4 Steps for Strengthening School Security
The February 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla., provided a tragic reminder that schools and other soft targets need to strengthen security against active shooter threats. Clearly, it would be impractical—if not impossible—to fortify campuses with a ring of steel, and arming teachers and staff is not a feasible solution. It seems equally unlikely that the United States would follow the footsteps of UK legislators, who outlawed the purchase and possession of handguns after the 1996 massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, when a gunman killed 16 first graders and their teacher.
Despite the inherent challenges of school safety and the political minefield of gun control, schools can take several steps to mitigate their vulnerability. The following recommendations combine best practices from law enforcement and private security, as well as lessons learned from recent attacks.
• Counter-surveillance. Most prospective attackers have done a dry run or know the school well enough to determine whether an attack will succeed. To identify such reconnaissance efforts, schools need to have trained security personnel—either law enforcement or private security officers—who can observe activities on and around the campus, supported by live video surveillance. While many schools have security cameras, these devices are often used as an investigative tool. Skilled personnel need to monitor these feeds in real time to spot suspicious behavior.
• Intelligence gathering. Often, collecting intelligence proves more effective than beefing up security. This proactive approach focuses on averting a potential incident, rather than improving response efforts. In addition to maintaining open, two-way communication with local law enforcement, security teams should encourage frequent meetings with teachers and staff. Rumors often become reality, as was the case in the Parkland attack, when the FBI received a tip about the suspected shooter one month before the assault. Schools need to cultivate an environment where students feel comfortable approaching teachers and security professionals with concerns.
• Intervention. Schools also need to have an intervention plan for managing potential threats. Installation of high-security doors, for instance, can buy time against a would-be attacker, while teachers and students retreat to a safe room and alert law enforcement. In addition, use of assault weapons raises the stakes—and the requirements of safe rooms. Such spaces should be designed to withstand 15-20 minutes of concerted attack.
• Flexible training. Even though faculty, administration and students at the Parkland high school had undergone “active shooter training,” the gunman—a former student who was familiar with the emergency plans—nullified that preparation by triggering the fire alarm. Over-reliance on any one response method, including lockdowns and sheltering in place, is less effective than teaching students and staff how to think for themselves.
For information on how Sunstates Security can support your emergency response preparation and training, please call 866-710-2019 or email us.