Rethinking School Safety: Taking Action with Common Sense and Improved Standards

Published: August 9, 2023

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

There have already been more than 165 K-12 school shootings in the U.S. in 2023. This startling fact makes it clear that we need to do more to confront the complex challenge of keeping our schools and children safe.

The first step is to recognize the current lack of universal standards regarding best practices to guide schools as they navigate unprecedented active shooter threats. In the quest for effective and practical solutions that can be implemented immediately, we must not only examine existing standards that different schools have in place but also question their efficacy and consider opportunities for improvement.

School Emergency Plans in Place

Throughout the decades, schools have prepared for a number of different threats in order to protect innocent lives. Fire drills date back to the early 20th century. Then in the 1950s, children were taught to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear attack. Now, as a result of far too many unpredictable and seemingly random deadly events, students and teachers are required to conduct active shooter drills.

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To proactively protect our schools and children, we must advocate implementing common sense solutions and reassess the status quo. Consider fire safety: there is a code that every building must adhere to regarding fire alarms, extinguishers, and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. Some schools take it a step further and test all equipment every month. Another key aspect of addressing fire safety is ensuring that all students and teachers know the exit locations in the event of an emergency.

If we learn from fire safety and other emergency scenarios in which lives are in danger, the importance of exit awareness cannot be overstated. In emergencies, every second counts, and being able to quickly evacuate can mean the difference between life and death.

However, schools are subject to many threats other than fires and need to have plans in place for multiple scenarios, including natural disasters, medical emergencies, and especially active shooter situations.

It’s important that these plans avoid measures that could inadvertently create a prison-like environment. For instance, installing bars on windows might make the school feel more secure, but it can also create a sense of fear and isolation for students and staff. Even worse, bars could prevent children from escaping through the window if a shooter were to block the doorway, or in the event of a fire, trapping them inside.

Instead, schools should prioritize practical and effective common sense measures such as securing entry points and implementing regular safety drills that could include escaping through non-traditional exit points like windows. It is important to clearly communicate this plan, along with training and guidance on how to respond to active shooter situations, to all members of the school community, including students, staff, and parents. These plans need to be developed by experts, based on real data, to ensure that they are effective and practical in real-world situations.

The Challenge of “Run, Hide, Fight”

Questioning and challenging conventional wisdom and traditional safety plans is essential to improving our response to active shooter situations.

Lockdown drills have been a common practice in schools for years, well before active shooter incidents became a more prominent occurrence. These drills typically involve teachers and students barricading themselves inside classrooms and waiting silently until it is safe to leave. However, this traditional lockdown drill can trap students and staff in one location, which would make them sitting targets for an active shooter.

The widely promoted “Run, Hide, Fight” approach should be questioned as well. Of course, running should be prioritized whenever possible, as it is challenging for even trained individuals to hit a moving target, which provides a better chance of escaping the threat. While hiding may be necessary at times, it’s not always the best course of action because it can trap individuals in one location, leaving them with no way out if they encounter danger.

It is also important to note that expecting children to fight an active shooter is unrealistic and can be even more dangerous. The “fight” response is not inherent in everyone, and those who do choose to fight may very well lose their lives while attempting to save others.

It’s crucial to think about the broader implications when considering safety measures in schools, including how they may impact the well-being and safety of students. While some may see bulletproof glass and winding hallways as practical solutions, these measures are not always the most effective or practical in real-world situations. In fact, they can sometimes create a false sense of security and lead to trapping students in dangerous situations. =

It’s important to consider more human-centric approaches to school safety that prioritize the safety of students while also creating a welcoming and inclusive learning environment. These could include implementing effective escape and evacuation options, as well as providing training to students and faculty on how to respond to active shooter situations.

As we continue to unpack and tackle the issue of school safety, we must be willing to question the preparations we have in place and strive to improve them based on set principles. For instance, we must ask ourselves whether active shooter drills truly save lives, or whether the emotional trauma they inflict on students isn’t justifiable given their efficacy. Or, conversely, if we do not conduct these drills, will students follow their schools’ established emergency plans? Unfortunately, these are tough questions, and more research is required in order to develop evidence-based practices.

A Common Sense Conclusion

Ultimately, we must be willing to question everything in our pursuit of safer schools. By applying a common sense lens to our policies and practices, we can identify the most effective, proactive, and practical strategies for keeping our students and staff safe. It is only through continuous evaluation and improvement, based on real data and developed by experts, that we can hope to create a safer and more supportive learning environment for our children and educators.

Rob Huberty is COO of ZeroEyes, an A.I. gun detection software solution provider.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series