Last Saturday marked the 20-year anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre, one of the deadliest school shootings in the history of our country. It was on April 20, 1999 that 12th graders Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire and killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured 21 others. Now, 20 years later, this same scene has played out in places like Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and countless others. The sad part in all of this is we can do so much more to protect our students and teachers and prevent these deadly tragedies, but progress has moved at a snail’s pace despite the bloodshed and deaths.
When I conduct safety trainings around the country, I’m usually met with a very misguided question from the audience. Someone will say to me, “Just one school shooting is too many, but is it really that big of a problem? After all, they only happen once in a blue moon.”
The fact is that yes, school shootings are a very real and serious problem. We only hear about the deadliest of them like Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas, but the facts speak for themselves. Since 2009, there have been 288 school shootings in the United States. That’s 57 times as many shootings as the other six G7 countries combined. More than 220,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School Tragedy in 1999. So, yes, school shootings and guns on campus have been and continue to be a very serious threat.
The fact is, no matter how much security we add to a school campus, how many x-ray machines we put in place or how many video surveillance cameras we install, I’m not sure we can one-hundred percent eliminate these deadly events from taking place. What we can do, however, is greatly reduce the number of deaths and injuries, better equip law enforcement and first responders to find the suspect and secure the scene, return order and reduce confusion to the campus after such an event, and definitely give everyone in that facility a better and real sense of security.
Moving forward, just some of the important issues that school districts and law enforcement must better address are:
- How can we better identify the shooter who can easily blend into the sea of hundreds or even thousands of other students in a time of chaos and panic?
- How do we better monitor a school building that has multiple entry points and perimeters that are acres wide?
- How do we improve the response time of first responders?
- Once law enforcement arrives, they typically set up a perimeter and a command post and wait for a S.W.A.T. unit to arrive to abate the shooter. The problem is, this gives the shooter even more time to continue on his killing spree.
- How can we ensure the safety of first responders who don’t know where in the facility the shooter is located or what he looks like?
- Right now, reunification of the building’s population is complex, unorganized and chaotic. Once the shooter has been abated, we need a better way to cut through the panic and disorder to let people know that it is safe to come out of hiding and reconvene in a central location.
Luckily, we are on our way to addressing many of these concerns. The security industry has developed some cutting-edge technological solutions which are enabling facilities across the nation to overcome these deadly obstacles in emergency responses. Active threat systems, mass notification software and mobile app technology are just a handful of tools schools can implement to proactively help students and staff with the ability to survive in the event of the unthinkable.
In addition, school districts must continue to be proactive and make safety a top priority. Schools must adopt emergency procedures, and most importantly, students and faculty must be familiar with these plans. Everyone must know where the exits are located if needed, how to seek shelter, avoid stampedes and most importantly, act quickly. Finally, we must instill the mantra that school safety is everyone’s responsibility. If you see something, say something.
As we remember the victims of the Columbine school shooting 20-years later, the best way to honor those we lost in 1999 is to make sure we do everything we can to never let another incident like this happen again.