Expert checks serious mistakes made with school security issues

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Guest columnist

Editor’s note: This is the second of four opinion columns from crisis management expert Thomas Preston, looking at how schools and their communities can take appropriate steps to prevent school shootings. Check back Thursday for part three.

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A common-sense safe school model can be implemented quickly. Doing so requires only joint commitment by leaders who can carry out the mission within a brief timeline. This model is designed to prevent armed combat inside schools.

Initially, the cost might temporarily restrain those who must act affirmatively. However, as they weigh dire consequences of not adequately shielding students, faculty, administrators, other staff and visitors from active shooters or other would-be assailants, second thoughts should prevail.

The good news is how minimal funding is after first-year establishment of screening units connected to school buildings becomes the norm. In addition to stopping deadly violence before murderers attack interiorly, this model will assuage fear of sudden death, injury and associated traumas among all directly or indirectly affected. It will lead to a desired learning environment, which is not the case today:

• It demands a “can do” attitude from federal and state governments, from educational decision-makers and private sector advocates.

• It requires instant funding, which under most conditions, will circulate back into involved communities, therefore becoming an economic stimulant. Federal dollars are available through emergency appropriations just as emergency financing has been relied on during prior eras.

• It calls for modest additions to school entrances. Each contains formula-based ingress- and egress-controlled passageways, thus assuring protected interiors.

• It invites willing, dedicated adults who volunteer as trained monitors for a day or two each week at the magnetometer and X-ray viewing stations.

• It begins an overdue process of eliminating backpacks. Hiding weapons, drugs and other baneful items in backpacks should have been addressed long ago.

• It places additional law enforcement personnel in schools to supervise the overall security process.

As previously stated, without total interior access control, all else attempted on behalf of security within the confines of school buildings is flawed. Weapons, illegal drugs/opiates, explosives and more will easily slip into an unprotected, falsely described “safe haven.” This can’t be tolerated.

While examining this increasingly complex matter surrounding active shootings, especially in high schools, recent accounts show that between 2013 and last year, about one intended or accidental gun discharge each day took place somewhere in the United States.

In another study, this by the FBI for a period between 2000 and 2013, data collectors reportedly found approximately one quarter of all active shooter episodes in the U.S. happened in “educational environments.” And they were on the rise, a report writer stated.

In other words, warning signs are staring leaders directly in the face. Let’s quickly check three serious mistakes:

• Mistake No. 1: arming school personnel. Allowing anyone to carry a weapon on school property, other than professional law enforcement personnel, raises chances for senseless harm. Example: A few weeks ago, a high school teacher accidentally discharged a pistol while foolishly conducting a justice administration course.

Teachers must not become pawns for additional duty as armed guards. Interviews indicate that few educators want to be in such a situation. Few adults, even those from the military, have been tested in an actual gun battle against an irate adversary intent upon slaughter.

As a gun owner practically my entire life, a veteran who relied on a variety of weapons, I support the Second Amendment, though not to the extreme of some. I fully endorse the premise of self-protection and need in assisting vulnerable people. Yet, only with constant training and daily field experience would I belong in a school as an armed resource officer.

• Mistake  No. 2: showing negativity. The major responsibility for all elementary and secondary school officials is providing the safest possible environment.

Postulating limp excuses not to immediately construct a simple screening addition at school entrances has no merit. The U.S. House and Senate along with state legislative bodies can and should allocate financial resources without delay, thus creating access barriers to all types of weapons and other harmful items. The portal concept is a one-time expense except for minor reserves to upgrade equipment and maintain small yet efficient passageways for ingress and egress.

Mistake No. 3: complaining about affordability. Hogwash. Check, for instance, federal records, especially those of the National Science Foundation. This agency spent $1.5 million of our tax dollars to put a mudskipper fish on a treadmill, testing its flopping speed.

NSF also spent $150,000 trying to figure out why politics stress us out. You can find waste a-plenty. Here are a couple of the other countless examples: $2.5 million for a Super Bowl commercial by the Census Bureau that was rated the worst TV spot among all aired; and $15 million to train Kenyan farmers how to use Facebook.

Thomas Preston has 60 years of experience with acute crisis prevention, response and resolution, ranging from secret global counterterrorism missions as a U.S. Army officer to state and federal protective roles and being appointed Homeland Security Chief for Kentucky. He now runs Preston Global, a consulting firm specializing in crisis prevention, response and communication.