The thought of being unable to rely on police officers in the event of an emergency is disheartening. The thought of organizations being unwilling to employ the necessary level of security considering today’s frequency of violence in demoralizing. The thought of children being harmed is sickening.
These issues are some of the most relevant and controversial in today’s society. Unfortunately there is not much we can do about the first issue. Law enforcement personnel are overworked due to consistent increases in crime and understaffed due to consistent decreases in government funding. For these reasons we cannot rely on law enforcement as first responders, particularly in a situation of dynamic violence. That brings us to the next issue. If we cannot count on law enforcement, and we do not employ competent security firms who provide highly trained personnel, we are looking at a lot of mismanaged situations in our future—more of the same of what we have seen in recent years. Luckily, this issue is easily correctable and can have tremendous results, rendering the first issue irrelevant. The third issue is every parent’s nightmare. There is nothing worse than a child being harmed. Luckily, if we can correct the issue of employing competent security personnel, we can greatly decrease the frequency with which our children are being harmed and the effectiveness of those assailants aiming to harm them.
The news of an active shooter situation produces a specific feeling of sadness, of anger, and of regret. Sadness for the victims and their families, anger toward the individual who perpetrated the heinous act, and regret that the organization did not have in place the proper measures to prevent and respond to such an incident.
The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida was tragic on many levels. 17 people were killed and another 17 injured. Whenever an incident like this occurs, as a security professional, it is important to do as much research as possible into what caused it and how it could have been prevented. Upon learning that law enforcement personnel were posted on the school campus, two questions come to mind: what kind of presence could the police officers have had considering that this individual clearly was not deterred by their presence, and why were the police not able or willing to respond?
These questions were specific to the police already being on site and were in addition the questions one should ask during these situations: did the shooter issue any threats or warning behaviors leading up to the massacre, did the school have a Threat Assessment and Management program, and did the school promote a culture of shared responsibility in regards to safety—one in which procedures were in place for reporting potential concerns?
Direct threats often do not precede the massacre unless the assailant is an adolescent, which in this case the shooter was. Often times the shooter will engage in communications with family and friends that serve as a warning. In many cases this is the perpetrator’s attempt at a cry for help. Unfortunately, in many cases these warning signs go unaddressed. In most cases of school mass murders, the assailants perceive themselves as being victims of bullying and mistreatment. This then leads the individual to consider the idea of violence as a just and necessary response, putting them on the path to violence. From here the subject will begin planning for the act of violence. It is during this stage that an effective threat manager will identify suspicious behavior in specific individuals. Should the behavior go unnoticed or unaddressed, the subject will begin preparation for the attack, which includes acquiring weapons and equipment. Next, the subject will circumvent inadequate security measures and initiate the plan, hence moving forward with the attack.
As you can see, the path to violence is one that includes several steps. During these steps, school shooters are extremely likely to display identifiable warning behaviors, including talking about their plans with fellow students. Employing a Threat Assessment and Management team in addition to creating a student empowerment culture where students are encouraged to (anonymously) report any issue of public safety is crucial in preventing violence.
Looking again at the path to violence, should the subject be successful in navigating past Threat Assessment and Management processes, he still has to bypass security measures to carry out the attack. While a successful security plan will prevent violence early on in the path to violence, in the event that it does not, competent Physical Security measures will prevent the plan from advancing.
Having a Threat Assessment and Management process in place is critical in early identification and intervention during situations where the risk of violence poses a significant threat to the campus. Competent Threat Assessment and Management processes coincide with and fortify Physical Security measures, which remain the foundation of any violence prevention program. In addition to being in place to deter crime, Physical Security measures are implemented to prevent violence should Threat Assessment and Management processes fail. The foundation of every security program must remain its ability to address incidents of extreme violence, and there is no act of violence more extreme than a school mass casualty event.
So if we cannot rely on the police, who can we rely on? You can rely on a competent security firm that employs highly-trained security personnel and analytical threat management professionals—people who naturally gravitate toward the sound of gunfire; people who will put their lives on the line for the protectees.
We are seeing an unfortunate trend in America where police officers are disliked and disrespected. This is probably most common in today’s youth, where progressive movements are quickly becoming the way of life. We’ve already mentioned the Parkland mass homicide where law enforcement personnel were stationed on the campus but unable to deter the attack, and then unwilling to enter the school while 17 people were slain and another 17 injured, all by one adolescent shooter. A similar situation took place in Orlando where a shooter attacked a nightclub. By the time law enforcement personnel entered the building, three hours later, 49 people were killed and 53 injured. Now consider the incident in Los Angeles where one man with a pistol exited his vehicle and entered a Trader Joes, not before being engaged by police officers who opened fire, killing the store manager, leaving the assailant to enter the store and take hostages.
Police as a deterrent on school campuses has proven ineffective. Police as a response force on school campuses has too been proven inept. The truth of the matter is that most police officers are inexperienced in the area of combat, which is a serious issue in the event of an active shooter with an assault rifle. And who can really blame them? They swore an oath to serve and protect, and for the majority, that oath did not involve going head to head with an active shooter. We need to understand that police officers are not soldiers and therefore we cannot expect them to act like soldiers.
So then who would be a strong deterrent on school campuses? Who would be a strong response force? If you need someone who is willing to go head to head with an active shooter, you need someone who has gone head to head with an active shooter. You need a soldier. You need a combat veteran—an individual who does not wait for permission or orders to eliminate a threat; an individual who is always aware of his target’s background and who would never recklessly fire into a situation that would endanger innocent lives; an individual who possesses a sense of duty that is necessary to save lives. And this happens to be convenient considering that a competent security firm hires combat veterans.
The loss of life on school campuses needs to end. This can be accomplished by hiring a competent security firm who possesses the skillsets necessary to create and implement a security program that includes highly-efficient Threat Assessment and Management processes and ironclad Physical Security measures. The foundation of every security program must remain its ability to address incidents of extreme violence, and there is no greater deterrent and response than highly-trained security professionals.