Monday, April 20, 2009

What educators could learn 10 years later after the Columbine tragedy....

In the aftermath of the 10th anniversary of Columbine High School, most Americans have forgotten it. Yet, for those of who have students or a spouse who works in any school, we should not forget the lessons of this tragedy.
For several years, I have been working with security consulting firms, and I have written a lot on the topic of school security for major trade publications and other news media. From the security professional's viewpoint, most educators need to tighten up their processes to protect themselves.
Yet, after a lot of conversations with my wife, a San Antonio science teacher, I know that educators don't like things that take away from their instructional time. Dealing with things like security cards is just another hassle for them.
If you care about the security of your spouse or child's school, I would ask the following questions of their local principal:
1) When was the last time the principal of your child or spouse's school has done a security audit with his local fire, police and medical professional? From discussions with several first responders, a lot of schools have not done this. In some cases, local districts can't even have a discussion with their local first responders unless their district is notified. Also, if I am a fire, police or EMT professional, I would offer to visit with my child or spouse's principal on ways to safeguard my loved ones.
2) What kind of security upgrades are in the planning stage for a school? Again, most schools are way behind in funding for these, mostly because of the costs or the lead time it takes for federal or state funding.
3) How can children notify their principals of their contemporaries who threaten to bring a gun to school or want to cause harm to themselves? In my wife's school, one student brought a gun to school, and it was only through a well developed process that the principal was notified quickly. Also, there are several companies who are offering an alerting system with cell phones that allows students to text a anonymous message to a principal or counselor.
4) When was the last time a school practiced their "crazy shooter" first response drill, either as a table top or a school wide drill? A long time ago, people first questioned the need for fire alarm drills, but after a few people were killed by school blazes, nobody even questions the need for this drill. It should be the same today for all schools to conduct at least one if not two of these drills per academic school year.
5) Does my child or spouse's school put a heavy reliance on technology instead of on processes and training? In other words, does the local principal believe that their school could not face the prospect of a crazed shooter because they have the greatest security technology in place?
6) If a school has an ID card for students in place, does the administration punish students who lose or trade their cards with others? According to a well place resource, some high schools like to trade their ID cards like I would trade an extra Mickey Mantle for a Willie Mays card.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Columbine, it's that security processes are always evolving. Parents and those who have loved ones who teach should feel that they can question the capability of their school administration to protect them. As a military first responder who witnessed five too many airplane crashes, I disliked the training I had to undergo to prepare for them. Yet, the fact that I had been drilled on the basic types of responses at least once or twice a year made me feel like I was well prepared to deal when it did happen.

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