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Editorial: Conference provides practical ideas on school safety

Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

The Sandy Hook mass shootings have sparked ongoing national debates on gun control, mental illness and media violence.

But when educators and law enforcement officers gathered in Charleston last week to discuss school safety, they wisely focused on practical ideas for local schools, including ideas about improving building security and developing plans to deal with an outbreak of violence.

One clear lesson from the December tragedy in Connecticut is that most public schools are not designed to deal with an armed attacker. Although there has been some focus on entrances since the Columbine shootings in 1999, schools remain very vulnerable, especially to someone willing to shoot through doors or windows.

It makes sense to do a thorough security assessment of each school building and develop plans to address the weaknesses. Ideally, schools should have secured entrances with video surveillance to screen people trying to enter. While local schools generally lock the doors and require visitors to be "buzzed" in, many older schools really are not set up to effectively control access.

Other doors and windows can be vulnerable, too, and officials discussed using a new clear film product that goes over doors or windows to make them shatter proof.

Speakers also encouraged educators to develop plans and drills to deal with a possible attack.

"We prepare, prepare, prepare for a fire, but what have we done to prepare for violence?" said retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. "Our children are more likely to die by violence in school than every other cause put together."

For example, many lockdown plans focus on sealing off the building, but they make little provision for an intruder who is already inside. More preparation, such as the "active shooter" drills that have been done at Cabell County's high schools, is a good idea.

Increasing the number of schools with trained, armed security officers also should be a long-term goal. Many high schools and middle schools have officers now, helping to maintain order and providing protection, as well. Grossman and others stressed that security officers need to be armed and well trained.

Some of these ideas will take time, but there is no reason to delay taking stock of each school's weaknesses and developing a response plan for a violent attack.

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