Despite the best efforts of school districts across the U.S., school shootings continue to occur on a regular basis. More than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school in the 19 years since the Columbine High School shooting that occurred April 20, 1999 and claimed the lives of 15 people and injured an additional 24. In response to the threat of school active shooter events, federal, state and local authorities have implemented security approaches.
In an effort to protect children and youth, districts are increasingly utilizing high-tech security systems as well as other prevention measures, such as:
In addition, many districts have expanded mental health screening and on-campus counseling. But some experts say that these efforts are not sufficient.
In the age of unpredictability, current school response plans tend to lack flexibility, giving shooters too much time and too many targets. Take, for example, the situation at Columbine High School in 1999. Many of the victims chose to go into lockdown mode in the library, as recommended by the school’s safety procedures. However, many of the victims that sheltered in the library were killed. There was a back fire door exit that the library victims could have used to evacuate if their response protocol was not to stay still and be quiet.
One such training, Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate (ALICE) seeks to provide instruction and planning for schools to help them prepare for the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event. The premise of ALICE and other similar trainings is to provide options for when the environment and circumstances don’t fit with the traditional lockdown response philosophy.
Giving school personnel other options could be the key to their survival. Each shooting event is unique, dynamic and chaotic. While a lockdown response is effective in many circumstances, especially for young children, options-based training may be more effective for older students, teachers and administrators.
Other preventative measures that have helped reduce active shooter incidences in schools include:
Schools need to arm themselves with knowledge. Districts need to empower staff and administrators with options and training. Additional mental health services in schools, individualized education that can adapt to the specific needs of the student are important preventative measures that need to be taken into consideration. School shootings are still very rare. Active shooter incidents in schools account for 1 percent of homicides among school-aged youth. However, school personnel and students need to be able to respond in the best possible way in a variety of potential circumstances and environments. Districts need to refine their response strategies in order to help students, staff, teachers and administrators stay as safe as possible.
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