School safety has once again been elevated to the top of the agenda for many schools across the country. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, parents and other community members are demanding a comprehensive review of practices and procedures, and on the extreme, that school staff be armed and facilities become impregnable fortresses.
It is noteworthy to look at the historical perspective as we chart our course to the future. After the Columbine High School tragedy on April 20, 1999, schools underwent a transformation that included the development of comprehensive crisis plans, technology driven access control and surveillance measures, and for some, the use of armed police officers on the campus.
At both Columbine and Sandy Hook Elementary School, calls to 9-1-1 were made almost immediately as the perpetrator entered the school. Police response times were less than six minutes at both locations. For many of the school shootings in the time period between these two tragedies, the same is true. What is also a fact is that for many of the school shootings over the past 13 plus years the loss of life occurred in that short time period between the shooter entering the school and the arrival of police. And, in a number of events, the perpetrator(s) committed suicide having either run out of ammunition, targets or time.
School officials are now left wondering what else can and should they do to further minimize the chance they will become the next site of a mass school shooting.
The answer lies in an understanding of how rampage shootings occur and also involves both short and long term initiatives specifically tailored to the common denominators of these types of events. The balance is that in school communities we must maintain a level of reasonableness that includes the need to protect as well as the need for an educational climate conducive to student learning.
In the short term, we must continue to do what we can do to minimize the chance of a school shooting and the potential loss of life and injury.
For some schools, the placement of an armed officer on campus is not practical or feasible; regardless, all schools should create barriers, utilize delaying tactics, and create buffers and visual awareness opportunities that decrease the opportunity for a shooter to inflict injury and take life prior to police arrival. While short-term strategies involve practices and procedures, in the long term, schools should re-evaluate and implement design and environmental changes to the campus. With the limitations school face and the knowledge we have of rampage shooters, schools should give consideration to the following.
The strategies listed above should be the beginnings of a discussion for educators around the country in how to target harden the school without significantly and adversely impacting the overall climate. No one strategy can prevent a school shooting or totally eliminate the possibility of injuries or even fatalities. Every school will have to decide exactly where the right balance exists and then develop both a short and long plan for making school as safe as reasonably possible.
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