With school shooting incidents grabbing headlines across the nation, what to do in the event of such an emergency has become a common concern. A particular area of concern is the question of how law enforcement teams can effectively and efficiently locate innocent people trapped inside of a school building in the event of an attack.
While the actual shooting during last year’s tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado took place in a matter of minutes, the safe removal of students and teachers went on for hours. The reason? Because of the nature and location of the attack, many students and teachers could not safely get out of the building. Instead, they were forced to lock themselves in classrooms and wait for help.
This raises concerns about the design of classrooms and the safety of students, teachers, and law enforcement officers if an extraction is necessary in future incidents. Students and teachers don’t know if the person coming through the door is an attacker or help. Law enforcement officers don’t know if the closed door is hiding innocent victims or armed assailants. While there may be no way to eliminate this type of concern, there is a way to help rescuers locate innocent students and staff.
One issue of concern is the fact that most classroom doors have a window, allowing anyone to peer into the room even if the door is closed and locked. These windows could be covered, but then rescuers would have no way of knowing if anyone is inside. However, if all windows were covered and a coded signal were displayed, the search could be done in a much safer and more timely manner. The challenge lies in developing a coding system that does not give away the location of students or teachers to the attackers.
The first step in developing any type of coding system would be to establish an evacuation procedure for teachers to follow with their classes. While a teacher’s first instinct might be to leave the classroom door open as the room is evacuated, I believe it would be wiser to ensure that the doors are closed and locked when rooms are vacated. If vacant rooms are left with their doors open, then only those rooms sheltering people would be closed, making it easy for the attackers to locate more victims.
The second step would be to provide a means for teachers to mark the outside of their doors, or the covered windows of such doors, to inform rescuers of their location. For the marking system to work properly, it must be a system that changes periodically and one that students cannot be made aware of, since the attackers in most instances are students.
In case students are trapped in a locked room without a teacher, the students should be told to mark the outside windows so that rescuers can identify their location from outside of the building. Most attackers will remain inside of the building to prevent capture from authorities, as past incidents have shown.
Door markings should be something extremely simple that could be done rapidly in a crisis, such as a chalk mark on the door, perhaps even a post-it stuck to the floor in the hallway. School officials should sit down with local law enforcement officers to establish an identification procedure, as well as any other procedures that could make it easier for law enforcement agents to secure the building and rescue trapped persons in the event of a crisis.
Teachers should also be required to carry cell phones with a list of emergency phone numbers. Emergency numbers can be established so that many teachers could call in their location simultaneously without getting a busy signal. Duress phrases should also be established so that teachers in a hostage situation could safely relay this information to authorities without jeopardizing themselves if they are being forced to say something.
While we all hope that such a situation does not occur again, the likelihood is that it will. Anything that can be done in advance between school officials, law enforcement officers, and private security companies to help prepare for future situations should be addressed immediately. The cost of not considering an idea because of expense or means of implementation could be measured in human lives. While prevention and awareness are the best tools for the future, preparedness is also extremely important. n
Alan Matchett, CCP, is a private security consultant for Eye See U! Security Enterprises and Eyeseeu.com. To sign up for a free monthly e-zine containing security tips, crime trends, and more, visit the company’s web site at http://www.eyeseeu.com. You can also contact him directly via eMail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling toll-free (888) 922-1758.