Are We Focusing Too Much on the Intruder Threat to School Security?

Studies have found that in more than 43% of K-12 campus shootings, the gunman was currently enrolled at the school.

Are We Focusing Too Much on the Intruder Threat to School Security?

Photo via Adobe, by Vlad Chomiy

In September, the Texas School Safety Center began conducting intruder safety audits of K-12 campuses around the state. Each audit takes an in-depth look at school safety, with inspectors checking exterior entry points. They also review how a school checks in visitors.

I applaud  the state of Texas for requiring its schools to pay closer attention to access control and visitor management. Anyone who has been following Campus Safety knows that for years I’ve been pushing for campuses to do a better job of locking their doors and vetting their guests. I’d love it if every U.S. school would follow suit.

That said, my concern is the audits currently being done in Texas — as well as in the rest of America’s K-12 schools (no doubt prompted by May’s Uvalde’s mass school shooting tragedy) — might be too focused on the intruder threat at the expense of the threats posed by insiders.

We all need to remember that students, disgruntled employees, parents, and others on campus can and do act out more often than outsiders who usually aren’t on our radar. For example, let’s take school shootings. In more than 43% of the cases, the gunman was a current student at the school.

This sad statistic came to mind recently when I reviewed a superintendent’s plan for addressing active shooters on campus. Although the plan was excellent, it didn’t mention students, staff members, and parents as possible threats.

I’m also concerned that we are now too focused on locking doors to buildings. If this is all we are focused on, it could leave a campus vulnerable to shootings that happen outside. Studies of past incidents show that the most common location for school shootings is actually the campus parking lot (21.8%).

Additionally, we always need to remember that active shooter attacks, although way too common in our country, are still very rare occurrences. Suicides and other mental health issues, as well as sexual assault, bullying, gang violence, and hazing are much more likely to happen in our campus communities, as are medical emergencies, severe weather, non-custodial parent issues, and more.

Truth be told, many of the measures covered by Texas’ audits can address a multitude of security and safety issues, in addition to the active shooter threat. So, making sure doors to school buildings can lock and stay locked is definitely a wise move.

We all just need to remember to keep an open mind about all of our vulnerabilities and take the all-hazards approach to school emergency planning, response, mitigation, and recovery. That way we’ll be better prepared for whatever crisis may come next.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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One response to “Are We Focusing Too Much on the Intruder Threat to School Security?”

  1. Byron Wolt says:

    Hard security and entrances are important for school security, and spending money on external security are visible signs politicians can claim they support school safety. However, far more important to actually keeping students safe is staff presence in the hallways. Having a presence in the hallways allows for staff to get a real feel for the mood of the student body on any given day and to build actual relationships with students in the halls and outside of the academic classroom. It is also important to have as presence on social media; this not to be big brother but to look for threats and statements that might be of concern for the mental health of students. Counselors also need to be available to keep students safe, but they are overwhelmed with too many students to cover both academic and the mental health and concerns of the student body. Having a presence in the parking lot too is helpful to keeping students safe. Sadly, many of the school staff/educational assistants assigned to the hallways are dramatically underpaid and underappreciated.

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