In response to horrifying school shootings; Americans tend to oversimplify the issue or worse, distract the nation toward wedge issues. The truth is, addressing this issue is a lot more complex than simply “stopping a bad guy with a gun”. As someone who has conducted executive security assessments for public, catholic schools & colleges; I believe a cultural change toward school safety is needed to effectively prevent future shootings.

In the 19 years since the Columbine High School shooting; shockingly no substantive, national change in school security policy has occurred. When our national response to school violence gets distracted by wedge issues like gun control; we lose focus on the fact that in the majority of America’s schools today; there are rarely insider threat investigation programs nor effective physical & operational security plans. While education leaders commonly cite a lack of budget or not wanting to “turn our schools into prisons” for the lack of school security; it is clear that ignoring this threat and ‘hoping for the best’ is an irresponsible approach.

In discussing what should be done following an attack, America often seeks a “one size fits all” approach; such as banning AR-15 rifles because they were used in the Sandy Hook and Parkland attacks. However, these ‘solutions’ rarely come from security or law enforcement professionals as our training teaches us to focus on how perpetrators got in, not merely the weapons used. This was highlighted by the shooting at Santa Fe, TX High School in May, where 10 were killed with a revolver and shotgun stolen from the father of the suspect.

These incidents should prompt school systems to reconsider their top-down security protocols and address vulnerabilities from within. Since the February shooting in Parkland; I have personally worked with school district and county education officials to conduct system-wide security assessments of operations, facilities, plans and procedures with a focus on the internal responsibilities for protecting schools. Put simply: the responsibility for creating a stepwise approach to strengthen school security measures and technologies shouldn’t be hinged on external legislation or outside agencies as the responsibility for campus safety belongs to school administrators.

A good indicator of this is whether or not your local school district has a police agency. Major school systems like Philadelphia and New York have metal detectors in many schools, but have unarmed “school police” without proper training, equipment or legal authority. In contrast, small districts in states like Mississippi and Georgia have full-service school police agencies; even without distinctions like Philadelphia, which has schools consistently rated as “persistently dangerous” by the Department of Education. This is not simply a “red state vs. blue state” cultural argument; evident by the fact that Los Angeles is home to one of the nation’s finest school police agencies; with increased resources, capabilities and the same state authority as their municipal counterparts.

The presence of campus police or armed security is a sign of the recognition that threats need to be responded to and intervened in an immediate manner. Hours-long sieges like Columbine and Beslan have shifted to active shooter incidents lasting conservatively five to ten minutes in length; far faster than the average local law enforcement response time. Therefore, schools need to adopt a culture of security that integrate concentric layering of policy, procedures and physical measures into daily practices so that multiple, overlapping elements of security are in place to keep campuses safe.

Concentric layers include effective policies creating a culture of vigilance in daily operations, an investigative component that monitors cyber-threats, compliance issues and confidential reports from staff, parents & students; and physical barriers such as alarms, video cameras and access control systems. Training for staff and students is also vital, as “see something, say something” widely varies on perception. This training should result in the maintenance and review of a security plan at every campus and updated annually, as fire drills are normally handled.

Of issue is the fact that many school safety policies are rooted in conflicting sociological arguments such as the school-to-prison pipeline; creating security risks. Policies that restrict campus security or police agencies have often confused disciplinary pathways for students charged with campus crimes or dangerous mental health concerns with mere law enforcement presence and reporting. If the Cleary Act of 1990 requires an accurate reporting of all crimes and arrests on collegiate campuses, why shouldn’t a similar law exist for more vulnerable, juvenile students? The truth is the school-to-prison pipeline argument was related to labeling youths with criminal records for “juvenile mistakes”.

This cultural tradition in schools has been widely attributed as contributing to the lack of pre-attack intervention for the Virginia Tech & Parkland shooters, as well as the attempted assassin of Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords. Local policies have resulted in a failure to report or intervene in potentially violent behavior; limiting public safety and access to mental health resources for students in the manner higher education has used to comply with Cleary and Title IX regulations.

Regardless of what federal regulations are placed on educational administrators, it’s time to stop debating on the need for security; and holding our locally-elected school boards accountable for securing our schools in the way we secure public venues, banks and other facilities.