Soon enough, it will be Back to School Season across the country. While that is usually full of eager anticipation by parents, children and teachers alike, in the past decade it also brings the fear that comes from memories of Columbine, Sandy Hook and other school shooting tragedies. Each year, communities must live with the threat of gun violence.

A report distributed and maintained by EveryTown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention group, caused a stir in June 2014 with their shocking statistic: “Since the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, CT, there have been at least 74 school shootings in America.” The report quickly spread throughout the nation, not before receiving backlash for their vague definition of school shootings. Regardless, the numbers represent a situation that causes a great deal of trepidation in our schools. Over and over again, the refrain from people in communities where shootings took place was, “we never thought something like this would happen here.” Conversely, millions of us live with a “it won’t happen here” mentality. But there is, of course, no way to know for certain that that’s true. While school shootings are still very rare, given the entirety of the population, their impact on a community are experienced very deeply and many attract national attention. To minimize the impact of such an event, local government and school officials can develop and practice an emergency response plan. Here are more key safety points to consider:

Private Security vs. Local Law Enforcement

Many times, in the wake of a tragedy, people become hyper-aware that their school may not be adequately protected and they must do something. Schools will “beef up security” by hiring private security firms. Though private security plays a key role in violence prevention and intervention, it is important not to overestimate their abilities or authority, or set unrealistic expectations. Too often, it is assumed that security officers are the first and last line of defense against violence – that security guards have the same level of authority as police to confront and detain anyone identified as a security risk. However, this is not the case. Private security officers and police officers have their specific roles and these roles differ. Security officers can provide detection capabilities. For example, they can run detection equipment, use metal detectors, conduct patrols and set up observation posts. Police officers are better suited to respond to issues where weapons might be involved or where fighting, theft, vandalism are taking place. There is no need to have a certified, trained police officer conducting deterrence functions, such as CCTV monitoring, but for response and action, the police can be a better choice. Regardless of the level of security chosen, having security officers of any kind on site provides a visible presence that can deter would-be shooters, if only limiting access to certain areas and monitoring facilities.

Metal Detectors in Schools

An appropriate addition to security personnel is the use of metal detectors. However, the inclusion of metal detectors in schools is a controversial subject. Many believe that metal detectors are essential equipment to ensure the safety of staff and students. Supporters ask, “Why wouldn’t we do everything we can possibly do to make schools safer?” On the other hand, many raise concern around the cost of metal detectors and the fear that metal detectors will “…create a “prison-like” environment and thereby adversely implicate the climate of the school” as cited by the National School Safety and Security Services. Nevertheless, there is no right or wrong answer on this subject. Metal detectors, like most security measures, should be risk-based. That means there should be specific threats/vulnerabilities that cannot be closed in any other manner in order to warrant the addition of metal detectors. If the risk warrants it, metal detectors should be introduced into schools to substantially reduce threats and vulnerabilities.

Crisis Management Plan: Share the Knowledge

We cannot stress enough the importance of ensuring all individuals involved have an understanding of protocol in the event of a crisis. The crisis management plan and the subsequent emergency response plan are an indispensable asset to ensure that in the event of a crisis protocol is followed through in an efficient manner. It is wise to have students, teachers, and staff involved and knowledgeable about what they should do as their part of the emergency response plan. This plan should be periodically rehearsed - just like a fire drill. Overall, schools must be actively engaged in their efforts to prevent school violence and promote school safety. Shortcomings may not be apparent until the worst possible moment. Therefore, advanced preparation is essential. Question for comment: What do you believe is causing the increase in school violence?

Published July 24, 2014

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