By Mike McCarty, former law enforcement officer and founder/CEO, Safe Hiring Solutions.
Technology has revolutionized industries, organizations, and institutions while bringing with it the power to solve many of our nation’s greatest challenges.
Education is no different.
Perhaps, education presents bigger challenges than others given the varying stakeholders, political climates, school cultural distinctions, state/county/district laws – not to mention the availability of funding.
Make no mistake, technology holds the same power for our nation’s schools by helping to prevent tragedies like Newtown, Parkland, Santa Fe, and so many others from happening at all – or at least starting to reduce the number of tragedies and threats of violence occurring on a daily basis.
Integrating disparate security technology systems to work together make it possible to both share information and connect red flags on threats.
For example, SafeVisitor is integrated with access control to share excluded parties photos and use existing cameras to flag them before they get to the door; when integrated with the student information system, it also shares excluded parties and custodial issues to flag them; and integrating crisis alert systems with SafeVisitor makes it possible to share emergency notifications for quicker response time.
As we approach the back-to-school season, our nation’s schools continue to grapple with keeping our students, teachers, and administrators safe.
The Top-Three Threats
The facts are clear.
According to the Safe and Sound Schools Report, all stakeholders were asked to identify the top-three threats they were most concerned about in schools.
While the threat of an active shooter remains the top concern for students and parents in 2019, “mental health emergencies” rose to the top of the list for educators, public safety officials, and general community members.
Secondary concerns were “bullying” and “an intruder” for educators and parents; students chose “mental health emergencies;” and “active shooter” for public safety officials and community members.
The third-most concerning threat for public safety officials and students surveyed was “an intruder;” “mental health emergency” for parents; “active shooter” for educators; and “drug/alcohol abuse” for community members.
Based on the findings of this report, there is a strong perception with stakeholders that schools have a high sense of false security.
Mental health/behavioral indicators are essential to reducing the likelihood of school violence and this is the top issue for educators, public safety officials, and the general public – but not the top concern of parents and students who are focused more on the threat of an active shooter.
Herein lies the risk in having tunnel vision on an active shooter as the only threat to school safety. How do we reconcile this?
There are More Threats Than You Think
For instance, sexual violence ranks extremely low by stakeholders, when this threat is actually toward the top.
For example, based on WRTV Channel 6 report and research in Indiana of teacher license revocations from 2012-2018 (this number excludes unlicensed employees, vendors, and volunteers, which would make the number much higher), there were two active shooter incidents compared to 97 allegations of criminal misconduct, 57 of which were sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, or child solicitation.
Additional challenges include vendors feeding on the fears of parents and students by selling gadgets and products like bulletproof backpacks that do not promote school safety but instead put fear into students rather than empowering them to focus on what they are at school to do: learn.
Visitor Management Systems
An essential component of school crisis response is the reunification of students with their primary caregivers, so reunification is a critical piece of preparedness.
A Visitor Management System (VMS) can not only help implement having multiple pre-planned reunification locations but also:
- Provide varying degrees of access-levels
- Integrate with the National Sex Offender Registry, and with police level background screenings
- Have the capability to run an excluded parties list on every visitor/volunteer.
- Offer a comprehensive background screening combining, the National Criminal Database Search, the County Criminal Court Search, and the Federal Criminal Court Search.
- Must be cloud-based, as well as work on cellular or separate WiFi networks (school networks are often blocked during an event).
- Integrate with a school database and check-in kiosk for scan-in/scan-out and authentication verifications for national ID’s
- Provide arrest-alerts in real-time for Volunteers and Employees.
- Offer geofencing capabilities to set perimeters
- Expedite getting students to parents/guardians quickly and ensure their release to no one other than parents/guardians.
- Emergency/Denial notification buttons
Technology Experts with Law Enforcement Training on Spotting Red Flags
The Safe and Sound Schools study finds that most stakeholders point to the principal as the person in charge of school safety – a flawed assumption that MUST change.
Every school must have a threat assessment team comprised of stakeholders inside and outside of the school. Such a threat team is coordinated with technology systems that communicate to internal security and outside law enforcement, like student information and incident reporting systems.
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Florida
Too often each stakeholder works independently, and the red flags are not shared, as it happened in Parkland, FL., with multiple stakeholders having flagged the shooter three days prior.
All schools should develop a threat assessment team. To often each group (counselors, SRO’s, probation/law enforcement, administration) work independently and so they might see a single red flag but as part of a team would connect a student who might have multiple red flags.
When my children lost their mother, the school was actively involved. Counselors were monitoring, and I would assume, creating reports in a system – maybe the student information system.
Parkland is a perfect example of how multiple stakeholders were aware of problems with the shooter, Cruz.
First, he lost a family member. (My three kids lost a mother when they were young – nine, six and three months.) This is traumatic and intervention is a must.
Then Cruz lost a second parent… a second MAJOR red flag.
Cruelty to animals, threats that were reported to law enforcement and FBI but never shared. It’s a perfect storm of disconnected red flags.
Parkland surely would have known about loss of each parent and monitored grades and behavior which would each be potentially recorded in separate systems – student information system and incident reporting system.
Threats internally or anonymous reporting of concerns or threats with Cruz could be in the same or different systems.
External threats were also uncovered on social media and with law enforcement that were in a different system but not shared with the school.
Red flags and suspension should have placed Cruz on an exclusion list using technology, such as integration with a student system, to import his photo to SafeVisitor as excluded and shared with access control – camera systems – in hopes that it could have flagged him outside the school as he arrived, which could possibly have created an auto alert via text or email to security and law enforcement.
Integration with a crisis alert system could have created lockdown by immediately sharing information with law enforcement through the crisis alert as seconds matter.
Unfortunately, the technology cannot alleviate slow officer response… or a school resource officer standing behind a tree and not engaging the shooter.
Technology can be the hub of a threat assessment team, connecting the individual security systems, student information systems, etc. to work together as one system and aggregate flags and uncover problems long before they become an active threat.
Additionally, working with a partner whose background is in law enforcement and has training on how to spot red flags is key. School security requires the same approach as it is in law enforcement.
Walmart Workplace Shooting in Southaven, Mississippi
In the recent Walmart shooting in Mississippi, the shooter made an implied threat just three days earlier by raising his shirt and showing a knife to a co-worker during an argument.
The implied threat three days prior to the shooting in Mississippi was likely not understood by either the employer or law enforcement.
Understanding threats is a critical component to neutralizing a threat early.
Threat assessment was the foundation for our Domestic Violence Division in Nashville in 1994 that reduce the 25 women and children killed annually to 12 or less each year after implementation – more than a 50% reduction in domestic homicide by recognizing threats, signs and behaviors.
Prepare for and Prevent Tragedies with Technology
Law enforcement is the cavalry you want coming in an event like this, but we must prepare our schools to have systems, processes, and procedures in place to be what I call “left of bang” (to assess threats before they happen) so that they can focus on education. Working with the right technology partner with law enforcement expertise is key to achieving this objective.
“At bang” is when protocols, training, and technology, kick in. “Right of bang” is the law enforcement response.
Seconds matter so everything done in preparation reduces the time it takes to get law enforcement on the scene and neutralizing the threat.
Moving the needle for our schools to help them become “left of bang” instead of “right of bang” – is paramount. Workplaces like Walmart and schools have it within their control to manage employees, students, administrators, vendors, and volunteers through the power of technology.
“See something, say something” is very important because students often see things on social media or hear things at school and can share this information. However, without technology and creating integrated security solutions that drive important data to a threat assessment team, we run the risk of red flags not being connected, like in Parkland.
Technology is consistent, unbiased, does not minimize a potential threat because it does not understand it, and can uncover problematic behaviors early.
Technology is the foundation for prevention and can be the solution that shaves seconds off law enforcement response which saves lives.