An 8-step plan to stop school shootings
To improve school safety against active shooters, we must work on prevention, disruption and response through a multitude of options
This feature is part of Police1's Digital Edition, "Prevention, disruption & response: The strategies communities must deploy to stop school shootings." Click here to download.
By Greg Shaffer
The senseless killing of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, once again left our nation in mourning. We were left asking: “How does this still happen, and why?”
It seems we ask the same questions after each school shooting without coming up with a solution. We need city leaders nationwide to develop strategies that work for their communities to protect children in their schools.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach
I am not a supporter of developing a “national strategy” to combat school shootings as there is no “one-size-fits-all” security plan that works for all schools. What is best practice for a single six-story school building in New York City will not be effective for a rural school consisting of four buildings on a 5-acres campus in Minneola, Minnesota,
I believe we can develop effective prevention strategies when governors, city managers, mayors, local law enforcement, community leaders and parents become much more involved in the development of plans, procedures and training on how to address both the prevention and the response to school shootings in their communities.
As an SME on active shooter prevention, I do a fair amount of public speaking. During each presentation, I ask the parents in the audience if they have ever asked their children's teachers during parent-teacher conferences, “What is your plan in the event of an active shooter? How will you protect my child?” I am always surprised how few parents ask this question. In most of my presentations, not a single parent raises their hand. However, I believe every parent would like to know the answer and needs to start asking questions and demanding to see the active shooter response plan.
So, how do we fix this? Here are some recommendations.
1. Parental involvement
Parents must get involved and not assume anything about the safety of their children while at school.
Parents should do their due diligence and request to see their school’s active shooter response plan. They need to know if the plan is sound, safe and effective.
Parents should be involved in the decision-making process of how the school trains and implements their kid’s school’s active shooter response plan. If the local school board pushes back on parent involvement – push back harder! The parents have the right to know and the need to know exactly what the teacher will do with their children in the event of an active shooter.
2. Community focused
Each community needs to develop a strategy that works for them based on sound practices and tactics developed from the lessons identified by previous school shootings.
These strategies must include prevention and response options and not just rely on the “response” from law enforcement as the only option to save our children.
Although training our first responders HOW to respond is critical (and the ALERRT program does a fantastic job at this – free to any police department who requests the training), police officers are still human and subject to failure, as was exhibited in Uvalde, Texas, and Broward County (Parkland), Florida.
Strategic thinking should review:
- Integrated technology solutions that can empower first responders and potential victims with enhanced situational awareness;
- Enhanced counseling to disrupt a potential shooter’s pathway to violence;
- Hardening our school buildings so can we mitigate these types of killings.
In simple terms, to improve school safety against active shooters, we must work on the prevention, disruption and response through a multitude of options.
3. Threat assessments
A critical element in preventing these acts of violence is by focusing on those individuals who are most likely to commit these heinous acts.
In both the Uvalde shooting and the Parkland shooting the students and teachers stated after the incident that they were not surprised when the identity of the shooter was released. If this is the case, why wasn’t a “threat assessment” done on the individual? Why wasn’t the individual interviewed, along with his parents, his siblings, his friends, his classmates, his teachers and the school counselor? During these interviews, it could be determined if the person was on a path to violence.
The assessment could determine whether the person had access to weapons or was able to acquire weapons. Contrary to widely held beliefs, these violent offenders do not just “snap” and decide on that day to commit mass murder. Research and post-event analysis show that the offender had a “pathway” that led up to the violence. If we can find a way to intersect this pathway to violence, then we may be able to prevent the violence.
A behavioral threat assessment team comprised of school counselors, teachers and psychologists could be one solution to help prevent these tragic incidents. For this to work, we must invest in our school counseling program. The average ratio of students to counselors in the United States is 482-to-1. This is nearly double the 250-to-1 recommended by the American School Counselor Association. Most elementary schools do not have any school counselors or share one counselor across multiple schools. Our prison system has a far better prisoner-to-counselor ratio than our schools. This should not be the case!
Granted, the benefit of a “Threat Assessment Team” is only as good as the members, their training and the information they receive. They have little to no value if concerns go unreported. A reporting portal should be established that allows students, staff and family members to report suspicious behavior and security concerns. I know there are current reporting systems already in place. Let us look at them and find the best one for school security programs.
[RELATED: Register for Police1's webinar on Building safer schools: How law enforcement and educators can develop effective threat assessment teams to stop school violence]
4. School resource officers
Another “easy fix” is to place a highly trained, armed individual (or two), in every school in America. This can be a police officer, School Resource Officer (SRO), or a retired military or law enforcement officer.
Regardless, all must go through rigorous psychological testing and be proficient at de-escalation techniques, intelligence collection, crime prevention, dispute resolution, life-safety medical response and active threat response. That is, they must be able to have at least one full day of training per month. These protectors of our children need to be hand-selected and be the best of the best, not a run-of-the-mill, poorly trained, underpaid security guard.
5. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
For all new school construction or school renovations we need to look at “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” or CPTED to enhance school perimeter security while being aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Using CPTED we can establish concentric rings of security to include an inner, middle and outer ring that are invisible to the untrained eye. Immediately after 9/11, we were able to "harden" every cockpit on every plane on every airline. We can do the same to our schools without making them look like state penitentiaries.
Putting cameras in every school that can be accessed by police dispatch would be a tremendous help. In the event of a school shooter, police dispatchers can direct the responding officers to the exact location of the shooter. Providing first responders with this level of situational awareness would significantly improve their ability to address the threat immediately upon arrival. This could save valuable minutes that could result in saving countless lives.
Using advanced technology and artificial intelligence readily available through commercial sources would greatly enhance the security of our schools. Cameras can identify a person carrying a weapon and communicate the threat across the spectrum of teachers, staff, students, police, fire and EMS. In addition, providing teachers with a FOB to wear around their neck, which if pressed, activates a notification and alarm system, could be effective and beneficial.
8. School SOPs
Finally, it is time to reevaluate our school standard operating procedures that forces our students and teachers to remain IN the school, where the shooting is occurring. Maybe we look at alternative solutions and incorporate the philosophy of “get off the X” – that is, get as far away from the shooting location as possible. Again, let us put our smartest and brightest on this matter and decide if designing a different response, other than hiding in the corner of the room to an active shooter, is better for our children’s safety.
The Uvalde, Texas mass shooting will go down in history as a watershed moment for law enforcement. Although the investigation is ongoing, I am confident in stating there was a complete failure of C3I (Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence) by the on-scene commander, who by virtue of his rank and position, was Chief Pete Arredondo. In the immediate post-event press conference, every detail and every report of the incident proved to be false. The complete lack of leadership on scene prevented police officers from responding correctly and following standard operating procedures established 20 years ago as a direct result of the Columbine mass shooting. Police officers MUST run to the gunfire, despite the danger to themselves, and eliminate the threat immediately upon arrival. They must “stop the killing, then stop the dying.”
Making our schools and our children safe requires collaboration, cooperation and coordination across many industries and government entities. The synergy between these entities has one goal: violence prevention. Let us put together our brightest and most innovative minds and develop strategies that address prevention and response. Let us never again have a school shooting that will forever be defined as an “abject failure.”
NEXT: An integrated technological approach to school attack prevention and response
About the author
Greg Shaffer is the author of “Stay Safe – Security Secrets for Today’s Dangerous World” and the founder of the Dallas-based Shaffer Security Group. Greg is internationally recognized as an expert on active shooter and counterterrorism response. Greg also served 20 years as a Special Agent in the FBI, where he was an operator on the FBI’s “Hostage Rescue Team” (HRT). He has conducted tactical operations across the globe and has trained thousands of police officers and civilians both domestically and abroad in active shooter response and tactical firearms. Most recently he has joined forces with Chris Grollnek at Active Shooter Prevention Project, LLC, where he is working to start a not-for-profit to combine resources from across the nation to develop better strategies to combat active shooter events.