The rash of shootings which have targeted the nation’s school children is an epic tragedy. Predictably, public discourse about prevention too often sounds promising but collapses into political …
The rash of shootings which have targeted the nation’s school children is an epic tragedy. Predictably, public discourse about prevention too often sounds promising but collapses into political debate.
Many are fatigued by the treatment of these events by both the media and politicians. The public does not need to be told how they should feel. Parents do not need to experience tragic events to be reminded how excruciating the loss of children is.
While agenda items of both political parties get debated on television, both the right and the left are usually off-target.
What is needed is to protect the vulnerable – to protect schools.
There are concrete measures which can be taken now and under local cognizance. These measures are basic physical security improvements.
These measures cost money. They require a commitment to security. If effective, their worth can never be proven; however, their value could be immeasurable, should they contribute to deterring a single attack.
The first step in improving security is understanding one’s present circumstance.
Wood County is growing. The 2A/3A-sized schools of Alba-Golden, Mineola and Quitman will likely bloom to 3A/4A soon.
An increase of disaffected people, disassociated youth and deranged adults follows population growth. That is simply the way the world works. It is an increase of percentages.
While our small, community schools yet today remain the tight-knit schoolhouses of the previous generation – they won’t be for long. Their nature will change as they grow. The nature of a 4A/5A school changes with the increase in student numbers.
The threat of shooting at a Wood County school will increase as the population grows.
The three schools mentioned above are unique facilities which reflect the communities they serve. In many ways, they are the centers of social life and are truly treasures of each community.
They unfortunately all share one characteristic: they are all walk-up and drive-up schools. It is possible to freely walk up to the front door of each school.
It is also possible, at each school, to drive a vehicle to within feet of the main entrance (or any of the numerous other building accesses) without vetting or clearance. There is no stand-off from the school buildings.
Physical security requires an area of enhanced security – a stand-off zone.
A stand-off zone serves many purposes. It limits the entry points onto school property, regulates traffic flow and parking, and most importantly channels both vehicles and pedestrians onto paths which can be monitored.
The distinction is stark. Without a stand-off zone (as each of the three schools is today) the school staff could first be made aware of an active shooter when the shooter appears at the door with an assault rifle. With a stand-off or outer security zone, there is a reasonable chance of detecting the shooter before the shooter reaches the school.
If the outer security zone is strong enough, it can even deter a shooter from targeting the campus.
Stand-off distance buys time. Time is what school resource officers and school staff need to interdict a shooter and safeguard students.
There have been many significant improvements to school security at our Wood County schools – from procedures to door-locking mechanisms, from hiring of police officers to arming of teachers. What remains largely unchanged, however, is the ease of access to the school buildings themselves.
Little, or no, stand-off distance is a huge vulnerability to our schools’ physical security.
Since the end of the Cold War and the resurgence of terrorism against American facilities overseas and within our national boundaries, the federal government instituted physical security improvements to all government facilities. These building features are very effective at complicating, even thwarting, attacks against U.S. installations.
These techniques include placements of fencing, gates, ditches, berms, bollards and other physical obstacles. They are low tech, but they work.
When coupled with improved surveillance of the routes through which vehicles and pedestrians are channeled, a standoff zone is created which allows interdiction of a perpetrator before the attacker tries to access a building.
It is time to build these physical security measures into our public school campuses. There is ample expertise and experience in building, or adding, such measures. Basic physical security planning is available for review in unclassified documents such as the Department of Defense Engineering Facilities Planning Manual and the Unified Facilities Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings. Liaison with a Defense Department office such as the Naval Facilities Command is warranted.
But it really does not take any government experts. At its most basic level, what is required is a perimeter fence which regulates – through the use of gates – vehicular entry to the campus, an interior fence surrounding the school building itself which regulates pedestrian entry into the building, and surveillance.
The modifications will not be cheap, but compared to the unfathomable cost of loss of life from such an attack, it is very affordable.
It will also require a change of mindset of school administrators, teachers, parents and students. The easy manner of coming and going from school that all adults presently have in collective memory must go. In its place must be recognition that our children are protected against any berserker who seeks to create carnage.
That is a fair exchange, and in the 2022, a necessary one.