D.C. Schools Prep for Active Shooter Response

By Ashley Willis

WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., many K-12 institutions are seeking ways to update their security. In response, Urban Alarm, based here, hosted its “Session on Active Shooter Preparation” to help K-12 schools find affordable, effective ways to protect students and staff.

To help facilitate the Jan. 28 event, Urban Alarm President Miles Fawcett enlisted the help of his colleague Carl Rowan, director of special services for Bethesda, Md.-based Admiral Security Services, a patrol services company. The duo developed the content for the training after conducting walk-throughs at several Washington, D.C.-based schools, Fawcett tells CS.

“A lot of active shooter curriculum was already in place, but it was really geared toward office environments,” he explains. “Doing the walk-throughs, we found that there was a lot of valuable information that was new to the schools. So we worked together to modify the curriculum to be more targeted to K-12 schools.”

Fawcett and Rowan reached out to school officials at 400 private and public schools via phone and E-mail. In addition to discussing active shooter preparation best practice tips at the event, held at Maret School, a private institution for K-12 students, Fawcett also discussed electronic security systems, such as mass notification solutions and panic alarms, that can support lockdowns and shelter-in-place scenarios.

“A lot of K-12 schools have programs where if there is an event, everybody is instructed to lock down and huddle together in a corner,” he says. “We’re encouraging schools to reassess those strategies and think about how they spread out.”

Because all schools in the Washington D.C. area are gun-free zones, Fawcett advised attendees to consider placing items in classrooms that can be used as an improvised weapon for self-defense against an attacker, like a hammer. Additionally, the seminar encouraged school officials to revisit the idea of being able to lock classrooms from the inside.

“There are obviously reasons why they can’t be locked from the inside,” he says. “But people are reassessing whether that’s the right balance of access to classrooms or whether putting lockable deadbolts on classrooms with faculty managing the keys is the right idea.”

For school administrators seeking to host similar active shooter preparation trainings, Fawcett suggests partnering with a local alarm installation company and law enforcement officer with a background in SWAT-type response, similar to his partner, Rowan, a former FBI agent.

“You can contact the local police department and they would be more than happy to provide a representative, but it’s typically someone who will talk about general safety,” Fawcett said. “It helps to find the right person in law enforcement who thinks about these things and has a lot of experience responding to these types of incidents.”

For school districts that are strapped for cash, Fawcett recommends that electronic security contractors inform school representatives they don’t need to spend tons of money to make basic security measures. For example, Urban Alarm provides in-person and online training sessions free of charge. Furthermore, for a quick, yet effective, way to manage access control on campus, Fawcett suggests installing basic door jambs commonly used by firefighters to prop open doors.

“We only had about a week of the Christmas break to upgrade security at some schools in the area,” he says. “That’s not enough time to install much, so although those door jambs aren’t designed for that it’s certainly better than nothing; at least they had something to secure a door. It’s a small measure, but it can certainly give people some peace of mind.”

Since hosting the first training session, Urban Alarm has received requests from school officials seeking another session on active shooter preparation, which Fawcett hopes to present within the coming months. Although the seminar has helped Urban Alarm get its name out to the masses, that is not the firm’s main goal.

“Our primary concern, especially as a parent with kids in the K-12 program in the city, is to save lives,” Fawcett stresses. “We’re not in there selling products; that’s very much secondary.”

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Ashley Willis is associate editor for Campus Safety Magazine. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.

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