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Prevent School Shootings through Realistic Solutions

How to prevent school shootings? GDBA’s Vice President for Protection Strategies, James Hamilton, offers real, practical and specific solutions.

As the media coverage of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School played on my screen at 40,000 feet, I watched a moving interview of a teacher who survived and she was understandably distraught and angry. Her anger was directed at those that could have prevented this tragedy but did not. The next several days began a parade of experts on various news outlets offering their theory as to how to prevent the next one. Same theories and discussions I have heard since Columbine: ban Assault Weapons, tougher mental health laws, more School Resource Officers, and arm the teachers. These concepts may or may not have merit but I am not here to discuss them in this article.

Over the last twenty-six years, I have learned how to protect human beings that are in need of protecting. I do not have all the answers but I offer these thoughts to my connections in the hope that we can begin to make a difference in an area that we all know so much about — violence prevention. Sadly, there is already an excellent guide in place but we have chosen not to follow it. The United States has already demonstrated a successful ability to design environments that mitigate a life-taking event — fire emergencies.

I have not been to the High School in Parkland, Florida, but I am certain the rooms, hallways, and lobbies held an elaborate system of fire prevention safeguards like pull alarms, fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, interior floodlights, fluorescent signs, and egress doors that open freely. I know these things exist, because without them the local Fire Marshall would have held up the Certificate of Occupancy until the enhancements were installed, inspected, and approved.

Fire prevention experts knew long ago that they needed to install life-saving apparatus in public buildings until the firefighters can get there and local governments mandated it be so. My question has always been why is there not a violence prevention equivalent to the Fire Marshall? The local Sheriff and Police Chief are not empowered or authorized to shut down environments if they are lacking the basic violence prevention safeguards, but they should be.

As part of our firm’s Active Shooter training, we encourage the installation of an audible duress alarm within the client’s facility to provide what we call Early Notification to their employees. This Early Notification assists the employees with critical decision making and allows them to begin to take life-saving action. We often receive some push back on this recommendation and then we provide a basic reality: we have not lost a child in a school fire since 1958. Violence visits schools far more often than fires. According to the New York Times, since 2012, 138 people have been killed in school shootings. Even in the face of these statistics, no one it seems is willing to require schools to install security enhancements needed to aid the people prior to Law Enforcement arrival. Instead, we offer Run, Hide, Fight, and See Something, Say Something but we can do much better. Just like the intelligent rationale for fire apparatus, we must provide real assistance to people in a violent situation so they can have a fighting chance at survival prior to Law Enforcement arrival.

I have no personal interest in any product but good technology exists to create the environments I am talking about, it is really a matter of will on behalf of local, state, and federal lawmakers. Using past shootings as a guide, we should mandate at a minimum that all schools have and maintain the following:

  • Proper Access Control: the alleged Parkland suspect reportedly walked into the school via an unlocked stairwell without proper access
  • Duress Alarms: pull buttons strategically located throughout the facility that immediately alert Law Enforcement
  • Mass Notification System with ballistic sensors: EAGL and other technologies exist to link gunshots to a lock down of the facility
  • Locks and barricade abilities on all doors: each room should have a lock on the door and a secondary mechanism to barricade whether it be an outward opening or inward opening door
  • Training and testing of a teacher’s ability to muster students and barricade their room using the provided equipment
  • Yearly inspection of the school by local Sheriff or Police Department to confirm compliance

This list is a start and I know it is expensive, but please remember what Ben Franklin said in discussing fire safety: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I encourage all of us to assist, volunteer, and liaison with our local schools to help tackle this problem. We have spent a life accumulating this knowledge, let us use it to protect the next generation.

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