With the unfortunate shooting attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, it was South Florida’s turn to witness the horrors of such an attack. Seventeen lives were lost and many more will carry the psychological and physical wounds for the rest of their lives.
The million dollar question, again, is what can be done to prevent the next one?
If we pull back, leaving emotions aside, and look at this from the strategic level… we have two main elements here that we can focus on:
- The “Attacker”, and how can we identify and stop him/her before the next attack.
- The “Place/Location/Venue that will be attacked” (in this case our schools), and how can we make it more secure so that the attacker’s plan to attack is not successful.
Let me start with the “Attacker”.
Off the bat, I can tell you that identifying the potential attacker and stopping him/her before the next attack will be extremely difficult. Even the most sophisticated government intelligence/security agencies in the world are having a tough time dealing with the so called ‘lone perpetrators’ or ‘lone wolves’.
Now, regardless of the Attacker’s motive (jihadi terrorism, left/right wing terrorism, mental illness, revenge, etc.), we will need to identify and understand the THREAT level… and to do this, we must break the ‘threat’ into its two components:
- Capability (tools and knowledge needed to carry out the attack).
- Intent (willingness to carry out the attack).
In terms of capability, when referring to school shooting attacks, we will need to have a conversation about:
- Who should and who should not be allowed to purchase, carry firearms, etc. What type of mechanisms can we put in place to keep firearms out of the hands of people with psychological problems, criminal backgrounds, etc.
- Do we really want ‘gun free zones’ in our schools and what are the real implications? Will the potential attackers abide by these rules?
- Knowing that in these situations, when seconds count - cops are only a few minutes away, will we be able to neutralize an attacker without an on-site, trained and armed, quick reaction force?
- Understanding that in recent attacks in our cities, the ‘capabilities’ field has included, not only firearms, but knives, box openers, screwdrivers, vehicles, pressure cookers, improvised explosives, etc. How will we prepare our schools to deal with these?
- In short, we may limit certain aspects of the ‘capability’ element… but it will not cover all of the options available to a determined bad guy wanting to do harm. Even if we are successful here this will not guarantee the security of our campuses.
In terms of the intent:
- We can try to make efforts in the awareness/education fields and implement programs where staff members and students ‘say something when they see something’, etc… but the challenge here will be a cultural one.
- In the last years, the field of personal responsibility has suffered a major blow. Political correctness has dumbed our society into one where people just ‘don’t want to get involved’ for the fear of offending someone or saying the wrong thing.
- Many in our society seem to be completely confused and can’t even tell right from wrong anymore.
- Other topics we will have to explore are the effects of psychiatric drugs and the overmedication of kids in schools (and the role and responsibility of the pharmaceutical industries in this area).
- The effect of extremely violent and realistic video games, Hollywood movies and, in general, a culture and glorification of violence in our society.
- In short, figuring out the ‘intent’ of a potential attacker is going to be extremely difficult. It will require a cultural change and the development of better tools and processes.
Bottom line: trying to identify and stop a potential attacker from attacking our schools is going to be extremely difficult and almost impossible. Can we improve our chances of being successful in this area? Perhaps, but this will take time and require the cultural retraining of our society where people embrace personal responsibility and do their part in looking out for each other. I hope we move in this direction sooner than later.
The good news is that switching our focus from the “Attacker” to the “Place/Location/Venue that will be attacked”, in this case OUR SCHOOLS, can actually help us do something about these attacks… and we can start doing it right now!
Focusing Our Attention on Securing our Schools
As mentioned above, focusing our attention on securing our schools is something that must be done and can be done right away. However, it will require a change in the way we view security and a change in the way our decision makers view their responsibility in protecting our kids.
To keep this short, I will just mention three areas where change is required ASAP:
- States/cities must allocate funds for providing real security in the schools.
- We must implement PROACTIVE/PREVENTIVE security strategies on our campuses.
- State decision makers must seek proactive/preventive security best practices and convert that into a STANDARD protocol that should then become required in every school. Local law enforcement should get acquainted with that new standard and then help the schools of their communities implement and maintain that system.
What should that new STANDARDIZED PROACTIVE AND PREVENTIVE SECURITY PROTOCOL look like?
Here a starting list:
- Secure perimeter.
- Access control + screening.
- Tiers of security approach:
- Deterrence - using deception and overt/covert proactive security to convince the attacker that it’s not a good idea to attack your facility. (i.e. make your facility a 'hard target').
- Detection - combination of technology and human factor. Both peripheral, outside of external perimeter, as well as on the perimeter border.
- Delay mechanism - once an intruder is detected by the detection mechanisms, we must cause him to be delayed before reaching the valuable assets we are protecting.
- Response - this effort happens simultaneously in two directions: a trained and coordinated team runs towards the direction of the attacker with the mission of neutralizing him/her. At the same time, other response teams deal with the students and staff (analysis, communication, lockdown?, evacuation?, etc.).
In order to implement this kind of security we will need a trained security department that understands the mission, has the right mindset and training. Prevention is the name of the game and incident resolution within seconds is equally important.
This will require an initial education of the security department in prevention and proactive security strategies and tactics. This training must be followed by quarterly training maintenance, periodic vulnerability / penetration tests, periodic off-hours and school-hours training drills and scenarios including with the local first responders.
Finally, the regular staff of the school (administrators, teachers, coaches, etc.) will be trained in detecting and reporting suspicious activity, responding to critical incidents, routine and emergency security communication, etc.
Only with a comprehensive proactive and preventive security system like this will our schools be protected properly from another attack of this type. And even then, it will not be 100% fool-proof. There is no 100% security. But we can get close to that number with determination and professionalism and more importantly… we will know that we were doing EVERYTHING within our power to prevent the next attack.
In closing, I would like to offer you an analogy in the field of student and school staff fatalities as a result of fires in US schools. Up until 1958 there were several fires in US schools with various fatalities and injuries. Around that same year, where at the “Lady of the Angels” school in Chicago 90 students and 3 nuns died, something changed. Society said “enough is enough”. Fire standards were created, schools were equipped with smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other proactive fire safety elements. Periodic drills became mandatory, some including the local fire fighters. In a nutshell, the problem was tackled intelligently and holistically. What was the result? In the last 60 years or so there have been ZERO fatalities as a result of fires in our schools. It can be done! It will require leadership and determination, smart choices and hard work. Let’s get started today!