On May 24, 2022, in the small town of Uvalde, Texas, the unspeakable occurred. A gunman armed with a powerful assault rifle walked into an elementary school and took the lives of 19 students and two teachers.
Although, sadly, these events are not unprecedented—mass shootings in public places of all kinds have become an almost daily event in the U.S.— there is always something particularly disturbing about this type of violence taking place at a school.
For parents and communities alike, schools are supposed to be sacrosanct. They are places where children go to learn and grow. Schools are supposed to be places of safety, support and positivity. They should not play host to fear and horror like the nation saw unfold in Uvalde, or in Parkland, Sandy Hook or other schools before these.
There are, of course, great debates in society at large about what to do about this issue. While there might be general agreement about the existence of the problem, there are vastly different ideas about how to tackle it. There is much work to be done on the policy level; issues of gun regulation, mental-health awareness and services, and school funding all need to be discussed and addressed to solve this problem.
While those debates churn on, what can schools do within their control to maximize the safety of their students and faculty? Every school needs to think about security and develop a plan.
People, Technology, Procedure
“The perception that ‘it won’t happen here’ may leave facilities unprepared to manage
an incident,” explains Marc Donahue, director, Agency Partners Programs for EFCO and Wausau Window and Wall Systems. “Sixty-two percent of all shooter attack incidents between 1992 and 2012 happened in communities with populations under 100,000. To break that down further, 40 percent of all shootings in this timeframe were in communities with populations under 50,000 and 14 percent in communities with populations under 10,000. The sad truth is that it can happen anywhere.”
“From my experience, the best electronic monitoring systems you can install or paying police officers to stand at the front doors will not solve the problem. Without properly trained staff paying attention to those systems, they do no good. Staffing is extremely important, as is training.”
Bill Herzog, CEO, Lionheart Security Services
“Schools are, by definition, vulnerable places,” says Johnathan Tal, CEO of TAL Global Corp., an international investigative and risk-consulting firm. “Students, staff and parents have physical access, but safety resources are often limited. In public schools, the city is usually responsible for providing security, but smaller schools do not get a school resource officer (SRO). Private schools are often even more inadequate when it comes to security. Add to this the psychological impact of a school attack and the ‘copy cat’ syndrome and you have the perfect storm focused on a vulnerable focal point.”
“In my opinion, it’s a combination of issues,” says Bill Herzog, CEO of Lionheart Security Services. “The fact that there is a lack of trained security or law enforcement at so many schools is a problem. In many cases it isn’t so much about a lack of electronic monitoring systems. It has more to do with the fact that schools don’t have a dedicated staff member who pays attention to it. If no one is monitoring the system, it does no good.”
“Security is built as a three-legged stool, standing on people, technology and procedures,” Tal says. “The building and security technology that comes with it, including things like access control, perimeter fences and cameras, make up one leg. But people are the key. When it comes to improving school security, teachers, students, staff and parents are all players that need to participate.”
Assess the Situation
When it comes to building and occupant safety, every building and every environment is different. According to most experts, securing a school or most any space begins with first understanding the building and exactly what concerns need to be addressed and what risks need to be mitigated.
“There are resources available to schools and design professionals that offer building assessments by subject-matter experts,” Donahue explains. “These assessments can identify and recommend solutions to address vulnerable areas of the facility and assist with developing an effective emergency response plan and provide training to administration, teachers and staff on how to properly respond when an incident happens. Assessing, implementing and training are all key areas to address to make school facilities safer.”
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