On Tuesday, the country tallied its 194th school shooting since 2000 after a gunman sprayed bullets at Rancho Tehama Elementary School in California. The trend rightly has parents on edge, worried and wondering: what are schools doing to protect our children? To get a handle on the state of school safety in the United States, we asked two experts — Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services with more than 30 years experience in the field and Michael Dorn, the Executive Director of Safe Havens International with more than 35 years experience in campus safety — what we should know about school safety and what’s being done to protect our children.
Michael Dorn, Executive Director of Safe Havens International
Lockdown drills work.
“The best thing to do is continually train on lockdown drills and quiz all staff individually on how they would react to a situation. If you always do a drill the same way, no one is prepared if things go differently. Each staff member should be trained to think independently in an emergency, and know multiple steps to take to ensure safety, not just one set protocol. A well-practiced lockdown drill can be very effective, as was shown by the shooting in California where the shooter was not able to access classrooms.”
As does behavioral training for school employees.
“Another very successful area is behavioral training. School employees are taught how to access a threat before it happens. Visual weapons’ training has stopped several planned attacks because staff was able to recognize the shape of a concealed weapon before it could be used. There is pattern matching and recognition where people are taught how to look for subtle queues of danger based on the setting and context of the people observed — that has stopped hundreds of attacks.”
Student training, on the other hand, is a terrible idea.
“One area that has arisen since Sandy Hook is Option Based Active Shooter Training programs where staff and students are taught to get involved. Training like Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, & Evacuate (ALICE) and Run, Hide, Fight encourages student and teachers in situations to move around and fight back as needed. That can be a disaster. No one should ever move until the authorities clear them. There could be multiple shooters, hidden explosives, and such. The California shooting shows the weakness of these trainings, the students would have evacuated the building, right into the shooter’s guns. By staying put they were safe.”
We have run over 7,000 risk assessments in 40 states, and we have found that the ability of school employees to make the correct choices has actually fallen since Sandy Hook.
Armed security guards can make a difference, but require a lot of training and vetting.
“There is a difference between security personnel and private personal, but, in many areas, the concerns about them overlaps. They need to be psychologically tested before being allowed to come armed into schools. They need training in the use of firearms, but even more important they need to have training in the judgmental aspect of using their firearm. When do you actually use the weapon, and when do you not — it’s not as simple as it seems. Most people have in their minds that a weapon is used for an active shooter event, but you have to realize that’s the case in only 8 percent of all school homicides. The training needs to equip people so they can deal with events that they don’t see on the media. A well-trained armed security person can make a difference.”
School security plans are being implemented, but they shouldn’t be public.
“My company cautions schools not to make their emergency response plans public. No attacker should be able to plan out their attack based on public records. That’s what the Sandy Hook shooter did. He got hold of the school, and the Connecticut State Police response plans, and used them in his attack.
Parents should still ask their administrators to walk them through the plans. The biggest thing to look for when they do their drills is to find out if they are effective. Are they introducing in different factors? Are they pulling teachers aside and having them respond to a variety of different scenarios like a fire, earthquake, and active shooter? The teachers should be able to quickly give the correct response to any, and all possibilities. Disasters are not neat and pretty, responses need to plan for that.”
Michael Dorn on the state of schools since Sandy Hook:
“I have been in the field for 35 years, and I can tell you that America is far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to school safety, but I can also tell you that we really have taken a step back since Sandy Hook. Too many schools are focusing on one event — an active shooter, instead of training for all of the scenarios that can, and do happen.
We have run over 7,000 risk assessments in 40 states, and we have found that the ability of school employees to make the correct choices has actually fallen since Sandy Hook. That is because we have had so many myths appear out there. The myth of the principal attacking the gunmen, the teacher with the gun saving everyone, of staff fighting back; there is simply no evidence of these actions saving lives.”
Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services
Training teachers should be the top priority.
“Teachers are the most important part of any response. They are the ones in charge of the kids and their decisions could very well mean the difference between life and death. As such they should undergo continual training that allows them the ability to think on their feet, to not panic, and to always look out for the children.
The teacher should lock down their students, make sure no one is missing, get students away from harm’s way, call the office, call 911, and stay put until they are given the all clear. While under lockdown they should engage the children and keep them focused on themselves, not what is happening outside their immediate area.”
Columbine led to strengthening of the schools with updated security systems, training, and resources to help. In the years between the two tragedies, all of the federal programs designed to deal with school safety and shootings were eliminated.
Ken Trump on the state of schools since Sandy Hook
“While Sandy Hook hit people in the gut — it was an attack upon elementary school kids — not much good came out of it. Instead of having an effect like Columbine did where that tragedy spurred the federal government to action — research, funding for schools for safety, laws, and commissions to make schools safer — it had the opposite effect. It quickly denigrated into a fight over the legality guns and their place in our society. There was no concerted movement to better the schools. In fact, it helped birth a dangerous new movement of teaching educators dangerous methods of dealing with shooter situations called Option Based Active Shooter Training.
Columbine led to strengthening of the schools with updated security systems, training, and resources to help. In the years between the two tragedies, all of the federal programs designed to deal with school safety and shootings were eliminated. Sandy Hook led to a lot of second-guessing, and bitter partisan fights that did not improve the schools much. Instead of bringing back programs that worked before, they instead fought over guns. On the state level, what responses there were focused on what would affect the budget the least. Some states put out a one-time-only grant to help schools buy more security equipment, and then not much more.”