Re-thinking School Safety

A high school in Sante Fe, Texas was the scene of a mass murder recently, with at least 10 people killed and as many more wounded. A 17-year-old student has been identified as the killer. He was able to take a shotgun, a pistol, and some “pipe bombs” onto the school grounds.

Incidents like that at Sante Fe High School make headlines on a regular basis. Most recently, schools have been the targets, but churches, workplaces, and other “Gun Free” public venues are equally at risk.
Those who are disturbed, disgruntled, or politically motivated are often armed, not only with weapons, but with a blueprint: a blueprint drawn up by previous attacks, and still a work in progress. It is constantly being tweaked to maximize casualties, and any potential killer can access it just by reading.

anonymous hood

Given the “success” that the unhinged have had, it is amazing that most still consider mass shootings to be something that happens elsewhere. The sad truth is that there’s no reason to believe your home town is immune to such events. This became painfully clear as a shooter killed 17 at a high school just a few miles from our home in February, 2018.

Attitudes may, however, be changing. When a teenage girl was interviewed by a news outlet, she said:
It’s been happening everywhere, I’ve always kind of felt it like eventually it was going to happen here too. I wasn’t surprised, I was just scared.”

This is perhaps the saddest statement of the New Normal: The average teenager is no longer surprised that a mass casualty event might occur at her school.

It’s time to replace complacency and fear with action to keep our schools safe. A number of steps can be taken that might help in this mission.

classroom blackboard books

Improving Security

Improving security is clearly a priority, but how exactly can this be accomplished? Placing trained security at school entrances is of paramount importance. Many schools have taken steps in this direction, but more are needed both in numbers and visibility. If it is obvious that trained, armed security is a feature of every school entrance, some gunmen may abort their missions.

Entrances should funnel visitors through areas with trained security and, perhaps, scanners that can identify weapons. Entry points should be limited in number, and most should be locked down except for emergency exits. School perimeters should be fenced and monitored.

Of course, some will ask how schools can afford multiple professional security officers. The question should be: How can our society afford to have our children mowed down in these attacks? The price for school safety isn’t cheap, but it’s too important to pinch pennies.

hands adults grass

Some areas might be able to supplement their paid personnel with trained volunteers. There are likely a number of people in each community who are committed to school safety and willing to donate some time to keep students safe. These people can be assembled into teams and trained to identify threats, notify authorities, and provide first aid when needed.

Fire Alarms Protocol

An issue that should be addressed immediately is the protocol related to fire alarms. Shooters have learned to pull alarms in order to get targets out of classrooms into corridors, where they are easier targets. This tactic was used by the gunman in the South Florida high school incident. At Sante Fe, a teacher set off the alarm in an effort to warn of the attack, but with the same end result: multitudes of unsuspecting targets densely packed in the halls.

fire alarm staircase

Fire alarms are necessary, of course, and an orderly process is needed to move large numbers of students out of buildings. The same process isn’t the best strategy for terror events, however. A clearly different alarm, possibly a siren or foghorn, should warn of this type of incident; trained staff should then respond by entering and quickly exploring hallways while awaiting police response.

Situational Awareness Culture

Instilling a culture of situational awareness would be a way to decrease future attacks and casualties. Situational awareness is a state of calm, relaxed observation that maximizes the ability to spot threats. These threats are known as “anomalies”; learning to recognize them can identify suspicious individuals and save lives.

eyes woman books

Situational awareness also involves always having a plan of action when a threat occurs, even if it’s as simple as making a note of the nearest exit at the mall. This may seem like plain old common sense, but in this era of smartphones, so many of our youngsters are oblivious of their surroundings. Before, the worst that could happen was a bump on the head for walking into a streetlamp. Today, the consequences may be much worse.

Teach our citizens to avoid the natural paralysis that occurs in unexpected circumstances. The gunman at Sante Fe caused twenty casualties; a shooting at an Orlando nightclub caused 200. it’s possible that quick action while a gun was being reloaded might have made a difference in the outcome.

Having said that, it’s hard to act when your brain isn’t trained to do so. When such training occurs at a young age, however, it becomes second nature and might save lives. A strategy such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” triad are simple enough and could be part of the answer.

Given the importance of saving lives, why not train our students in simple first aid techniques to stop bleeding? Rapid action by bystanders is well-known to decrease the number of deaths from hemorrhage. Add “Reducing” bleeding to “Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic” as part of school curriculum, and lives might be saved.

teach blocks on table

Identify Persons of Interest

Identify persons of interest through their social media posts. Many active shooters are vocal about their intentions. You might be concerned about “big brother” monitoring our public conversations on Facebook and other sites, but you must answer this question: How many deaths might occur as a result of ignoring warning signs? Privacy and public safety must achieve a reasonable balance.

We must always be on the lookout for signs of trouble. Even if this drives some potential gunmen underground, it might identify others in time to prevent an attack.

Provide first aid kits for bleeding in public venues that can be accessed by those at the scene. With supplies, the Good Samaritan will be more likely to save a life. I predict that these kits will be fixtures on the wall next to the fire extinguisher in the uncertain future.

first aid kit

Although you might consider it overkill, putting a tourniquet in your high school student’s backpack (and teaching them how to use it) may not be a bad idea. So is the idea of buying a gun safe to limit access appropriately.

Of course, the recent debate on arming teachers must depend on the community. In some areas, few teachers will have firearms training. In others, many will. Simple possession of a weapon, however, is useless without knowledge and experience in its use.

Despite the above recommendations, our response as a nation has been slow to correct the problem. I say that era must end. Let’s stop being “soft” targets. We must forsake the notion that shootings are just part and parcel of the New Normal. Instead, we must begin the process by which we change our attitude and level of vigilance as a society.

You don’t have to be a Department of Homeland Security official to know that there are more active shooter events on the horizon. A prepared nation wouldn’t be invulnerable to attacks, but its citizens would have a better chance to survive them.

By Joe Alton MD


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  1. At an elementary school in MD there are teacher monitors outside when the buses pull up to discharge students in the morning. As soon as the last bus is unloaded the doors to the school are locked from the inside. Anyone needing entry must go to the main door where they can be seen by office personnel. Office personnel then hit the unlock button and the person is then allowed into the office where they have to produce ID, get photographed an sign in.
    My neighbor tells me that a school in FL not only implements the same system but that there is an alarm that is different in tone from the fire drill alarm which can be set off by any teacher from their desk. It automatically locks doors to any room where students could be located. Only the teacher can unlock the door to let a student back into the classroom who may have been out of the classroom at the time the alarm was set off. Also the interior doors to student areas were replaced with small bullet proof windows in them. There are also cameras in the hallways that every teacher monitors at their desk. If they see something that could be a threat they hit the alarm button and the doors lock.

    Nothing is full proof everytime but this system is at an elementary school. At a middle or high school metal detectors should be added for students to go through before heading to class as well as the automatic door locks. So sad for students to have to go through this to attend school. So sad for school personnel to have to teach students while being security guards. And even this system is not full proof.

  2. Great and thoughtful article that refelects reality, as opposed to the typical utopian views we see daily on TV and the newspapers regarding what to do about mass violence.

    One of the likely contributing factors, that’s being ignored by the MSM and politicians, is the fact that in these school shootings, many, if not most of the perps had been on prescription psychotropic drugs. Drugs with known side-effects that might lead to such violent, anti-social behavior. Yet for some reason (likely economic) this connection is being ignored.

    You mentioned striking a balance between privacy and safety. Well perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at who, in our schools, have been prescribed these drugs and take the time to see if there’s any warning signs (e.g. Social media, classroom behavior, etc.) that might indicate a potential for them to commit these violent acts. In almost every case of mass school shootings, over the past few decades, the warning signs were there and nobody paid attention.

    Finally, we need to stop the hypocrisy of claiming the saftey of our kids is paramount, yet we spend the time and money on protecting banks and politicians, while ignoring the real dangers posed to our kids.

  3. Timely article. We had an incident locally two days ago. A quick thinking teacher tackled the gunman. While he took 3 bullets (he’s going to be okay), he prevented what could have been much larger casualties. The call for first aid kits to control bleeding, at a minimum, is on target. As a civilian going into a war zone, the army made sure I knew how to control bleeding. Schools can do the same thing.

  4. There is no epidemic of mass shootings at schools. Being murdered at school is, fortunately, a small fraction of all murders. However, mass shootings at schools are highly emotionally charged and provide those who want to ban the private possession of guns with a basis to advocate for doing so.

    Unfortunately, mass shootings at schools have been treated as expressions of some underlying angst, anguish, reaction to being bullied, etc., in effect rationalizing and in a perverse way justifying the shootings from the perspective of the shooters. The media spends huge amounts of time analyzing/speculating on why the mass shooters shoot, and I think that communicates to copy-cats that you too can express yourself and receive a lot of attention. The media should report accurately on mass shootings, but should exercise some self-restraint to avoid communicating something that might encourage a copy cat.

  5. The protocol for police in an active shooter situation (since Comlombine(sp?)) has been to make entry and enguage the threat. All police have been trained to this protocol.
    However in Florida, they have broken protocol. In the night club shooting the police that were first to arive on the scean were about to make entry when they were order to stand down. Because of this, many more people were killed. In Parkland, the police arived and just stood around until the guy surrendered.
    In the Parkland imcident, the police and the FBI knew the shooter would be a problem and did nothing to try to stop the problem.
    Then the Hogg kid who is a son of an FBI agent goes on the rampage to take guns from everyone. Of course we all know how that turns out. Look at Turkey – 3 million murdered by the government, Germany – 8 million, Russia 30 million, China – 50 million, Mexico with an unknown number murdered every day by the drug cartels.

    In Texas there is a law on the books that if someone employed by the school and has a carry permit has the option of becoming a school marshal. They need to take a course put on by the state. Their duty is to protect the kids and they carry a gun in the school. In the recent school shooting, a teacher stopped the shooter (after being shot several times) before a larger number of kids could be injured.

  6. The registery of suspicious people is not updated periodically by each state so they can be readily identified. This is a simple thing that can be fixed with compliance requirements on each state, county, and community to report same.

  7. Finally, someone thinking clearly! Thank you so much for a reasonable assessment and practical, highly usable ideas that schools can implement to keep our children safe. Please submit this article to news agencies so that this comprehensive, rational perspective might be presented to the public to help combat the uninformed and irrational screaming of “ban guns” as an answer, is quelled.
    My only addition to your suggestions is adding either solid core or metal doors on classrooms and better locks to keep shooters out. Again, thank you for an amazing well thought out article.

  8. Question: Who wrote this article?
    At the top it says; “By SurvivorWoman” but at the bottom under a quote it reads; by Joe Alton MD.
    Did Joe Alton only write the quote or the entire article? If Joe wrote the article why was it attributed to SurvivorWoman and if he just wrote the quote why wasn’t it separated enough for this to be clear?

    I like to know who is writing the articles I find most useful, well thought out etc.
    Thank you in advance for clarifying this confusion.

  9. Another thing is stop making these shooters famous don’t identify these people by name. Don’t give them the time of day just teach your kids to be mindful of their situational awareness. I know that is hard to do, with all of the social media out there for them to be distracted by but we have to keep after them to be and stay safe. Also as an ad on to this note being a security consultant I can tell you it is not cheep to do all of these upgrades everyone is shouting about. I know it sounds heartless to say, but some if not most of these school districts don’t and can’t get together the funds necessary to implement these security features. Bullet proof doors are nearly $8-$10,000.00 per door, plus all of the electronic measures another $50-100,000.00 for cameras, electronic locks, extra alarm sensors, and additional switches in every room to be activated by the individual teacher in each room. There are a lot more things hidden behind the scenes that we don’t advertise to the general public so these active shooters don’t know they need to try and get around them. These are the counter measures that can and will defeat these nefarious individual.

  10. A local talk radio jock talked about becoming ‘numb’ to these events. I get that. It’s not right. I get that too. This crap shouldn’t be happening. It didn’t happen when I was a kid. Quit ‘glorifying’ these incidents. These kids want their 15 minutes of fame…quit feeding that. Quit ‘pussifying’ kids, teach them to stand up for themselves, and to admit when they are wrong, and how to walk away. I never got on the train of blaming video games and social media, BUT have changed my opinion over the years. I won’t go into that here. Teaching respect for firearms would go a long way. Eliminating gun free zones would do much for decreasing gun violence. We have had some excellent examples in recent weeks of good guys with guns stopping the bad guys with guns, too bad the MSM don’t cover that. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’.

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