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8 Ways To Make Your Campus Safer

Take these steps to give your campus a fighting chance against an active-shooter threat.

December 14, 2012  |  by Robin Hattersley Gray

Photo via Terry McCombs/Flickr.
Photo via Terry McCombs/Flickr.

As the horrible details of Friday's Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting come to light, my first thoughts are to keep all of the individuals affected by this tragedy in my prayers.

After the dust settles, however, the campus protection community should once again be prepared to review our K-12 active-shooter response emergency plans, as well as the technologies and approaches to construction and renovation that can help thwart future attacks. Below are some basics Campus Safety magazine has covered over the years that I encourage every campus security stakeholder to review.

Note: Some, if not all, of the solutions listed below might already be in place at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

  • Realize it can happen at your campus: Although security at K-12 schools and districts, as well as the response tactics of law enforcement to active shooter incidents are much better than in 1999 when the Columbine High School massacre occurred, it's so easy for these issues to become afterthoughts if nothing has happened at your school recently. School public safety must constantly be top of mind.
  • Local law enforcement and campuses must foster close, working relationships: Developing these relationships ahead of time will ensure vital information and resources flow between both sides during an emergency. For example, if you have a security camera system installed at your school, can local police access the images for improved situational awareness during an incident? A common saying in law enforcement is that public safety stakeholders shouldn't be making introductions and exchanging business cards at an emergency operations center during a crisis.
  • Local law enforcement must conduct active shooter exercises on campuses: This helps police officers learn the layout of each building so they’ll be able to respond more effectively during a crisis. First responders (including fire and EMS) should also have easy and immediate access to building plans and layouts so they can quickly shut off power, HVAC, etc.
  • Train teachers, administrators, staff and students how to appropriately respond to active shooter incidents: Do they know what shelter in place and lockdown mean? Do they know under when and where to evacuate? Are administrators, teachers and appropriate staff trained in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS)? Also, staff must be trained to make life-and-death decisions quickly.
  • Put locks on classroom doors that lock from the inside: Doing this enables a teacher to lock a door without exposing themselves to a shooter who might be in the hallway. It should be noted, however, that there are pros and cons to this approach that must be addressed with appropriate policies and technologies.
  • Limit access of visitors to campus: This can be achieved by having a single entrance through which all visitors must pass. The entrances that have vestibules (that act somewhat like man-traps) can prevent an unauthorized visitor from getting beyond the front office. Additionally, visitor management software can help school staff screen visitors who might have arrest records or child custody disputes. Unfortunately, for campuses with open layouts, managing visitors can be very challenging 
  • Develop a method to notify parents during an emergency so they are kept informed about the status of the situation, as well as where and when they can reunite with their children. Emergency notification technologies, including SMS text, social medial, E-mail and hotlines can help get the messages out quickly.
  • Provide mental health services for students, staff and first responders: A tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook with so many children dying would be difficult for anyone. Mental health services can help all those affected process their grief and move on with their lives.

All of these points, and many more I've failed to mention, should be covered in your campus emergency plans.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’m certain we'll learn more about the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and if anything could have been done differently to decrease the loss of life. Unfortunately, I suspect this may be one of those times when no amount of work can prepare us for tragedies like this one. That being said, it can only help if we double our efforts.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Sandy Hook Elementary School's students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents and neighbors.

Robin Hattersley Gray is the executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine, a sister publication of POLICE Magazine.

Related:

27 Killed in Connecticut School Shooting

Conn. Gunman Killed Mother Before Deadly Rampage

Early Moments of Conn. Shooting Heard In Dispatch Audio

Obama: 'Our Hearts Are Broken' for Conn. Victims

Honoring the Sandy Hook Shooting Responders

Tags: Sandy Hook School Shooting, Active Shooters, School Shootings, Access Control, Emergency Notification


Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

David @ 12/15/2012 1:56 AM

You missed the most important point - each individual is responsible for his own safety. Police have no responsibility to the individual. Each member of the school staff should have the option to be armed. If they do not qualify for concealed carry, they probably should not be with the children. When the bad guy comes into the room, I want an armed teacher defending my child, not cowering in the closet hoping they an hide.

cgover @ 12/15/2012 2:52 AM

First Responders need ANY and ALL information from tragic incidents like this one. How many times have we later learned the caller had no cell coverage. Teachers and students have to able to make these calls!!

Mark @ 12/15/2012 7:55 PM

David is spot on. We can't get there fast enough. There needs to be an armed person in every school from now on. A controlled single access point in every school should be required.

Longo2guns @ 12/16/2012 7:44 AM

The problem with an armed teacher is that at least in my state, and probably most if not all 50 (or 57, depending on your political affiliation) is that it is a FELONY to have a firearm inside the schools unless authorized, i.e. police/law enforcement only. I've been encouraging teachers here to have one in their personally owned vehicles, which is legal. Better than nothing, may at least be able to put a halt to a mass murder.

John Russell @ 12/16/2012 10:09 PM

Only thing that could have been done and sadly frowned upon is one teacher usually a male or even a Custodian who had one firearm and highly trained with it locked on premises could have made a difference? Perhaps roving armed guard from school to school may have hindered this attack? Also GOOD doors act as good barriers...even thin layered steel stops hand gun ammo and certainly if locked from inside would stop any perpetrator from entry. Worse thing is running children out possibly into open fire.

Bob @ VA @ 12/17/2012 12:26 PM

Good overall suggestions, but no substitute for immediate, armed action against a psychopath. Teachers, aides, administrators, and whatever other adults are already present ARE the first responders. How many have to die before we realize that basic fact? The Israelis got it right and haven't had a school shooting since 1974. Make weapons training a required part of teacher qualification and drill regularly. We train repeatedly with fire drills, earthquake drills, etc., yet bury our head in the sand while our children are at risk from psychopaths. How differently Sandy Hook might have ended if the principle and school psychologist initially met the psychopath with rounds on target rather than a angry indignation.

Tom Ret @ 12/17/2012 6:33 PM

Maybe we should reassign our national guard from Afghanistan to our schools if police are in short supply.

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