By: Edmund P. Hartnett, President of Brosnan Risk Consultants
The recent horrific school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida once again spurred furious debate over what can be done to prevent and mitigate mass casualty attacks. While advocates throughout the political spectrum cite several reasons for this and prior tragic events, there are unified calls for increased armed security in our schools.
With police chiefs, public safety directors and sheriffs across the country dealing with strained budgets and reduced manpower, putting police officers in schools is not a reasonable solution. The sheer number of schools in the United States makes this unworkable.
Some have proposed arming school teachers in response to this threat. As law enforcement experts, led by former NYPD Police Commissioner and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, have noted, this is not a practical solution. In addition, it may have more negatives than positives.
First, how would the level of training and firearms competency be measured? And who would be responsible for training and certifying these individuals? Who would determine the rules of engagement for these newly armed educators? Like Sky Marshalls who consistently train for the possibility of using deadly force in a crowded airplane environment, teachers would require specialized classroom training as well interactive fact based “Shoot or Don’t Shoot” scenarios hopefully utilizing firearms simulators. Even teachers who are lifelong gun owners are not necessarily suited to possess and ultimately use firearms in stressful combat-like conditions.
Next, would the teacher now carry his/her loaded weapon throughout the school day? Or would the weapon be stored in a locked box to be retrieved if needed? Both scenarios have been proposed and each is fraught with negatives. A teacher with a gun exposed on his/her belt might present an intimidating or imposing image in the classroom and thus have a negative impact on the learning environment. And, since Active Shooter situations occur quickly and with little or no warning, the teacher with a gun safely locked away in a box or safe may never get to the weapon in time.
Also, there is a cost factor. Teachers’ unions would require additional pay and benefits as well as increased liability insurance for their members. And, since teachers work under collective bargaining agreements, these additional duties would require labor contracts to be opened for renegotiation.
In addition, since school safety, security and response plans are closely coordinated with law local enforcement, responding officers may be slowed and possibly endangered when entering schools during emergencies and encountering newly trained armed teachers. These delays in response and the potential for “friendly fire” incidents makes this even more untenable.
So what’s the solution?
A multi pronged approach is needed:
- First, armed well trained private security professionals make much more sense than teachers carrying firearms. These security officers should be trained in providing security specifically tailored to that particular school. He/She should have an ongoing rapport with local law enforcement and, when feasible, be equipped with a police radio. Retired law enforcement and former military personnel would be ideal candidates for these positions, especially those who reside near the school.
- Second, this security officer should be linked to a private sector or public safety command center that pushes out pertinent alerts on conditions in the area that may impact on the safety of his/her school.
- Next, simple solutions such as deadbolt locks in all classrooms, strict access control systems and procedures and Active Shooter training, including drills, must be made mandatory. While some school systems are very proactive and engaged in these areas, others are woefully behind.
- Finally, there are technological solutions that must be considered. Each school’s layout and emergency response plans should be digital and Cloud based. And made available to law enforcement and first responders. There is no longer a need for folders and clipboards bearing outdated floor plans and blueprints. There is now military grade geospatial technology available that enable responding police officers to locate, isolate and neutralize an Active Shooter threat quickly. In addition, gun detection systems, Man Traps and other tripwire products must be considered.
School shootings are a national problem. They occur in urban, suburban and rural areas. And, since the typical Active Shooter event lasts from 2 to 5 minutes, unfortunately, the police usually arrive after the attack has ended. The suggested solutions above, thoughtfully implemented with input from teachers, school administrators, staff, parents, law enforcement officials, community leaders and, yes, even students can have a dramatic impact on preventing mass casualty attacks in our schools.