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There's more to School Safety than Active Shooter Training

Soon after the Columbine shooting, security experts, school administrators and other observers at the time began looking for lessons in the “teachable moment.” Since then, with shootings from Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Isla Vista, we’ve had a teachable decade-and-a-half to learn from these incidents, yet there’s little evidence schools are getting any safer. Some experts say they may even be getting less safe. What are we not learning? Are we even asking the right questions?

An understandable but unfortunate consequence of these high-profile events is an excessive focus on the active shooter, defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” We’re seeing a kind of tunnel vision on this issue, as if school safety were defined by how well schools drill for the active shooter scenario. This narrow focus excludes the broad range of day-to-day security threats that schools and colleges face, the vast majority of which do not involve a rampaging gunman.

In a recent article, Emergency Management editor Jim McKay argues that training and security measures focused on school shootings are flawed and overshadow more common types of violence on campus. McKay noted that school administrators are being bombarded with “technology fixes” in the form of cameras, metal detectors, buzzers, bulletproof white boards and the like, while also relying too much on active shooter training.

McKay and other experts take issue with the “Run, Hide, Fight” approach suggested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The approach (shown in the video below, created by the City of Houston with Department of Homeland Security funds) is widely adopted as a training mechanism in active shooter scenarios. It urges people to run, hide or, as a last resort, fight off a gunman, rather than simply wait for law enforcement to arrive.

In the same article, security expert Michael Dorn is quoted as saying, “Many schools today are in fact less safe than they were before Sandy Hook, and that one reason for this is the heavy emphasis on active shooter scenarios. The ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ video, like other training being done in schools is neither evidence-based nor proven to work.”

It’s not that Congress isn’t talking about and throwing money at the problem. Lawmakers are actively engaged in discussion about what types of tools or methods our schools and colleges should implement to keep everyone safe. According to another recent article, the U.S. government has dedicated over $300 million in the past two years to enhancing school security. But the money has gone on churning out reports, research, assessments and position papers, instead of the actual installation of security technology and equipment, such as surveillance systems, according to John Chwat, director of government relations at the Electronic Security Association.

In other words, no real action is taking place. Frustratingly, those most affected by all this indecision and foot-dragging are the educators, students, parents and others who make up the education community. In short, they’ve been left in the lurch.

My employer, Guardian 8, recently conducted research of over 500 educators and students around the nation. The data shows educators are anxious and nervous because they feel unsafe and don’t feel properly protected. In some cases, students reported taking their safety into their own hands by purchasing pepper spray for themselves or family members. After the Sandy Hook shootings, one Colorado mother even started an online petition encouraging lawmakers to require teachers to have Tasers in classrooms (not part of our research).

Instead of asking teachers and students—in some cases, even elementary school students—to train how to disarm a gunman, we at Guardian 8 believe it makes much more sense to focus on providing tools that enable users to reduce violence by de-escalating threatening events. To that end, we have defined a market category for personal safety and security tools called Enhanced Non-Lethal (ENL) devices. The first commercially-available ENL product is the G8 Pro V2—a cost-effective tool that can enable school emergency response teams to delay an attack and defend students if necessary, while documenting the event and communicating with law enforcement, with just one device. At less than the cost of a smart phone, the G8 Pro V2 can be used by anyone who is properly trained, including teachers and coaches. Congress needs to stop dragging its feet, stop spending money on consultants and start spending precious, limited budget dollars on actual tools that can provide protection now.

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