Updated for IACA 2022
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu
These are my previous notes from IACA 2019 – https://t.ly/58RmP
We need to be strategic in how we think about creating safer schools and the role that police agencies can play in creating safer school environments. This presentation is geared towards analysts and how they can be more involved in school safety and help their whole communities take a more strategic all-hazards approach to this topic. If you are not an analyst these resources might help you take a more analytical approach to school safety and security.
Some communities invest a great deal of time and effort into active shooter response training programs such as ALICE but may be overlooking many other vulnerabilities. Other communities may be putting their efforts into purchasing things that may be used to protect against shooting rampages but could create several other unintended hazards. Analysts are in a good position to do a great deal of research, explain the actual risks and put them into context so that school districts and communities are working in partnership with public safety agencies and other community stakeholders to have comprehensive security plans in place.
School shooters are very rare but they are a major concern for police departments because they are truly one of the worst things that will ever happen to a community. No matter where you live, the value of each student’s life is worth more than all of the other material things in your community. But how do we protect what is priceless at a cost that we can maintain? How do we create a safe learning community and not turn it into a prison?
Sadly, school shooting events aren’t new and they are certain to continue to happen well into the future. As I submitted the proposal to speak on this topic in late April or early May of 2022 nobody knew that we would soon see an epic failure of a police response to a school shooting in Uvalde Texas. Not only do many people feel that nothing can stop these events, they now have far less confidence in the ability of police to respond when an incident happens. Unfortunately, people don’t form their feelings based on data so there have been some more extreme ideas being floated in recent months. Much of our collective memory of school shootings comes from the attacks on Columbine High School in 1999, Westside Middle School in Jonesboro Arkansas in 1998, Virginia Tech in 2007, Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and now the Robb Elementary School in 2022. Each of these attacks sticks in our minds because of one or more failures that occurred before, during or after the attack. How should we proceed when things seem so hopeless?
Learning from past and future mistakes
My own advice to everyone and anyone who will listen on this topic is to imagine speaking at a press conference the day after a school shooting or school disaster in your district. What are you going to say that you did to prepare for this day? Are you going to say you (sort of) had one or two tactics or will you talk about the extensive research you have done, the amount of training that your agency (and all of your partner agencies) has taken part in, your strategy and the long list of measures (tactics) that you had taken over many years to make your schools safer?
Nearly all police agencies in the United States are doing something to prepare for active shooter threats at their schools. Some agencies have very comprehensive plans and conduct a great deal of training in partnership with their public schools while others may struggle with a lack of cooperation from school administrators or a complete lack of funding and personnel to dedicate to these programs. Everything has a cost in dollars or time but there are a number of things that can be done at low cost or no cost.
Build a Team – Make a Plan
Popular Mechanics (PM) wrote what is probably the best article that I have seen on the topic of school security and I agree with all of the advice they give. They did their homework and spoke to many experts – https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/security/a22613334/safer-schools-guide/
Download the PM guide in pdf format here: https://hmg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/files/school-safety-final-1-1533131731.pdf
Popular Mechanics offers a 5 Step Process for schools to get started on their programs but we can assume that public safety analysts may be coming at this from the very beginning, somewhere along the way or they may be reviewing a very strong and comprehensive existing program and trying to see if there are any tweaks that can be made to improve things. The 5 steps recommended by PM are
1. Forming a Team,
2. Thinking about what worries you the most,
3. Walking the Property,
4. Making a List of Questions and
5. Bringing in Professionals.
The analyst can play a role in all 5 of these steps!
All of these list steps include research and analysis. Who should be on the team? Why are we worried about the things that worry us the most? What is our current situation? What questions should we ask? What professionals do we bring in and how do we find them? If we can’t find or can’t afford experts can we train our own? It all revolves around asking and answering questions – This is what analysts are best at! Conducting good research and analysis can help make sure that we learn from the mistakes of others so that we do not make our own. We can also anticipate realistic future scenarios by analyzing events that don’t make the news. This would include events from the past that have been forgotten and trends from overseas.
Keeping it real
Our plans and programs need to be realistic and appropriate for a healthy school environment. I wrote a document for our community in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre in 2018. At the time many people were calling for some extreme measures to make our local schools safer and there was a great deal of fear about sending children to school. It was important that parents knew that my agency had been working on this problem for several years and that we were doing many things that they might not have known about. This is the article: School Security Memo for Parents
The strategy in my agency has been based on conducting extensive research, gaining knowledge of lessons learned, obtaining high quality specialized training and equipment, infrastructure upgrades, enhanced presence, increased situational awareness, public education as well as proactive policies and procedures. We look at ALL HAZARDS and we work at maintaining constant incremental improvement.
Don’t Name Them
Before we talk about school shootings, it is also important that we make sure we don’t contribute to the problem. Research indicates that mass shootings can be like a contagious disease where one attack inspires another and another. Don’t Name Them is a campaign to help address this problem – https://www.dontnamethem.org/
Analyzing the scope of the problem
Gaining a handle on numbers of school shootings and disasters can be incredibly difficult. There are many ways to count these events. When you see statistics like how many hundreds of school shootings we have had in any given year remember that these events are being counted in many different ways: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/02/another-school-shootingbut-whos-counting/553412/
Mother Jones has a database of Mass Shootings – https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/
The Gun Violence Archive counts mass shootings as well: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting
ALERRT counts Active Shooter Events in Schools – http://activeshooterdata.org/school-ase.html
Edweek is also counting school shootings https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/school-shootings-this-year-how-many-and-where.html
When people talk about how bad things are it is important to remember that things have actually been worse. Crime has been higher and terrorism has been far worse in our history than it is today. The worst school massacre in the history of the U.S. actually occurred in 1927, “The Good Old Days” that weren’t so good. 44 people were killed, including 38 students in a place called Bath Michigan. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/1927-bombing-remains-americas-deadliest-school-massacre-180963355/
To put school attacks in context it is important to remember that as of 2016 there were 132,853 K-12 Schools in the U.S. alone. Even if there were 100 school attacks in a year (And we are nowhere near that) that would be something like .08%. However the numbers of mass shootings at schools while they are in session is very small. This is horrible but the point is that these are extremely rare events and we should not be in a full panic.
Everyone in your community should know this:
Schools are actually safer today than they have ever been from a number of hazards – https://news.northeastern.edu/2018/02/26/schools-are-still-one-of-the-safest-places-for-children-researcher-says/
Kids in school are actually safer than they are at home or out driving with their family.
The CDC WISQARS site has a number of reports on leading causes of death in the U.S. based on age group. These charts are actually very useful when you are thinking about things that public safety should be focusing on to save lives in their communities – https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/LeadingCauses.html
Unintentional injuries lead the way for cause of death from ages 1 all the way up to age 44. If you break down the types of accidents that kill people car crashes lead the way for school aged children from age 5 all the way past college to age 24.
What is very troubling is that in 2020 homicide has become the number 2 leading cause of death for those aged 5 to 18 and suicide is number 3! In 2020, the leading cause of death among children ages one through 18 involved a firearm. (Homicides, suicides and accidents) There were 3,219 such deaths in 2020, followed by motor vehicle traffic deaths, of which there were 2,882.
Suicide is a greater danger to our school aged children than all other causes besides homicide and accidents. Some notable school shooters have also shown suicidal ideation or have attempted or committed suicide. Mental health is an obvious area that schools need to invest in to protect their students. Not only that but when you look at adults (parents and staff) suicide is also a top ten cause of death.
After Action Reports
There are many after-action reports from mass shootings in our schools. If you want a good knowledge base on how these attacks have occurred, you can learn a great deal from the reports from Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Uvalde.
Part 1 of Uvalde AAR from ALERRT – https://news.txst.edu/inside-txst/2022/alerrt-center-releases-first-part-of-uvalde-after-action-report.html
After-Action Reports are invaluable when trying to understand responses to major incidents and there are also times when the media puts together some excellent material that is valuable for training – https://projects.sun-sentinel.com/2018/sfl-parkland-school-shooting-critical-moments/#nt=oft09a-2gp1
This CBS video on Parkland is sad to watch but offers many lessons – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eKX00rhQpQ
To take a deep dive into every aspect of school shooters there is no resource that is as comprehensive as Dr. Peter Langman’s website Schoolshooters.info Look at all of the prevention resources! – https://schoolshooters.info/
RAND has done some excellent reports on school safety – https://www.rand.org/topics/school-security.html
This is what NIJ has to say on the topic and it was just re-released this week (August 2019) – https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/making-schools-safe-students
You should also be familiar with the Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report that comes out annually from the National Center for Education Statistics – https://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/index.asp
The Wall Street Journal did an analysis on 3 decades of school shootings – https://www.wsj.com/graphics/school-shooters-similarities/
Are there any standards or laws that we should know about?
The National Active Shooter Response Standard can be found in NFPA 3000 – this is basically the equivalent of the fire and building codes and it is from the National Fire Protection Association. What is most important is that it has been agreed upon by all of the police, fire and public safety groups in the U.S. When planning for Active Shooter threats by any entity in any type of environment, this is the standard that should be consulted – https://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=3000
Some school administrators may be uncomfortable sharing information about students because of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or some other reason. Here are some guides with the many exemptions to FERPA, FOIA and HIPAA for police – https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0B9iRD6XPAB1ac1Q2eEVKVUlENGc
Everyone involved in planning for lethal threats should be familiar with the multiple programs that are being taught to civilians. The ones you hear about most often in school environments are ALICE, Run-Hide-Fight and CRASE (Civilian Response to Actve Shooter Events) ALICE is a private company, Run-Hide-Fight is from DHS and CRASE is from ALERRT. You can become a certified CRASE Instructor by taking this free online course, which I recommend no matter what system you are teaching to the public – The course is one of many that can be taken online with ALERRT – https://elearning.alerrt.org/
There are a number of trainings that you can take online for free from DHS, FEMA and other providers. Bomb awareness classes are very good to have – https://www.dhs.gov/bombing-prevention-training-courses
Social media plays a key role before, during and after any crisis and especially in schools. The National White Collar Crime Center has a new free training program on Social Media and School Violence – https://www.nw3c.org/resource/social-media-and-school-violence
Who gets forgotten in school safety planning?
Custodians, cafeteria workers, administrative staff, bus drivers and volunteers are often overlooked in planning. Please make sure everyone who plays a role in a school is included in safety planning.
Don’t forget school buses, daycare centers and special tutoring schools! We are investing heavily in school security but these areas are often completely ignored by police agencies. School buses can have as many as 72 children and only one adult to supervise them. Some private daycare centers and evening tutoring or children’s activity businesses can have hundreds of children on site at one time. Many houses of worship also house daycare or children’s educational programs. An analyst can identify all of these locations within a community along with an approximation of how many children are in these locations and at what times.
You should also take a very close look at your public libraries. These are far busier and more full of children than you might think. I was very surprised to learn that our public library was the busiest town owned public facility in my community besides the schools.
All of these locations should be given the opportunities of security assessments and active threat training that your agency might offer your schools. They should all have comprehensive all-hazards safety plans. Police departments are often in the best position to do outreach and make sure their communities are ready for hazards.
Now that you and your team are incredibly knowledgeable on this topic how should you proceed? What are some strategies, plans and tactics we can employ?
The gold standard model for emergency preparedness comes from the National Preparedness Goal. This includes 5 Mission Areas – Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response and Recovery
Within the 5 Mission Areas there are 32 Core Capabilities that agencies need to develop with the whole community in order to be prepared for all hazards. Take a look at those core capabilities and see how many are related to what you and the members of your school safety team do. A lot of these are directly or indirectly related to the skills that analysts possess!
Prevention is far preferable to all other actions. The gold standard on preventing attacks on schools is the Virginia Model of Threat Assessment.
Popular Mechanics has the best advice on getting started. FEMA has the best roadmap for building capabilities across mission areas. RAND has produced the very best document on defending against mass attacks. The Mass Attacks Defense Toolkit is an amazing resource that I would have put together if I had the time. they have done all of the research and put together a great package for you.
The best all hazards and emergency reunification plans out there are the Standard Response Protocol and the Standard Reunification Method from the I Love U Guys Foundation. The SRP puts everything on one page and the SRM lets students get back with their parents in the safest way possible. Best of all this is FREE.
The SRP has 5 plain language actions that cover any hazard: Lockdown, Secure, Shelter, Hold and Evacuate
One HUGE problem with emergency plans is that they sit in thick binders that nobody reads. They are often complicated and worst of all, they may contain codes that are supposed to be used for various situations. One thing that is important to remember is this:
Can I be more clear on this? Relying on codes instead of plain language is an open invitation to get people hurt or killed. Imagine visiting a school in one place and hearing a, “Code Red” announcement. In some places this could be an active shooter, in others a fire and in some others it could mean a hundred other things. We all need to assume that at any time there will be people in a facility who are not trained extensively on emergency plans for that particular facility. There will also be people who have been trained in other places where one set of codes is different than another and finally, there will always be people who might not remember what a particular code means under stress. Emergency responders have adopted plain language because everyone agrees that using codes is a dangerous practice in emergencies – https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/PlainLanguageGuide_0.pdf
Many administrators feel that announcing things like fires, chemical spills, active shooters and other disasters will cause people to be afraid. In fact, many people will become more fearful when they don’t know what is happening. If you have anyone in your emergency planning process that is insisting on codes they need to know that using secret codes to announce emergencies that should be announced in plain language is a near certain way to get people hurt or killed, it is a great way to increase panic and it is a great way to increase the amount of money that a plaintiff will be awarded in a lawsuit when things (predictably) go wrong.
If my advice is not strong enough here about using codes let me put it this way, you should probably add “Code Yellow” and even “Code Brown” to your list of codes because this is the reaction that some people are going to have under severe stress when they aren’t told what to do. I’m not trying to be funny here, it is unconscionable for people in power to do this to people that they should be protecting and trying to help.
Sharing Lessons Learned
Besides studying failures we need to learn from success stories. The Averted School Violence project is dedicated to sharing things that have prevented attacks. Everyone knows that they would rather prevent a tragedy than have to respond to one but if you look at our nationwide school safety efforts we do dedicate a lot of time, energy and effort to response. We should be looking at prevention and when we have prevented something we should share this with others so that they may learn how to prevent an incident.
Some more suggestions:
1. Have a Reunification Procedure Plan for each school – see the Standard Reunification Method from I Love U Guys – https://iloveuguys.org/srm.html
2. Dedicate at least a half day during August/September Staff Development days to school safety
3. Make safety training mandatory for everyone that works or volunteers in your schools. From cafeteria workers to custodians, teachers, and administrators.
4. Schedule one or more safety meetings for parents in each school every year.
5. Schedule a bus driver safety meeting at least once a year every year (August/September) in an air-conditioned area.
6. Appoint a “Safety Czar” from the schools to be in charge of all school safety issues. This should be a school administrator empowered to make decisions and take action.
7. Plan to immediately respond to the next national event to reassure parents. Without giving away too many specifics, a list of many of those things being done to prepare for similar events can be reassuring.
8. Provide training to the students in Standard Response Protocol, Standard Reunification Method and Avoid, Deny, Defend. Add this to the student manual!
9. Cameras in the hallways and interior common areas of all schools. Exterior cameras on higher risk areas and on traffic coming to and from schools. Try to place cameras so that you see faces and not tops of heads and so that you see license plates and driver’s faces instead of the sides of cars.
10. Hold regular safety meetings with school administrators, selected staff members, police, fire, EMS and other stakeholders.
11. Conduct regular SRP practice drills in each school including non-lockdown drills. A minimum of three (3) lockdown drills should be conducted at each school during the year with varying scenarios being drilled including, teacher initiated practice lockdowns and practice lockdowns that take place during periods where students are not in a standardized classroom setting. Check your state laws for fire drills and lockdown drill requirements. Many states mandate a certain number of drills every year.
12. Communications – Some schools are so large that police radios don’t work inside. Evaluate the in-school radio systems and procedures used at each school and make appropriate recommendations to your school department. Add a designated “Public Safety” secure channel to your wi-fi networks. This way you can cut regular wi-fi if needed during an emergency but keep police cellphones and devices working.
13. Provide an on-site visit to each classroom by a School Resource Officer trained in school safety to evaluate the individual needs of each classroom and reinforce with each teacher and staff member the specific objectives of the SRP and assist with any questions that staff members may have relative to the SRP. This visit would be used to emphasize to teachers the importance of maintaining locked classroom doors throughout the school day, when appropriate checking the immediate corridor area outside their classrooms for students prior to putting their classroom in lockdown mode, appropriate methods to barricade their classroom doors, finding the “hard corners” that are safest areas in a room during a lockdown, preparing an exigency plan should their classroom door be breached by an intruder-including alternate means of evacuating and in the last alternative providing a plan to their students to counter the intruder entering the classroom.
14. Review with the Fire Department protocols related to the in-school fire alarm systems and evaluate and implement best practices should a fire alarm be activated intentionally in an active shooter situation.
15. Adopt a staff alerting system
A free tool that can be used for alerting staff:
This is sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). The School Superintendents Professional Association.
16. Have an anonymous reporting tool – this is vital!
Sandy Hook Promise just started rolling this out for free, it includes website, app, tip-line and training for everyone (students, teachers, police, etc…)
17. Door hardware – “Lock Don’t Block” is the national standard we should all adopt. Aftermarket barricade devices are prohibited in the building codes of nearly all states. Doors need to be easily opened with no special training, hardware needs to be between 34 to 48 inches high from the floor, handles need to open without pinching force, which is described as basically being able to open a door with a closed fist.
More on school doors: http://idighardware.com/schools/
If you are concerned about doors between classrooms, rooms under 50 generally only need one exit under many building codes but make sure you check your local codes! Partnering with fire and building inspectors is critical in making sure you are making your buildings safe.
18. Room numbers and Door numbers – Room numbers inside and outside of each room so people know where they are. Check room numbers in hallways and outside door numbers. Outside doors should also be numbered inside and out.
19. Maps – you can make maps of your schools using free School Cop software – http://www.schoolcopsoftware.com/
20. Bollards or planters to stop vehicle attacks or accidents at main entrances and areas where there is an increased risk of a vehicle crash. When you assess your schools for safety and security issues you may find many pick up and drop off areas right next to playgrounds and areas where large numbers of students are left exposed to vehicles.
Here are some useful websites:
Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guide for Local Governments
The Concerned Parent’s Toolbox – Tools and Tricks to Protect Your Kids | BackgroundChecks.org
Keeping Children Safe Online | CISA
Before You Connect a New Computer to the Internet | CISA
Get Online Safety Resources From the National Cyber Security Alliance
STOP. THINK. CONNECT. ™ Toolkit | Homeland Security
The K-12 School Shooting Statistics Everyone Should Know – Campus Safety
7 School Security Plan Features You Should Evaluate – Campus Safety
School Safety: By the Numbers
National Institute of Justice Report: Summary of School Safety Statistics
Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates (2004) (PDF)
Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks — FBI
Quick Reference Guide: A Study of Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2013 — FBI
A Study of Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the United States Between 2000 and 2013 — FBI
USSS_FY2019_MAPS.pdf – U.S. Secret Service
Active Shooter Resources — FBI
Violence Prevention in Schools — FBI
School Safety and Security | Homeland Security
Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model | Homeland Security
How Can the U.S. Do a Better Job of Keeping Kids Safe at School? | RAND
The U.S School Shooting Statistics Everyone Should Know – Campus Safety
Each time there is a highly publicized school shooting, the public becomes concerned that school violence is increasing
PASS: Partner Alliance for Safer Schools | PASSK12
Secure Schools Alliance Research and Education
The Educator’s School Safety Network
Safe and Sound Schools – school safety nonprofit, founded by Sandy Hook parents
Welcome | National School Security Information Sharing System
REMS TA Center Website
DHS Working To Enhance School Safety, Increase Preparedness | Homeland Security
Campus Resilience Program Resource Library | Homeland Security
NTAC – National Threat Assessment Center
Next Steps for Campus Threat Assessment Teams
Conducting Crisis Exercises and Drills
Exercise Starter Kits (ESKs) | Homeland Security
Upstander – Students – BullyBust
Walking School Bus
Just Say Go
Bark for Schools: Student and School Safety for G Suite and Office 365
School Safety Failure in New Jersey Schools
Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety – I Dig Hardware
Dangers of Classroom Barricades
Balancing Privacy & School Safety Within FERPA | Domestic Preparedness
School SafetyInfo.org – School Critical Incident Planning – National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement Provides No-Cost Crisis Response and Training
Children and Disasters
National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement
JTIC – Protect Your School with JTIC’s Security and Safety Assessment Tool
PhoneFlare – A Free Campus Safety App
Say Something Anonymous Reporting System
S.A.F.E. | Safety Alerts for Education
There is a lot more to a comprehensive school safety program than this but there is enough here in these notes to start a program and continuously improve for several years. This document will never be complete and I will try to continuously organize and update the materials.
If you have ideas, suggestions or resources that should be on this list please share them with me. Feel free to share, copy, use or do anything you like with this information. If it helps make a few schools safer places I will be very happy.
Please DO NOT send me anything related to paid services, devices or software. Seriously, if you try to sell me something you are really going to hate talking to me. If you are trying to sell me something that isn’t very good or that I can do with free training, tools or software you will really hate talking to me.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinions, positions or policies of any agency or organization that I may work for, volunteer for, or be affiliated with. Use these materials at your own risk.
The best way to reach me is via email – email@example.com
Lieutenant Glen Mills
Lieutenant Glen Mills
Burlington Police Department
45 Center Street
Burlington, MA 01803
President, Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts www.macrimeanalysts.org
Past President, Police Futurists International policefuturists.org
IACA Certified Law Enforcement Analyst (CLEA) www.iaca.net
Open Source Policing – Free Resources for Law Enforcement: www.opensourcepolicing.org