buildings even have access control check points for visitors. Yet, with all these enhancements a shooter with knowledge of the campus entered a building during the school day and gunned down 31 people.
Even with this knowledge about what happened in Parkland, FL and the recent shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky, the administrators and school boards seeking to increase security are focusing on hardening the exterior of their buildings and campuses. This is the same approach security advisors have emphasized for over the last 40 years. The reason these events aren’t thwarted by existing security measures is that the perpetrators are usually authorized to be inside the buildings. According to the FBI, active shooters in schools from 2000-2015 were primarily students. 94% of school shooters were authorized to be in the building. (84% students, 5% domestic partners, 5% current or former employees) The 2015 CDC Understand Youth Violence mentions that 17.9% of high school students reported taking a weapon to school in the previous 30 days.
In speaking with school administrators and facility directors across the country there is always a tendency to focus on aspects of security that impact exterior security. Campus fencing, building access control, creating pinch points and surveillance cameras are often the go to solution. The vast majority of money for school safety plans is used for these enhancements that have never stopped a school shooter. This understanding of security stems from the law enforcement experts that have been previously tasked with securing federal buildings, airports, city halls, courthouses, and other potential high-profile targets. The threat for these locations is primarily from an outsider. Unlike schools these locations are not porous, they can be closed off in moments and access is strictly controlled. We are taking the federal model of security and trying to apply it to schools.
From examining past incidents of mass shootings or just targeted attacks in schools, we know there are two things that can reduce casualties and save lives; alerting building occupants and notifying police to the threat. Most school-associated violent deaths occur during transition times. If the security enhancements being considered don’t alert police to the exact location of the threat on campus, then the measures are only repeating the mistakes of the past. Empowering staff by informing them of the threat has been the most significant factor in minimizing school violence.
The SafeDefend system and school safety plan was designed by school administrators, law enforcement experts and security personnel to notify everyone of threat and provide effective counter measures in the event of a school attack.