In Ten Lessons Learned From the Sandy Hook School Shootings, school security expert witness Ken Trump, MPA, President of National School Safety and Security Services writes:
Our team’s analysis of the Sandy Hook Final Report released by the Connecticut State’s Attorney continues with 10 key lessons learned for school security and emergency preparedness. While additional details may be revealed in forthcoming documents from the Connecticut State Police, 10 important lessons from Sandy Hook have emerged based upon the final report, information shared with us by individuals involved with the incident, and other published reports:
6. Assess physical security at each school due to unique designs and issues. The classrooms where children and staff died at Sandy Hook had connecting doors in the walls. Restrooms inside the classrooms helped as places for young children to lockdown. Each school district is unique and schools within each district are unique, requiring building-specific assessments and actions as appropriate to identify strengths and areas of concern.
7. Strengthen communications capabilities and create redundancy. The ability to activate the PA from multiple locations was helpful in alerting others of the shootings at Sandy Hook. As noted in Chuck Hibbert’s blog article this week, Connecticut State Police radios did not work inside the school. Have redundancy in communications in the event “Plan A” fails.
8. Recognize and address the elephants in the living room: Mental health, home dysfunction, weapons, violent videos, etc. These are largely home and community issues that must be recognized, acknowledged and addressed by parents and the community.
9. Think and act cognitively, not emotionally; and measured, not knee-jerk – and related to this lesson:
10. Stay focused on proven, tested and reliable best practices. Experienced school safety professionals, psychologists and many educators have expressed concerns since December of 2012 about far too many emotionally-driven ideas and actions based upon what people believed occurred at Sandy Hook. Bulletproof backpacks, bulletproof whiteboards, vendors and consultants pushing expensive classroom surveillance cameras activated by individual teacher panic alerts, software developers providing lockdown or shooter notification apps (that could result in not only first responders rushing to the school, but also undesired onlookers like the NY man who went to Sandy Hook to see what was going and got detained by police), and others have jumped into the fray with questionable proposals.
Many schools rushed to fortify their front entrance doors, failing to recognize that the Sandy Hook shooter shot out the glass next to the doorway, not in the actual doorway. Some mistakenly have downplayed and/or dismissed lockdowns as effective tools. Others have encouraged students and staff to evacuate and run anywhere and everywhere possible, which in the case of Sandy Hook appears to have adversely impacted police from getting inside the school once they arrived.
Teaching children and teachers to throw things at, and to attack, armed gunmen is another flawed theory put forth with greater emphasis after Sandy Hook. Yet the Sandy Hook principal and psychologist were instantly killed while moving toward the heavily armed gunman. The staff member who was near them and got shot went back into the conference room, locked down and lived. Students who locked down, even inside the inner classroom restrooms, survived. Classes on both sides where the shootings occurred quietly locked down and survived.
More lessons may follow, and some amendments to the above may be needed, with the release of additional documents. But for now, based upon what is known, the above lessons remind us to focus on proven, reliable best practices.
KENNETH S. TRUMP, M.P.A., is President of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based national consulting firm specializing in K-12 school security and emergency preparedness training, school security assessments, school emergency planning consultations, school security officers and school police issues, and related school safety, violence, crime and crisis consulting services.