by John Boatman
The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 was one of the three most lethal school shootings in the U.S., and remains among the most incomprehensible acts of violence ever committed by a lone gunman.
In addition to the profound impact it has had on the nation, the shooting also exposed a set of glaring weaknessesaround school emergency prevention, preparedness and response at MSDHS, the Broward County Public Schools district and local law enforcement agencies.
During the remainder of 2018, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission conducted an exhaustive inquiry into the root causes of the tragedy. Its report, released in early January, is a damning indictment on the very institutions that are supposed to protect students and staff from harm.
Among its many criticisms, the Commission highlighted the lack of fully-developed emergency plans and policies, ignorance of existing campus vulnerabilities and threats, poor emergency communications and inadequate staff and student training and drills for high-consequence events such as an active shooter incident.
School district leaders everywhere have a critical responsibility in providing safe campus environments where kids can learn and develop. Since the MSDHS tragedy a number of states have enacted laws to boost school safety and security. While some may prove effective, the measures enacted so far have been insufficient in addressing the fundamental need for the coordinated approaches so clearly spelled out in the Commission’s report.
Many of the Commission’s recommendations are applicable to virtually any school district:
- Jointly develop robust emergency plans and share the details with all stakeholders in advance.
- Conduct regular training sessions and safety drills — including fire, evacuation, lockdown/lockout, severe weather and of course active-shooter — in close cooperation with emergency responders.
- Formalize a process for conducting site assessments of each school’s most likely threats and key vulnerabilities (Full disclosure: Since 2014, the Haystax-developed Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool, or FSSAT, is the primary tool for assessing security best practices at all Florida school districts and, as of mid-2018, conducting safety assessments on all schools in the state).
- Remove physical security vulnerabilities and ‘harden’ physical structures where possible.
Ultimately though, the Commission’s wisest advice is about responsibility and accountability. As the report put it: “Not all school security changes or enhancements have financial costs, and some only require the will of decision-makers to effect change and hold people responsible for implementing best practices.”
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NOTE: School administrators and security teams wishing to learn more about the Haystax cloud-based school safety solution are invited to contact one of our representatives at firstname.lastname@example.org or by requesting an online demonstration of our site-assessment, drill-management and other apps at https://haystax.com/school-safety/.