At Guard911 we are adamant about the importance and implementation of proper policies, procedures, and training when it comes to school safety and assailant intruders. Aside from first responders getting to the scene as fast as possible, thorough policies, procedures, and training are essential to mitigate injuries and lost lives during an active shooter incident – seconds save lives.
During our review of the January 2019 Broward County Public Safety Findings report for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) shooting in Parkland, Florida, the documentation shows that proper training would have helped teachers, staff, and students know there was an active intruder and what to do about it. Because of lack of training and confusion at the school and with external first-responders, lives were lost and forever changed February 14, 2018.
Understanding “Code Red”
A “Code Red” in this respective school district is a school-wide PA announcement for teachers, staff, and students to assume a protective position in their classrooms and stay there until more instructions are given. In this instance, there were several school monitors or Security Resource Officers (SROs) who saw the gunman approach the school; one of them admitted that the intruder “appeared to be carrying a rifle bag” yet did not call a Code Red. Another staff member recognized the gunman – he was identified in the system as a previous “threat.” This staff member did not call a Code Red.
As the assailant opened fire in building 12, targeting anyone in plain sight, some teachers and staff heard the fire alarms and thought they should evacuate, some did nothing because they heard nothing, and others sheltered in place when they heard what sounded like gunfire. In the first 1 minute and 39 seconds, 21 people were shot, 9 fatally – many of whom may have been saved if a Code Red had been called as the killer entered the building and an incidence response plan had been in place.
Finally, 3 minutes and 16 seconds after the first shots were fired, another school monitor who was across campus, called the first Code Red. At this point, the killer had already shot his victims. To make matters worse, building 12 did not have PA speakers in the hallways or any external areas – not one teacher stated that they heard the Code Red over the PA.
The lack of a formal Code Red response policy in Broward County schools led to MSDHS personnel not knowing or clearly understanding the criteria for calling a Code Red, who should call it, when it should be called, or what to do when it is called. Because there was no policy, little training, and no drills in the year preceding the shooting, the absence of that Code Red left students and staff vulnerable.
See Something, Say Something
Many schools have the “see something, say something” rule, which is a great first effort, however, most people are not trained to confront or report anyone that’s suspicious or unauthorized to be on campus. This includes SROs who are on-site to keep the safety of the school and those inside a top priority. That begs the question, “Who is responsible and who should do what?”
There is a gray area between confrontation and access that can be defined and addressed with a comprehensive response plan, ongoing training, and the technology and tools to shorten incident response times. Regular training activities are a must and full-scale incident exercises have a life-saving impact. We cannot control an individual with the intent to harm, but we can get ahead of these horrific incidents in a productive way by prioritizing ongoing training and taking this escalating threat seriously.
Though schools are equipped with PA systems, some do not have it in the hallways or external areas. This is a safety measure that should be implemented, as well as proper open sightlines and cameras, in every area of each building. Though there were some exterior video cameras at Stoneman Douglas High, they were inadequate to cover the exterior of building 12 and other areas of campus, and most school personnel were inadequately trained in how to operate the camera system.
Additionally, Broward County Sheriff’s Deputies had no access to the school’s cameras or any way to communicate with those inside, which meant they had no knowledge of what was happening or if the killer was still in there. They had to use cell phones and runners to gather information. This needs to change. Law enforcement needs access to school cameras, as well as keyed access to locked doors, and the ability to communicate easily and effectively with school staff and SROs during an emergency.
Effective, simple, and accessible two-way communication between lockdown spaces, every classroom and student assembly area and school administrators, campus monitors, and law enforcement is not optional anymore. An easy, quick, affordable solution like SchoolGuard® gives staff, campus monitors, and faculty a point of communication that isn’t over the loud-speaker. It’s instant one-to-many points of contact for all emergency situations, not just active shooter incidents.
The Guard911 family of apps speed-dial 911, allow 2-way communication with multiple people, and display a mapped location of the armed intruder. These apps don’t require any special training or equipment and the 911 icon is front and center on staffs’ smartphone screens. The service offers immediate communication within the school, to the external community, off-campus and first-responder notifications, and law enforcement.
The FREE Hero911® app links Guard911 apps to all law enforcement and first responders in the area – on or off-duty – and whoever is closest can get to the emergency before the official 911 call is processed. (According to Homeland Security, on a nationwide average, it takes first responders 18 minutes to arrive at an active shooter incident, where most time is due to the lag in notification.
Bill Ferrel, School SRO at Calvary Christian Academy in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, remembers February 14, 2018, well. “Being a school security resource officer, I have the Hero911 app, so I did get the post-alert via Hero911 of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as I was not privy to it until the app notified me. Our school is only 11 miles away, so instead of responding, we took action to secure our school.”
He also commented, “What I think is so powerful about the Hero911 app is that we often get alerts of area incidents before even the news stations pick them up.”
Keep Everyone Accountable
When it comes to the safety of students and staff, it’s essential that the agreed-upon incidence response plan is followed at all times. Admittedly, it’s easy to forget and return to the old way of doing things, but this cannot be tolerated in an age where there is a school shooting or threat nearly every week. Instituting accountability and consequences for not following the proper safety and security measures will inspire cooperation. Here are a few ways to keep everyone accountable.
For students, develop or revisit a Students’ Code of Conduct that includes the most recent safety procedures and policies. For example, prohibit students from wearing headphones or earbuds that prevent them from hearing emergency warnings and instructions. If earbuds are allowed, permit use in only one ear at a time. Also, make sure they know which adult to tell (in confidence) if they hear any chatter that may turn into a threatening situation. Hold firm to the rules and have written consequences for disobeying.
For faculty and staff, it may be time to update the current employee handbook with a thorough Incident Response Plan that includes an active shooter scenario and a no-excuses policy for non-compliance. Define with specifics your school’s safety and security teams and each person’s role in an active shooter situation. In addition, state with authority the consequences of not following policy and doing everything necessary in the event of an emergency.
It is critical that each staff member knows he or she must respond immediately to anything that appears threatening or intuitively wrong and HOW to respond for the fastest, life-saving solution. Within the Guard911 apps, there is a dedicated Response Plan page that allows users to upload their written plan for different situations and have it at their fingertips when needed. Easy access to their plans helps everyone stay safe and accountable.
Regular Training & Exercises
Mandatory training exercises that involve all students and faculty will help decrease vulnerability and empower everyone to come to school with less fear. There is greater peace of mind when your school community feels like there is a plan and everyone can help each other remain safe, and in the end, potentially save lives.
Julie Lauck, Superintendent for Valparaiso Community Schools in Valparaiso, Indiana, is both a former teacher and police dispatcher who was an early adopter of Guard911’s SchoolGuard. She explains, “…It’s important to empower staff and students to take safety into their own hands in any situation — not just at school, but anywhere. We now do scenario drills with students and staff. Instead of the basic required twice a year lockdown drill, we give them a scenario and the teachers and students talk about all the ways in which they might respond in a given situation.”
Lauck also expounds on the validity of a solid incident response plan and training. “We have implemented a ‘One County, One Protocol’ system. All schools now use the same language and procedures in an emergency. Also, in an emergency, law enforcement officers have FOB access to our buildings and can monitor our live video.”
Guard911 – When Seconds Save Lives®
We feel it is no coincidence, given the thoroughness of their safety protocol, that Valparaiso Community Schools have never had to use SchoolGaurd for an active shooter emergency and we hope they never do. It is clear the only true defense against the new reality of school shootings is to utilize technology for preventative measures and the fastest police response times possible.
Our Guard911 team is passionate about helping you and your children stay safe and stop the loss of life during these senseless acts of violence. Contact us and we will happily answer any of your questions or watch our 6-minute Guard911 video to learn more. If you are a first responder, please be sure to download the free Hero911 app today and help us save lives. (618) 973-9174.