In the grim pantheon of American school shootings, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida captured the public imagination like few others. In the two years since Nikolas Cruz gunned down fourteen students and three faculty (as well as injuring numerous others), the emphasis on protecting school campuses from mass shootings has kicked into overdrive, with various school safety solutions offered from across the political spectrum.
This was in no small part down to the activism of the survivors of Parkland. Through their “March for Our Lives” campaign, they displayed their overwhelming desire to prevent such massacres from happening again.
Fortunately, there is widespread agreement on the need to change our approach to school safety. Unfortunately, there is vast disagreement on what precisely needs to be changed.
Does School Safety Mean Less Guns or More Guns?
A major part of the student activism in the wake of Parkland was related to the availability of guns. In fact, their campaign centered on stricter gun control to make such weapons harder to acquire. Numerous states have passed gun control measures like bans on bump stocks, expanded background checks, so-called “red flag” laws and raising the age at which someone can purchase an assault weapon. However, many feel that such provisions don’t go far enough.
On the other side of the argument, there are also numerous proponents of increasing the numbers of armed police officers at schools and even arming teachers. While the number of armed guards has increased at schools across the country in recent years, the prospect of empowering select trained teachers to possess firearms has gained some political traction.
However, the general sentiment among teachers, students and parents would appear to oppose such a move. According to Giffords.org, 7 out of 10 students, 8 out of 10 teachers and 7 out of 10 parents surveyed were against taking this course of action. As stated by Boston-area elementary teacher Yesenia Herrera, “I feel like it’s asking for an insane amount when we are already lacking so much. Is that really our priority? If my time is invested in that, will that really result in a better future for these students?”
Whether you fall on the side of “more” or “less”, the lack of consensus has meant that change is unlikely.
Another avenue of discussion has been to prevent weapons from making it onto campus at all. And the most potent symbol of this approach is the walkthrough metal detector.
While still a relatively uncommon fixture in most schools (fewer than 5% of schools nationally employed metal detectors in the 2015-16 school year), there is a growing feeling among parents and teachers that metal detectors could deter students from bringing weapons onto school property. However, the jury is largely out on their effectiveness. While they undoubtedly make students and teachers feel safer, the cost to install such devices is prohibitive for many districts. And when the data doesn’t show an obvious improvement in school safety, this becomes a risky investment.
Single Point of Entry and Security Cameras
If you’ve visited any public school lately, you would have noticed that the building was almost certainly locked. On top of this, there is usually just one point of entry during school hours. Even after gaining access, security cameras will then track your movements for at least part of your visit. In fact, 83% of schools reported using security cameras as long ago as 2016.
While the single point of entry idea is nothing new, more and more schools are gravitating towards this model. By making schools more difficult to enter, the theory goes that students will be less likely to bring a weapon.
Limiting access in this fashion also makes it significantly easier to track who comes and goes during the school day. However, such measures can be ineffective in preventing shootings for various other reasons. In the case of Parkland, exterior gates were opened close to the end of the school day to let students leave and this was how Nikolas Cruz gained access. It has also been suggested that forcing all students to enter through one door can create “sitting ducks” if a would-be mass shooter were to attack early in the school day.
“Softening” Rather than “Hardening” Security
While some combinations of more armed staff, metal detectors or cameras is inevitable, many experts have called for the “softening” of security by focusing on social and emotional support.
“No matter what you try to do by just hardening the target, we’ve learned that having the armed officers isn’t necessarily going to stop it,” says Matthew Mayer at Rutgers Graduate School of Education. “Having the metal detector or the locked doors isn’t going to stop it. The hard work is a lot more effort. You’d better start thinking in a more comprehensive manner about prevention instead of reacting.”
Mayer, along with Shane Jimerson from the University of California, Santa Barbara, then created a concise, eight-point “Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America.” This plan, which has been supported by over 200 universities and thousands of individual experts, wants to focus on a public health approach to school shooting. And central to this plan is the promotion of adequate staffing of counselors to create a more engaged school climate.
A recent ACLU study found that the student-to-counselor ratio nationally is 444:1 with a caseload that is 78% greater than what is recommended by professionals. Again, this is not a quick or easy fix. However, allowing more interactions between students and counselors can only increase the reporting of suspicious or worrying behavior in schools.
But How Can We Improve School Safety Right Now?
As detailed above, there are benefits and disadvantages to each school safety approach. However, they all require huge investment and large amounts of time to implement.
But there us a much more relevant question to ask. What can individual schools do in the short term to mitigate the effects of an active shooter scenario? While statistically rare (some estimates put the likelihood of being killed in a school shooting at 1 in 614 million), we still have to ensure that we keep students and faculty as safe as possible should the worst happen.
And the key statistic to focus on is this: 66.9% of active shooter incidents in the United States end before police arrival.
This statistic, allied with the unpredictable nature of such events, means that schools need to actively focus on crisis mitigation. School administrators need a simple and cost-effective way to prevent these active shooter scenarios from turning into tragedies. And the best way to do this is to combine an emergency plan with an emergency alert and notification system.
CentrAlert Offers Multiple School Safety Solutions
With CentrAlert’s Crisis-Driven Alert & Control (C-DAC) system, any K-12 or university campus can send personal communications through an array of media, issue aural and visual mass notifications and even initiate lock-down procedures to protect against an active shooter.
For example, the NOW! Module can quickly route unique messages to selected individuals or groups of individuals based on their location or role. Whether sending situational awareness information to first responders or providing emergency instructions to teachers and students, C-DAC’s industry-leading message distribution system gets the right information to the right people at the right time.
The NOW! Module allows users to choose from text messaging, phone calls, pop-up alerts, social media updates and email blasts to ensure that every intended recipient can be reached as quickly as possible.
C-DAC can also automatically lock or unlock any door or point of entry with the Access Protect feature. This means that any faculty member can initiate lock-down procedures if an armed intruder gains access to campus.
All of these solutions can be adapted to fit any school safety plan and if you want more information on how CentrAlert can protect your campus from active shooters or any other threats, please click here.