The tragedy that occurred at Townville Elementary School in South Carolina is difficult to accept. The school district had certainly taken steps to secure the perimeter and instruct teachers on response as this is a basic standard of care. All of this planning didn’t prevent the 14-year-old perpetrator from jumping the fence and attacking the students on the playground. National stories such as this focus attention on the external threat and scare parents and administrators into the same methods that have continually proven ineffective in stopping a hostile intruder. The external security approach serves a purpose, but it should not be considered the sole solution.
While not necessarily unforeseeable, the ability to prevent incursions inside the school perimeter is a daunting task. For every barrier we erect those intent on harm are going to find a means to by-pass obstacles. When looking back at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Murrysville to name a few, all of these mass casualty events had some combination of cameras, secured entry and/or on duty security that was overcome. The lessons learned from all of these incidents is that quick notification to law enforcement is vital, teachers must be able to sound the alarm instantly, and that training and options for response are paramount to reducing casualties and saving lives. We would never rely on a 911 call in the event of a fire in a building because it takes too long. This is why we have fire alarm pulls throughout the buildings. We need to have similar ability to set off alarms in the more likely event of an sudden hostile event at our schools.
According to reports from Townville Elementary the incident was reported to emergency responders by one of the teachers from inside the building looking out the window after hearing gunshots. This notification option takes too much time. Unfortunately, this is the typical notification system for active shooter events. There was no mention of how the rest of the building was notified. The fire department was the first on scene and it was an unarmed firefighter that took the suspect down and subdued him until deputies arrive after 7 minutes. A study from Purdue University researchers confirmed that faster notification to law enforcement will reduce casualties. There are faster ways to make notification to building occupants and law enforcement personnel.
The most disturbing aspect for all of us is the death of Jacob Hall. The 6-year-old victim was shot in the leg and died several days later due to complications from massive blood loss. The responding EMS made a valiant effort by applying two tourniquets to stop the hemorrhaging. Unlike the movies, the reality is that over 90% of gunshot victims die from blood loss. Teachers need to have basic training on trauma response. Life extending basic trauma response applied within moments can save lives. The federal ‘Stop The Bleed’ program specifically encourages basic trauma response. This training is simple and can be done in minutes. Every classroom should be equipped with the basic lifesaving tools of blood clotting agent and tourniquet. These tools will save lives prior to emergency responders arriving on scene.
The SafeDefend system was developed to address these known issues. Faster notification needs to be accomplished by activating an alert system that will contact emergency services, set off alarms inside the building, and notify all affected persons via text and email. All of this is done in an instant. The tools incorporated into the system allow for protection and trauma response in a crisis. The approach to protecting students and staff in a fire is to notify emergency services and building occupants with the simple pull of an alarm. The same approach needs to be adopted for hostile intruder situations.