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School safety 20 years after Columbine

Columbine was the first mass school shooting 20 years ago and sadly the shootings have only become more frequent.

We’ve learned a lot of lessons – But it’s still not enough.

Run – Hide – Fight The 3 words virtually every student in America knows today. This week 18-year-old senior Kendrick Ray Castillo, lost his life and saved the lives of many other classmates at Highlands Ranch, because he chose to fight.

Columbine was the first mass school shooting 20 years ago and sadly the shootings have only become more frequent. Schools across America are actively working to increase security, mitigate risks and train students and faculty on how best to respond to an active shooter incident. Schools have added resource officers, stepped up mental health and anti-bullying measures, installed state of the art vestibules, and reduced response times from 45 minutes in 1999 to as little as 2 minutes in 2019. Yet these acts of terror continue to plague our nation, as these gunmen continue to wreak havoc in our schools, attacking our children, their classmates and their teachers.

How is this possible, considering all that has been done to prevent these horrific attacks? How do they continue to get on our school campuses?

The challenge is that these “gunmen” are most often the people we know, love and trust. They too are students, and therefore they easily walk among us, because they belong there. This is the lesson that is the hardest for us to learn, the hardest for us to accept.

The vestibules that we have built, do not keep them out. The cameras do not prevent the shootings, one or even two resource officers cannot immediately protect a school with hundreds or thousands of students. These security measures help, but they cannot protect our children once the active shooter is on the campus and they begin shooting.

We’ve learned since Columbine that waiting 45 minutes for SWAT to arrive will not save lives, but that taking action by either running, hiding or fighting, can and will save lives. We know that when students are able to hide safely and out of harms way, it provides the extra time needed for law enforcement to arrive, to apprehend the suspects and to secure the campus.

Therefore, we need the strongest last-line of defense to protect our classrooms and to protect the people in the building. We must ensure that if and when our students and teachers need to hide, they have the ability to quickly barricade a door to keep the active shooter out. This process must be simple, fast and effective. At the same time, an automatic alert needs to be sent to both the administration team and the law enforcement team, alerting them to the fact that a classroom has been placed into lock down and alerting them for the need for help.

This type of system, combined with technology, was not available 20 years ago, but it is now. Today we can:

  • Safely and securely lock down a classroom in less than 1 second
  • Send an alert with complete classroom information including room number and a floor plan
  • Provide a map with directions to the building – critical for off-campus first responders

Columbine had three shooters – Highlands Ranch had two. The copycats are watching and we are almost certain to see more active shooters that work as a team in the coming months and years. Highlands Ranch police department was able to respond in 2 minutes. What about next time, how quickly will the next law enforcement agency be able to get there? How long will our students need to hide, how will they barricade the doors and keep the active shooters out? We cannot afford to wait – we must take action now.

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