What’s more important than your family’s safety and security? And what is more important to you when your children are at school than their safety and security? So why is it we see more and better physical security for neighborhood banks and jewelry stores than we do for our public schools? Are money and jewels more valuable to us than our children?
If you’re like me, the answers to those questions are obvious, but the solutions in public schools are more complex than they should be because of an irrational political correctness that ascribes more to fantasy perceptions than to unfortunate realities. However, in terms of physical security, what’s good for one is not always good for all, or even most. Each community must decide for itself a comfortable level of security. We cannot wait, nor should we expect our federal government to weigh in on better security for our children at school through a national gun control initiative. There’s so much more to the issue than that convenient cloak under which are hidden myriad other contributing factors as to why or how a young gunman did what he did.
If the problem is security, then the solution must address that issue in order to be effective. Everything else is secondary. The fact is that all shooters plan their attack; whether for a few hours or for up to several years, they plan exactly what they want do, when, and how, and then rehearse it, if only in their minds. They envision themselves being successful, which feeds their sick motivation to actually carry out the crime.
Shooters select targets that are “soft,” or appear to carry a higher probability of success than for failure. Nothing would be worse for the perpetrator than failing to execute their depraved fantasy. So, the critical task in preparing to discourage similar attacks than what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School is to “harden” the potential target, or at least give the appearance and impression that if chosen, it would be less likely that an attack would be successful.
How to do this when normal protective security practices cannot take place at public schools, such as varying one’s schedule and being unpredictable in day-to-day operations? Boys and girls arrive at the same time, via the same transportation system every day. They also take recess, out door physical education, and athletics at predictable and reliable times each day, usually in the open on favorable weather days. Again, the goal is to harden potential targets; nothing is going to completely protect a child at school unless you make them into what some would call prisons, but making the opportunities available to a potential shooter fewer, and his potential success less likely are the goals.
While in Iraq, I was part of dozens of convoys, some short, some long, but each one, whether it was near or far, was unique. Planning was detailed and exhaustive, but each thing we did, or didn’t do, we knew would contribute to either our potential success or failure, and failure was not an option. We knew bad guys were out there, watching us, learning from our behavior, so we were constantly evaluating our performance on security. Schools need to do the same thing.
Currently, public schools drill more for fires than any other potential hazard, and that comes from a history of horrible fires. But the time has come to add intruder drills that focus on best practice protection and reaction, in cooperation with local law enforcement and emergency response agencies – the groups that would most likely be first responders to an incident. Since schools practice at least a dozen fire evacuation drills each year, escaping rather than locking down as a best way to avoid an active shooter could be incorporated into the drills: lock the doors, and then escape through a second means of egress, already required by fire safety code, and then rally at a predetermined location off-campus.
Schools need to employ security experts, like those at R.R.I.S.C. (Rescue Recovery Investigation Security Consulting – http://www.rriscm.com) who will work with administrators, teachers, support staff, parents and students so that they feel prepared should the unthinkable happen. (And if it can happen in Newtown Connecticut, it can happen anywhere. It’s a new age, and one that won’t pass anytime soon.) Consulting with professionals can lead to innovative and effective plans that can save lives in active shooter situations. One solution may be to employ a company like R.R.I.S.C. to train school staff to perform their own protection services and employ a quick reaction force (QRF) for active shooter situations. A QRF could aid local law enforcement in isolating and then eliminating an armed threat. They could also perform triage and traumatic first aid care while protecting wounded victims from further harm. Good candidates for QRF responders could be teachers and administrators, but school support staff, such as custodians, maintenance mechanics, grounds keepers, clerical, school aides, hall monitors, and security staff, some of whom may be former military, may provide an excellent resource for enhanced school protection. Teachers must stay with their students in the classroom, so training them to use firearms for protection makes sense. A potential shooter who wants to enter a classroom by force would be met with force, causing a failure or at least a delay in his plans.
Politics be damned: we can’t afford to sit around and argue about motive, gun control, mental health, violent video games, etc. We need to keep our schools safe and secure, and we do that by hardening them with physical security devices and personnel who will present an undesirable target for a potential shooter. We want the shooter to pick someplace else. If everyone had that attitude then the shooter’s fantasy would have to remain just that.
In the mean time, approach your local school district board members and administrators and then ask them what they are doing to make the school facilities hard targets, and undesirable settings for potential intruders. Hold their feet to the fire and organize with parent groups, such as the PTA, booster club, or alumni associations. Offer to help pay for a professional physical security risk assessment, and then follow-up by asking what more can be done to keep your children safe in school. Lives depend on it, maybe even your own child’s.