How schools can prevent attacks and minimize damage
You know the names. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School, Santa Fe High School and many more. These examples of domestic terrorism have heightened our awareness, making us feel vulnerable when entering a school.
Students are trained what to do if a shooter opens fire in classrooms, corridors and lunch rooms. They worry not about that day’s test, but about staying alive.
Schools, once thought to be safe havens for children, have become sites of unimaginable horror. And some think that a solution involves arming teachers.
Regardless of your opinions on gun control, the numbers don’t lie. From January 1, 2009, to May 21, 2018, there have been 288 school shootings. Among the G7 nations, France is second with two school shootings during that time frame. Among all other nations, Mexico is second with eight.
Until the issues of gun control, school funding and increased on-site police protection are sorted out, that may be the norm for a while.
But there are steps schools and districts should take to minimize damage and injuries, and eliminate the loss of lives. While each school is different, here are the components of a basic plan that provides added security for everyone who enters.
Define the threat
Based on the layout and location of the school—and frequency of occupancy and crowd density—try to determine those areas most at risk, and what is the most likely threat posed to them. An armed intruder may threaten forced entry, but it is far easier for someone to deposit a hand-carried explosive device nearby, weaponizing window glass and threatening everyone in the vicinity with the exploding shards.
Harden obvious weak points
This includes doorways and ground-floor windows—particularly those that may not be visible from public roads and sidewalks. Real-time cameras covering the perimeter of a school will provide immediate, vital information. Reinforced entry doors and ground-level window glass are effective in slowing forced entry. Hardening upper-level windows can secure building occupants against glass-shrapnel injury in the event of a blast from a small nearby bomb.
Know the building
Administrative, security and custodial staff—and local law enforcement—must have up-to-date floor plans with clearly, logically identified locations of all entries, stairs, elevators, rooms and lavatories. Those locations should be labeled with photoluminescent signage, so they are easily identified, even in the dark.
Take away hiding places
Remove hedges, bushes, garbage cans and other obstacles that provide cover for an intruder or an explosive device.
Work with law enforcement to develop a way to continually receive intelligence about trending threats. And don’t forget—security works both ways. Train administrators, teachers, staff and students on what to look out for. As the saying goes, “If you see something, say something.”
Safety isn’t free, unfortunately, so be prepared to pay for:
- security personnel at entry points
- security cameras to monitor all areas outside and within
- blast-mitigation window film
- metal detectors
No one likes to think of the threat from an armed assailant in a school building, but we don’t have a choice. We can contribute to our children’s safety with a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy as outlined above. These measures may save lives and provide confidence that schools are doing their part.
Daniel Venet is executive vice president of CHB Industries, which consults with schools, offices, government buildings, houses of worships and homes on security issues.