Solving School Security and Preventing Further Tragedy

We have proven we can solve complicated problems.

Beneath a lot of pain, emotion, and flying criticism, the recent Parkland, Florida school shooting leaving 17 dead is another wakeup call signaling we have a lot of work to do to prevent more disasters involving children, teachers and schools. Part of the detectable pain floating within the hearts of citizens is an unwillingness to accept that our society has changed so negatively and that these tragic events have become commonplace. For adults, we hate that schools cannot be the care-free experience we enjoyed. However, there is an ideal world and then there is the real world. Setting aside idealism for a moment, the good news is: We can solve this problem.

It’s been stated this past week, “Banks and Jewelry Stores are more secure than our schools.” Yes, at one time, we had armed criminals regularly knocking off these places of business because the public was generally unarmed, these businesses were easy marks, and the reward was high. What did common sense dictate? We enacted protective and preventive measures. Armed security is just one aspect of the solutions that were applied to make stories of armed robberies a rare occurrence at a bank or jewelry store near you. Doors, windows, protective cases, time locks, traceability, and cash movement/storage procedures are established to dissuade the criminal opportunist. So, yes — our society has solved a public enemy problem successfully by making the odds of a successful crime much lower.

The tragedy of 9/11 is well documented for the intelligence failures that occurred before terrorists boarded planes with carpet knives and easily entered cockpits to take over planes and fly them into a buildings, killing thousands. Different than bank robbers, these criminals introduced something we didn’t understand: They wanted to inflict pain and they were willing to die in the process. Our systemic response was swift and the results are very good. Profiling terrorists is necessary and state/federal agencies must share information and maintain a watch list. Reinforced aircraft doors are obvious. Weapon detection technology is precise. Cabin conduct is monitored. Armed undercover Sky Marshalls are sprinkled throughout the system. Even the defensive actions of passengers (Thank you Flight 93) are expected and sometimes required. All of these adjustments in our society solved a clear and present danger to prevent similar headline tragedies. Once again, we learned and we made changes. Flying is no longer the experience our parents enjoyed but we know it was necessary to change. So why is it so hard to apply a similar problem-solving approach to school safety?

Schools contain innocent lives just like aircraft. I propose there is a similar combination of efforts we can employ to achieve real safety in our schools. “Real safety” is achieved by practical means. It’s work, reinforcement, training, procedure, and planning. Just like airport security does not assist the aircraft to fly faster or cheaper, better security for schools won’t advance the learning — but it will save lives via a safer environment. The recent focus upon the type of weapon used by the killer takes away from the prudent conversation questioning: “In what ways is a school vulnerable and how can we counter?” There are many terror weapons available to a motivated killer. Just like airports and planes, we have to ask the same questions about securing our schools.

Our society has never succeeded in legislating morality. We cannot wait for people to change. Schools will not be safe tomorrow simply because we want them to be safer. The next killer always finds a way to acquire a gun, a bomb, a truck, etc. and make their statement. It is an ugly feeling to think like a criminal and envision how our kids are vulnerable. If we proceed to solving the school security problem, like we have done in the past with prior threats, we are making positive change as a society. It’s not acceptance. It’s prevention enacted with a non-victim mentality. Schools are for learning and now we must accept that a chunk of effort must go to assuring the learning is not accompanied by tragedy. This effort requires the will and perseverance of law enforcement, school boards, administrators, teachers, students and parents. We are upset with the latest news. Let’s learn from prior failures and act. We have proven in the past we can solve complicated problems. “Let’s do this.”