In order to mitigate casualties in a mass casualty event it is important to look at past incidents. This doesn’t have to be a direct comparison
but rather should examine solutions that work and why they are effective. Simply put the importance of mass notification is essential to alert people of a threat to their safety so they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves.
We see the need for notification clearly in a fire emergency. When someone has an indication of a fire from sight or smell they only need to pull a fire alarm. By doing this we know that emergency services are alerted and responding, building occupants are aware they need to protect themselves by exiting the building and the person activating the system is now free to attempt to put the fire out with available resources or head for safety.
In the Midwest the weather services sound alarms on phones, community sirens and media sources that inform us to head to shelter areas. The mass notification system has shown to work. For some reason we haven’t applied this step to hostile intruders and it is costing us lives.
In reviewing the recent reports from the federal commission, Broward County, and the Marjory Stoneman report there is a strong analysis of where the breakdown occurs in a crisis. Typically, the notification protocols don’t work and this has resulted in unnecessary casualties. These problems aren’t exclusive to any particular school shooting. 911 calls are delayed as students and staff secure their own safety. Public address systems aren’t utilized as staff would have to expose themselves to danger w
hile on the phone or using the call button. Speakers aren’t heard or accessible outside the classroom. Information relayed to dispatch is confusing, limited or incorrect. All of these issues can be eliminated with a single stage activation mass notification system. Alarms work in a crisis to get staff to act and students to seek shelter.
Law enforcement needs to know where in the building to respond and staff need information to protect students. In a fire emergency the alarms are zoned so responders know where in the building to go. Police are all too often just told to respond to the school for a shooting. Running in the front door and expecting the staff to direct them to the crisis is unreasonable. Most staff should already be on lockdown and unavailable. This has slowed their response and caused confusion of where to respond. An interoperable alert system connected to dispatch and those officers can reduce response time.
Any notification needs to alert all building occupants; staff, students, and visitors. Addressing security is a layered approach. Each component adds to the overall safety posture, but no single improvement addresses every threat. Deterrence, detection and prevention of violence are important. Response is the component that is relegated to law enforcement in our schools. We need to get them there as quickly as possible.