Experts warn schools to be proactive prior to active-shooter threats

Aug. 10, 2018
Keeping communications open with local law enforcement and training help mitigate risks

Like a virus, active shooter threats evolve in relation to their environment. Yet, school campus attacks seem to exhibit an unfortunate pattern that combines unyielding brutality with malice aforethought. But as K-12 school districts struggle to figure out how to properly allocate limited federal funds for technology solutions while they argue about gun control and the merits of arming school staff, administrators consistently miss the big picture that encompasses proactive security policies and serious emergency training.

Therein is the dilemma security professionals like Kelly and Jeff LeDuff face when consulting with individual schools and whole school districts that are unsure which direction to move on security and safety.

“Many schools are now receiving funding from grants or donations for security initiatives and they are immediately using those funds for cameras and seem to view camera surveillance as the answer. Cameras are certainly part of the solution and are helpful after a crisis has occurred, but schools can do a lot better in terms of using technology to secure students. Schools are not utilizing more holistic technology that allows for rapid response and notification,” says Kelly LeDuff, Logistics Manager and co-owner of Open Eyes Safety Training in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Open Eyes boasts 30-plus years of law enforcement experience and the latest emergency alert technology to provide clients with a high level of emergency safety training.

Kelly, who runs the consulting business with his father Jeff LeDuff, a former Police Chief in Baton Rouge and graduate of the FBI National Academy, both agree that technology solutions that allow rapid response from law enforcement to emergency situations, similar to what is seen with a fire response, makes a huge difference in the impact of school active shooter events. By focusing first on sophisticated alert systems, schools are protecting students by bringing in law enforcement as quickly as possible.

“The biggest problem I see is that the current focus is reactive, not proactive. What this means is that schools are investing in things like cameras, which are helpful evidentiary tools, but these offer limited help in the event of an emergency if a school is not able to share that camera feed with law enforcement or teachers in the event of a school shooting,” adds Jeff.

John Shales, co-founder and CMO with BluePoint Alert Solutions, a company that provides advanced two-way emergency communications and situational awareness tools for school campuses, equates the school shooting crisis with that of school fire threats decades ago.

“There was a time in our country when the biggest threat to our kids’ safety in schools was fire.  Fundamentally, two things changed that dramatically: technology and training.   Technology came in the form of fire alarm systems, fire resistant building materials, better building codes, thought-out exiting plans, etc.  The training came in the form of what to do and how to do it.  We didn’t focus on training every student or teacher how to use a hose to fight a fire but how to get the fire department there faster and how to take simple precautions to protect yourself and the students with you.  I believe that the same holds true for the threat of an active shooter,” Shales stresses.

He admits that active shooter events are far more complex than fire and therefore require even better technology and training. The need to harness the power of technology to not only provide police faster alerts but to also supply them information and situational awareness capabilities that can improve police response is essential. He says there is also an urgency to empower teachers and students to make more informed decisions with regard to their own response. 

“It’s one thing to tell people to ‘run, hide or fight’; it’s another thing to teach them how to run, how to hide, and how to fight if they have to.  I believe our schools need to invest more time and effort into worthwhile, simple training that our kids and teachers can actually employ in a panic and give them more information to make better choices,” Shales says. “Teaching them how to act like police officers in their response is too complicated but telling them to always lockdown is too simplistic.  We have to improve our training and response strategies while equipping them with simple, intuitive and useful technology.” 

Jeff LeDuff explains that there are myriad other technologies schools may implement beyond the ubiquitous video surveillance camera or door lock. Advanced technologies such as acoustic sensors that help identify gunshots and can simultaneously alert law enforcement are useful, as are emergency communication options that include multiple-platform mass notification systems that can alert those within a threatened building, a command group and a law enforcement agency of an active situation.

“We are also seeing some sophisticated communication tools that would allow teachers, students and law enforcement to share information and directives during a critical incident. As opposed to social media, or an app that not everyone may have downloaded. This solution turns the communication into actionable info for on-site police to gain awareness of the situation,” adds Jeff.

Shales points out that perhaps the most dangerous threat to schools is the lack of proactive approaches to hardening school security from both a physical and a policy perspective. He considers the following four mistakes the most egregious made by school administrators when planning a security solution for their facilities.

Mistakes Schools Make When Planning for Security

  •  It Won’t Happen Here: A common mistake we see is that so many leaders have this attitude that they will never face an armed intruder event. That thinking leads to weak solutions and wasting money. The problem is that they are focused on the frequency and not the severity of an intruder event. Most people are never going to be in a building that is actually on fire.  Should we pull fire alarm systems from the code requirements and from our buildings?  No. The cost is so little compared to the benefit if the need arises.  We need to rethink the need to improve safety and focus on common sense protections for intruder events.”
  •  Do Something: “We see many leaders who are reacting as opposed to planning. Their decision-making is driven more as a reaction to pressure from the board or parents to ‘do something’ that they are more focused on checking boxes to say we did something as opposed to taking the time to plan and seek out solutions and training that improve safety significantly.  We understand that this is a complex issue with many nuances, but that should drive us to deeper investigating and planning as opposed to less.”
  • Engage Your Police: “Schools have a great resource in their local police departments that they may not be taking full advantage of. These are the people who are trained in emergency response and will be the ones arriving on site to resolve the problem. Although generally, most schools have a great relationship with their local police, they fail to truly engage them in decision making and planning.”
  • Engage Your Students: “Most school districts develop plans and procedures among a relatively small group of administrators because it is expedient. This makes good sense. But engaging students is a critical element as well. We have worked with a school district that did a great job of engaging their middle and high school students not on the macro issues but on the micro issues. The first week of school, they do anywhere from five to 10 intruder drills at random times of the day. They then take time to engage students in different areas of the building: where are you going to go and why? Are there other options?  The administration was amazed at some of the answers and ideas their students came up with.  By engaging their students to problem-solve, not only did the students have more ownership in their response protocols, the schools’ plans improved. This truly is a win-win for school safety.”

While all three experts concur that technology is a critical tool in helping deter, detect and defend students, staff and teachers in a school environment, they also encourage a greater involvement with local law enforcement. Implementing two-way communication solutions can instill a sense of security for administrators, but also give law enforcement a heads up and paint a picture when a threat emerges. However, Kelly LeDuff and his father Jeff recommend establishing personal ties with local agencies that can help expedite future confusion when an incident does occur.

“There is not a law enforcement agency in the nation that is not concerned with school safety today and they prepare for these events regularly. But not every school is in sync with local law enforcement and not every school has a designated resource officer or police officer assigned to the school,” says Kelly, who adds that building relationships and requesting a designated resource officer is a great start. “Additionally, involving law enforcement in anti-bullying campaigns is helpful. Over and over in the shooter incidents, we’ve seen in recent years, there’s a student who feels ostracized and acts out. As each incident occurs, the next shooter is spurred on. By getting law enforcement involved in anti-bullying initiatives, kids feel more comfortable reaching out.”

Jeff concludes: “Inviting law enforcement to come to the school and participate in drills with the school is a great way to engage. By including faculty and staff in those drills with law enforcement, as well as involving students, such as student government leaders, this will help everyone involved play out a scenario and understand what to do should an incident occur.”

About the Author: Steve Lasky is the Editorial Director of SouthComm Security Media, which includes print publications Security Technology Executive, Security Dealer & Integrator, Locksmith Ledger Int’l and the world’s most trafficked security web portal He is a 30-year veteran of the security industry and a 27-year member of ASIS.