So it's mass shooting day... Again. No, unlike the movie Groundhog Day we aren't in a time warp. Instead we are in a society that's seems to be trying to vote on whether our motto should be: "Too little, too late"; "It won't happen to us"; or "eh, good enough." In public there is not a lot one can do about whether the local supermarket has it's own security. At that point it's on you to be your own security. But in our schools, funded by our tax dollars we definitely have a voice or we better be finding it. We better be taking a real interest in the security of our children, teachers, and other staff. We pay enough for our government to fail us in about every aspect of its job and just allow it without much more than a few angry comments on social media. It sometimes seems like a tidal wave of government stupidity having to deal with local, state, and federal it just crushes us and it seems we're at a loss of hopelessness to combat it.
But with our kids and school staff we can't just give up so easily as we do with taxes and poor services. We have to be involved. If we don't we are failing our kids right alongside the government bodies that take bare minimum steps just to try to pretend they really did something. As parents and community members we need to know that some of that money they want to take out of our pocket everywhere isn't just going to new bleachers and uniforms, it's going to improve the safety and security of our school facilities. We need to know what is being done to make our schools a hard target for those that wish to commit violence. What is the school and the local government doing to plan, prevent, mitigate, and prepare to respond, and help recover from violence in an educational setting? "We never thought it would happen here" isn't good enough. Paltry security steps that wouldn't keep a cow from wondering on campus aren't good enough.
Get involved. Ask questions. How is the school kept secure? Our company does security assessments and we can tell you there's almost always a door that is left unlocked because it gets used too much or it sticks and often doesn't get closed tight enough to catch, or sometimes the lock is just broke. There's almost always a way inside. There's too many times someone who is just willing to open the door to strangers. Finding a way in is almost always possible. Ask about the physical security devices employed at the school. Are the schools buying products to be able to adequately lockdown and lockout the school? Or are they buying cheap stuff that a determined assailant will bypass quickly? If they bought it is it installed and ready to use? Is the staff trained?
Some schools have school resource officers (SROs) and are proud of that. Good people with guns stop bad people with guns they say, except sometimes they don't. We saw in the Parkland School shooting where the SRO froze up and was too scared to go inside. Can the SRO adequately cover the size of the campus? Is the SRO any good? Different places have different setups. How do you know your school's SRO is any good? What's their training? What's their background? Is it someone you trust your kids with? Some people might think, "Well our SROs are local cops so if they're cops they got to be good." As a company that employs police officers and non police officers for work there are definitely some who turn in their resumes or inquire about work and they will never work for this company. Just like any profession out there the police forces have some people that should not be and definitely ones that should not make us feel like our kids are any safer with them around. There's quite a bit different training needed for most policing and in being able to do qualitative risk assessments, risk mitigation, and responding to active assailants. Running to the sound of the guns is a lot different mindset than asking for license and registration. There are many great officers out there but we need to know that's the ones our kids have protecting them and not the Barney Fife.
We need to know how often our local police and other emergency services have conducted training at our schools and what their benchmarks for success are. We need to know they have a realistic plan and can execute. We need to know they are using modern tactics which means rapidly finding and engaging active assailants and not waiting. When cops wait people die and there are unfortunately enough incidents to show us relatively how many will die for each minute that responders stage vs go on the hunt. We need to know this plan and training has not happened in a vacuum. Is it observed by honest and competent outside auditors? Introspection leaves a lot to be desired as we are often blind to our own shortcomings.
Who's doing the risk assessments for the school and what's their qualifications for doing so? We have a gentleman who spent 11 years in the military as an intelligence analyst with six months of six days a week training just to learn the basics of their job at the start. Then they went on to get an Associates, Bachelor's, and now pursuing a Master's degree in their field while also taking many courses from the military and third party providers to learn additional methodologies. At the same time they worked in their field doing many risk assessments. Then after leaving the military he kept doing that work in the private sector. So imagine what he thinks when he goes to a client site and their security director's knowledge of risk assessment is from a short online module, or a few days, or weeks course. It's often not very positive. It's the same reason some of us hire master plumbers or master electricians instead of apprentice or journeyman because we know their chances of getting it wrong are miniscule compared to the newcomer with their awareness-level knowledge. Once again we see this with the badge, especially in smaller town forces where officers have been to a short class or a seminar and now they are the resident expert for risk assessments. Look beyond the shiny badge to the actual training and qualifications. Ensure that your kids and school staff are getting the best.
How does the school develop threat intelligence? How does the school evaluate and handle various types of threats such as a rumor vs a stated threat? How do they determine credibility? At what level is an announcement made? What is the mechanism for deciding when and how to make such an announcement?
What are the criteria for calling off school or adding additional security measures? How are the school's de-escalating situations and tensions among the students and fostering an environment where animosity is mitigated? How are those in crisis being reached and helped before the tipping point? Just like with workplace violence the environment of our school and its atmospherics can greatly impact the attitudes and the mindsets of our children and staff. There's often a long lead up to violence where finally enough stressors or a long simmering stressor eventually boiled over.
How is the school ensuring that insider threats don't occur? How are they ensuring a kid doesn't draw a gun or a knife during sixth period? What are they doing to monitor what's being brought in and out of the school?
And if a tragedy occurs what is the school's plan to recover? How are they going to provide mental health and counseling services to the students? How will the community healing occur? How will we make them feel safe again?
These are just some but not nearly all the questions we need to be asking our schools. We need to know that our children and the staff are safe. Nothing is ever guaranteed. Security vs threat is an art, a game of chess in which some players are just better than others or find a move to win. But that doesn't mean we can play security theater and that doing any type of something is good enough. We need to know that our school districts and our local government is doing the best of somethings, employing the right people and the right resources to create as secure of an environment as they possibly can. That involves us sending emails, making phone calls, and attending meetings to be part of the solution. It involves us providing recommendations. It involves us doing more than just hoping everything is okay.