The recent tragedy at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School has evoked emotions not seen since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. One element that has not changed are the varying opinions as to how to best prevent horrors like this from happening again.
Some leaders talk about school-based security measures and their opinions include arming teachers, hiring more “resource officers” or armed security personnel, and reinforcing schools with additional measures that may include high fences and walls and bullet-proof glass. The State of Florida, for example, has proposed a $400 million budget for such measures.
No one argues that we must do everything possible to protect our children, and as part of protecting them, premise protection is critical. However, we should insist on steps that are appropriate for a school environment and maintain a warm, trusted, and connected place of learning where students can thrive while we are working to keep them safer. Moreover, we’ve seen many examples of environments, such as banks, which are built like fortresses with armed personnel that are frequently are robbed despite the measures taken.
The sad truth is that if someone wants to harm or murder innocent people, they will find a way to do it.
So how can today’s school leaders achieve a more holistic and secure environment? They must understand that physical security is just one part of a larger integrated process called the “crisis planning and management cycle.” The crisis planning and management cycle consists of prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, and communication.
While extreme acts of violence may not be preventable, we can mitigate them with the 4Ds: Deny, Deter, Delay or Detect. They incorporate such measures as school access controls with smart card IDs, layered perimeter security, multiple methods of communication within the school and grounds, and locks on classrooms, indoor assembly areas, and office doors. They also rely on policies that include anti-bullying, caring school communities, and comprehensive and tested crisis response plans.
As parents and school boards continue to pressure school leaders to do more to protect our children, let’s continue to remember that schools are unique environments. The physical security found with a fortress alone is not the answer. Each school must take a holistic view of the entire crisis planning and management model when addressing school security and safety, while maintaining a welcoming educational environment where children can learn and thrive.