Mass shootings: What really changes?

"I think this might mean the end for walking into a movie with whatever you want to." That’s what one of our fans wrote on the SecurityInfoWatch.com Facebook wall this morning after we linked to news coverage of the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., that left 14 dead at a movie theater, and dozens more injured. My question for the security industry is this: Will we really change anything?

After the Columbine massacre in 1999 and after a few similar incidents in the last decade, there have been plenty of calls for strict access control to all schools. We were going to search all backpacks, have metal detectors at all entrances, run dogs through locker areas, place panic buttons in classrooms, install more cameras, increase police presence at schools and do everything we could to prevent another school shooting.

Did these changes happen? As good as our intentions were, it didn’t change much, and eight years after Columbine, we watched news reports of the massacre on Va. Tech’s campus. In the meantime between those events, and since those events, I would say we haven’t seen drastic changes. Most school facilities don’t employ a screening process at their entrances. Most schools don’t have a heavy police presence in their schools. Most haven’t been able to retrofit electronic life safety and security devices that can help them perform lockdowns and create panic alerts. What we’ve done is take the reasonable steps that we could. Students now commonly practice lockdown/active shooter responses, often barricading themselves in classrooms, locking the door from the inside, lowering the blinds and staying quiet. New schools often have fewer entrances so that they can manage visitor access better. Security cameras are being installed, but most of the cameras are not monitored live on site, and very, very few can give police the ability to remotely access those cameras from mobile command vehicles, police cruisers, or police HQ.

What has changed is the response. Our reactive stance is no longer to barricade the environment and wait for SWAT. Our goal is to have anyone who can intercede (police officer or even an armed security officer) take the initiative and bring down the attacker before he can do more damage and take more lives.

So, does this mean the end for "walking into a movie with whatever you want to"? Probably not, but soft target environments like movie theaters should be assessing their visitors more closely when they are at the entrance choke points, instead of when they are already back in the theater, shooting into a cloudy dark hall filled with terrified persons. With luck it means that operations managers and security directors for businesses will think a little more about their response plans if they can’t stop attackers at the gates. Will they flip on lights? Will they lock other doors? Do they set off an evacuation alert? What do they do besides wait for the arrival of law enforcement? If none of these questions are raised (and answered), then has the business community even learned any lessons from Columbine, Aurora, Blacksburg and all of the other towns and villages affected by mass losses of life?

[The team at SecurityInfoWatch.com and STE and SD&I magazines would like to express our sympathy and condolences for all of the families and friends of those injured or killed in last night’s theater attack.]

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