The next steps for school security post-Sandy Hook

Perhaps no other mass shooting in U.S. history has had such an immediate impact on society than the December rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The shooting, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults, sent chills up the spines of parents everywhere and prompted school districts and lawmakers across the nation to take action.

Speaking at the Security one2one Winter Summit hosted by ISC in Braselton, Ga. on Monday, Dr. Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, posed a fundamental post-Sandy Hook question to attendees during his keynote address: What do we do now? Often times, Stephens said that schools “want to put the perfect plan together” in the aftermath of incidents like this, but he said that Sandy Hook has proven to be a watershed moment in the history of school security.

“It has totally changed the perception of where we go from here,” he said.

In the case of Newtown, Stephens said the school had already implemented layers of security technology including surveillance cameras, as well as perimeter and access control.

“There is a huge amount of pressure on schools to ensure one of these events never happens again,” said Stephens. “Part of the challenge is how do you create a safe environment without creating an armed camp?”

Much of the attention in the weeks after the shooting has been focused on gun control. Last month, President Barack Obama formally outlined several proposals to reduce gun violence and improve school safety in a plan released by the White House entitled “Now is the Time.” The president’s plan includes four primary tenants: bolster nationwide background checks for the purchase of firearms; a ban on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; making schools safer; and, increasing access to mental health services.

Stephens, who has been with the National School Safety Center since it was established by a mandate from President Ronald Reagan in 1984, said that having come up with a list of strategies to harden schools over the years, he’s realized that it’s next to impossible to prevent a “determined gunman” that wants to make a name for themselves by carrying out one of these heinous attacks. “If a shooter wants to get in, they’re going to find a way in,” he added.

However, while schools “don’t have to be perfect,” Stephens said that they do have to take “reasonable steps” to prevent mass shootings.

Stephens explained that the first reasonable step schools can take is putting security at the top of the agenda and realizing that the all staff members have to be involved. “It’s about the entire staff. Sometimes we think it’s just about teachers,” he said.

Ten actions that Stephens said schools can immediately take to improve their security posture include:

  • Reviewing safety plans
  • Limiting campus access
  • Developing a mutual aid agreement (creating a good incident command system)
  • Develop threat assessment protocols
  • Conduct staff training
  • Enhance formal supervision
  • Training students
  • Conduct a crisis drill
  • Develop parent notification plans
  • Focus on self-reliance

“We want to try to do everything we can, realizing that we can’t do everything,” Stephens concluded.

Click here to listen to an expanded interview with Stephens from the summit including his thoughts on the impact of proposed gun control laws on school security and the lasting impact ofSandy Hook. SIW will be hosting a free, one-hour webinar on March 21 at 1 p.m. ET on how to handle active shooters on campus. Click here for more information or to register.

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