Allow police agencies access to school structures after hours, and during winter, spring and summer breaks for active shooter trainingPhotos courtesy Kevin Davis
Conduct lockdown and evacuation drills at least twice a year.
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- Through the Darkness
Prior to Columbine, as lead instructor for my SWAT Team, I’d researched and implemented an annual training block on our response to active shooters. Post-Columbine, my SWAT team increased training in rapid deployment, following recommendations from LAPD SWAT and the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). We began training in different school buildings and had the schematics and school plans for each school downloaded into our team laptop computer.
These preparations included a live scenario and demonstration for school board members using a fog machine to simulate operating in a post-explosives environment; 12-gauge blanks fired in the hallways; and the use of marking cartridges against a role player in the school hallway.
My training bureau partners and I instructed each officer in our agency on rapid deployment, including actual practice sessions in a vacant building. Every officer hired by our agency since has undergone response to active-shooter training, including confrontation simulations, and we’ve tried to work on such related skills as aggressive movement on the range and in live fire as well.
Plan on a Shelf
After Columbine, I was asked to be part of a task force to develop plans for school districts in our county. Required by a new law to formulate and submit a “Response to Active Shooter” plan, the school administrators were out of their element, so members of law enforcement were asked to be involved.
I was part of the tactical operations subcommittee. We worked hard making recommendations for everything from building security to school emergency response announcements to lock down procedures, evacuations, rally points and parent/child release procedures. And so on. It was a lot of work and a very real plan and policy was produced.
But it takes more than just a plan and training to stop the spree killer.
You see, although the aforementioned plan was extremely well-crafted and gave excellent recommendations for developing a specific policy and plan for each school, it wasn’t disseminated. The state law that required the districts to submit plans to the state doesn’t require them to disseminate their plan to principals and teachers, and it doesn’t mandate active killer drills, such as lock downs and evacuations.
Indeed principals in the district looking to protect their students and staff had heard about the plan, called me up and obtained one from me because their own school administration had done nothing.
We called for training of teachers and staff—and we were told it was a union issue.
We recommended training drills be conducted several times a year—and we were told it wouldn’t happen because it was disruptive and not required by law.
We recommended many excellent things, but contracts, time, money, many other issues left the plans unshared, on a shelf, gathering dust, while some schools got new locks and visitors now had to be buzzed in (of course, there’s always at least one entrance that seems to be left open in most schools).
We’ve had how many more school spree killer incidents since Columbine? These incidents include Virginia Tech and now the Sandy Hook tragedy, of course. But there have been so many in fact that we actually have lost count. For example, do you remember the Cleveland, Ohio, Success Academy shooting?
Although the school district in question has conducted ALICE (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) training for all secondary staff members and has a school resource officer from the police department assigned to each high school, still no active shooter drills and other lifesaving recommendations we made have been implemented.
Commit to Win & Stop the Threat
Let’s stop paying lip service and going through the motions with untrained and unpracticed “plans” sitting on a shelf somewhere. Let’s instead really focus and work to stop the threat before and during the actual attack. Following are some ways we can do that.
• Have school security supervisors meet with local police and coordinate plans and responses;
• Liaisons should be streamlined and back-ups in place to enhance communications on problem students, threats and events;
• Outline systems of notification from the school to the police agency of student threats and potentially violent students;
• Enhance the physical security of all school structures;
• Post police officers at all high schools;
• Establish plans for armed intruder lockdown, evacuations and rally points;
• Train all teachers in the plans;
• Conduct lockdown and evacuation drills at least twice a year;
• Have police personnel present during drills;
• Encourage park and walks as well as lunch breaks of officers at local schools;
• Allow police agencies access to school structures after hours, and during winter, spring and summer breaks for active shooter training;
• Conduct annual agency training on response to active shooters; and
• Plan, prepare, coordinate, rehearse and train.
If we’re to protect our country’s greatest asset—our children—then we must remove the impediments, stop making excuses and really get serious about school violence and shootings. Only by working together to solve this very real menace can we do more than just have a plan.