We Have Secured The Airways; Now It’s Time To Secure The Hallways

schoolsafety schoolsecurity uvalde uvaldeschoolshooting uvaldetexas Jun 08, 2022

By: Dean Crisp

The role of any government is to protect its citizens. In the case of school children, are our local governments really doing this?

As a frequent air traveler and law enforcement professional with over 45 years in the business who now travels on average of 130 flights annually, I can honestly say that I have never feared for my safety due to an armed passenger.

Why?

Because we as a world and a nation have made air travel safe from the threat of weapons being brought onto planes via passengers a priority. 9/11 caused an obvious and immediate awareness of the importance of passengers not having weapons and making sure the cockpit could not be breeched. It suddenly made air travel inconvenient, but safe. The Uvalde shooting should serve to do the same for schools. It is time we as a nation made school security not only a priority, but a certainty. 

 

SCHOOLS ARE TOO SOFT OF A TARGET:

The Washington Post has found in a study they conducted in 2021, that 311,000 students have witnessed gun violence at schools since Columbine in 1999. Also, during this time, 185 children, educators, and bystanders have been killed in assaults and another 369 have been injured. These incidents do not include shootings in 2022 nor the recent shooting in Uvalde.  

The number of gun incidents seems alarming to me, but some experts claim they are not statistically significant when you consider the number of students who attend K-12 schools. This creates a major disconnect between our collective concern and responsibility for kids and school safety versus our individual understanding that school safety should be an essential priority.  

When it comes to our own children, statistics don’t matter, children do. 

Schools should be THE safest places on earth. Especially when those attending are one of the most vulnerable populations: our children. School safety is everyone’s concern.  

 

SECURING SCHOOLS SHOULD BE A TOP PRIORITY:

To ensure security at every school for every student is more difficult than you may think.  

Of course, everyone is devastated by the Uvalde school shooting, and it has left all of us looking for answers. Not only regarding the police response or non-response, but also as to how could something like this can occur. Early details have indicated that the early warning system had worked and that a school lockdown was being activated due to shots fired in the area. This school was also being protected by a unified school district police force specifically created to ensure school safety. 

Just like in other school districts, measures had been taken to make sure students were safe. But sadly, they failed.  

 

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

It is more complex than you think. Immediately following the events of 9/11, we created a federal response by creating TSA to ensure that there was no repeat occurrence and to ensure the immediate safety of the airways. Is this type of response necessary or even possible in our schools?  

Ensuring that schools are safe and secure is very difficult. In light of the Uvalde school shooting, we are all searching for answers to how we can secure our schools. Consider this: 

There are 130,930 public and private K-12 schools in the U.S., according to 2017-18 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The average number of students who attend each are: 

  • City: 585 students
  • Suburban: 656 students
  • Town: 443 students
  • Rural: 364 students

There are 13,452 regular school districts in the U.S. (2018-19 statistics). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 77 million students attend these schools.  

Each school district is governed by a school board and superintendent, meaning that it would be necessary to get 13,452 school districts to adopt the necessary school safety measures to sufficiently provide security at all 130,930 school buildings. This would mean a minimum of 5 armed officers per school to always cover at least one to two guards on duty. So do the math. That is 654,650 security personnel or officers. To give you a perspective on what this would entail in 2022, according to Satista.com there are 696,644 law enforcement officers in the United States. You can easily see the difficulty or the reality of doing this. 

  

SO, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

I’m not sure, but I do know that it will require multiple solutions - not just one. We can at least begin by working cooperatively as a people and a country to find the best and realistic strategies and solutions to securing our schools.

The reality is, we will never be able to stop the most determined gunman from inflicting horrific carnage on innocent victims. However, we can reduce the vulnerability of our students and helpless feeling all of us have by focusing on how to secure our schools and make them harder targets to attack.

Here are a few ideas to begin the conversation with full understanding that much work is to be done and as standards are developed, new ones will be established:

  1. Immediately establish physical on-site security standards for all school locations. Standards that take into account an active intruder and a reduction of number of entry points.
  2. Require those standards as part of the state accreditation process. With severe penalties if not compliant.
  3. Create a safety and security director position for each school district whose sole job is to coordinate safety measures at all schools. Some districts may need more than one, but this person would ensure safety measures are in compliance, and, also, liaison with law enforcement agencies to coordinate training and response to incidents. Make the minimum requirements for this position to be five years law enforcement experience working in a school environment. I know many jurisdictions have their own police departments, but this position actually puts someone in charge of security.
  4. Provide a digital blueprint of every school building to law enforcement. These blueprints should be incorporated into training exercises. Also, require that these blueprints are immediately accessible via electronic means with immediate access available.
  5. Require every school employee to attend active shooter training and lock down response. 
  6. Provide an immediate security analysis of vulnerabilities to intruders at each school location.
  7. All law enforcement officers must be trained in active shooter response. For those who have already had training, they should immediately review all active intruder training guidelines and responses. 
  8. Make it clear that the law enforcement active intruder command structure gives officers on-scene command control regarding tactical encounters with active shooters and to make decisions regarding elimination of the immediate threat.
  9. Adopt an on-scene command leadership structure based on tactical skillset, not jurisdictional authority or administrative position.
  10. Create laws that limit the personal liability of police officers that increase qualified immunity to officers who respond to school shootings.
  11. Create a special area of jurisdiction at schools that empower police officers during emergent situations to lower the level of deadly force required to ensure student safety when encountering an armed intruder.
  12. As much as governmental intervention can create so many unnecessary bureaucratic layers, we need federal or state governments to step in and provide unified policies and guidelines for school districts and law enforcement to work together to make our schools safer. With so many school districts, one voice is needed either on the state or federal level. After all, the primary role of government is the safety of its citizens. Especially children. State and Federal Legislators need to see this as a unifier and reach across the political aisle and commit to working cooperatively to create and fund meaningful legislation that addresses school safety and security.

 

IN CONCLUSION:

If we can dedicate over 41 billion dollars to Ukraine to ensure their safety, we can certainly dedicate the necessary resources to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable population, our children. Let’s make schools safe zones and not use them as political pawns to achieve political ends. This is serious stuff and deserves a serious look at all proposed solutions and NOT a knee-jerk reaction just because it’s an election year.

It is not just a problem you can throw money at to solve. It will take a coordinated and focused approach that will likely take longer than we wish to make sure our kids can attend school safely, but, if I can fly an airplane in relative safety from armed passengers who may mean me and fellow passengers harm, then my children and grandchildren should expect the same at schools. My hope is that the Uvalde school shooting will serve as a major tipping point for our government leaders to begin to address school safety as if our kids’ lives depended on it!

 

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