It is almost the one-year anniversary of one of the most heinous acts ever in the history of our country. On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student entered Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and shot and killed 17 students and staff. It sent school officials around the country into a state of panic, leaving them to question if this could happen in their districts. Yet a year later, our schools remain vulnerable to active shooter situations. The reality is many campuses across the country remain open targets. Our children are not safe.
Since 2009, there have been 288 school shootings in the United States. That’s 57 times as many shootings as the other six G7 countries combined. More than 220,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999. Why is this such an ongoing problem that we have been unable to solve? Why is it getting worse? How many more innocent children need to die before we finally take real action and put a stop to these senseless acts? As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remarked in his State of the State address last week, “No student should be afraid to go to school. No parent should be fearful when dropping their child off at school.”
But to better understand the problem, it’s important to take a closer look at the challenges and complexities involved. In our years of research with school shootings, here’s what we’ve found:
- Almost all public-school buildings have multiple entry points that are difficult and expensive to control. It’s also almost impossible to secure the perimeter of an entire campus. And while fencing is a start, it’s not a deterrent.
- Oftentimes the shooter is one of the students or a former student or employee who is difficult to separate from the population inside the building.
- Response times from first responders take too long. When police arrive at a building, they often do not know where the shooter is or what he or she looks like.
- Police too often set up a perimeter and a command post and wait for a SWAT unit to arrive to abate the shooter, giving the shooter extra time to take advantage of the situation and continue killing uninhibited.
- Once the shooter has been abated or surrendered, victims often remain in hiding unaware that the environment is now safe and that the police and other first responders have arrived. This leads to unnecessary stress and panic. Reunification of the building’s population is complex, unorganized and chaotic.
In recent years, the security industry has developed some cutting-edge solutions enabling facilities across the nation to overcome these deadly obstacles in emergency responses. Active-threat systems, mass-notification software and mobile app technology are just a handful of tools schools can implement to proactively help students and staff with the ability to survive in the event of the unthinkable.
Besides modern technology, it’s vital all school districts across the country continue to make safety and security a top priority. Make sure every facility is equipped with an emergency response plan and that all occupants are familiar with this plan. Students, teachers and staff must be taught the basics of how to find the exits if needed, seek shelter, avoid stampedes and, most importantly, act quickly. Regular drills should be scheduled throughout the month to help students and teachers understand their best options when an active shooter situation arises. Being prepared saves lives.
Most important, school districts need to overcome the bureaucratic red tape they deal with and make safety and security a top priority. They must overcome budgetary constraints and allocate more funds to keeping every campus safe.
This Thursday as we pause to remember the 17 lives lost at Douglas High School a year ago, plus the eight students and two teachers fatally shot last May at Santa Fe High School, one way to honor their memory is to make a commitment to safety and security so another tragic event never happens again in our nation’s schools. We must all continue to do our part. Going to school should not mean walking into a potentially life-threatening scenario.