Failure to prevent school shootings puts first responders at risk

Published 6:10 am Saturday, April 28, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the last 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.

By introducing a model approach in keeping various types of weapons out of our schools, a shooter is defeated before tragedy dominates. That isn’t happening today and the media should be asking why.

Excuses prompt serious questioning. I’ve heard most of them. So far they easily can be countered when dedicated leaders step forward as problem solvers.

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As daunting events arise in any community at any time, who primarily receives frantic appeals for help? Almost universally today the answer, of course, is first responder dispatchers.

They relay calls to men and women trained in law enforcement, or in emergency medical care, in fire-fighting, rescue and recovery, and in traffic/ pedestrian control.

Rarely does each category receive deserved acclaim and appreciation.

I’ve had the privilege — the honor — of working with these dedicated, brave, giving individuals. Memorable experiences seem akin to my armed services years. As always, mission comes first where members rely on each other; they must feel secure in trusting each other no matter what consequences loom.

Like military missions, what stands out is how first responders make instant, life-and-death decisions. Exposures to near-countless risks, as well as a myriad of unknowns while trying to save victims, or property, or each other, mark those involved as “special.”

I believe perilous roles are mighty similar regarding first responders and military personnel under siege — both are exposed to great harm.

One of the happiest moments while serving as Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security were those times when we could provide first responders with critically needed equipment, training and other assistance.

We stretched every available dollar during frustrating periods of unlimited needs constantly restrained by limited resources.

Which brings me to this fact: First responders also become targets of active shooters, intended or otherwise. References to these men and women are purposeful.

They must never be forgotten in any discussions referencing consequences of ignoring prevention.

No matter victim numbers, which in several strange cases haven’t been calculated accurately, first responders have felt the impact of a bullet. Even flying debris from a ricochet has caused injuries because assailants swept or sprayed in rapid fire.

Unresponsive or irresponsible officials harbor pie-in-the-sky dreams of a future minus gun violence. I suggest they think more about a “career-defining moment,” before future flags of death and injury unfurl as a result of their inaction.

As an auctioneer says before the gavel comes down, “Fair warning!”

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.