The reactions of most students attending Northern Illinois University is surprise: “We see these tragedies on TV, I never thought it could happen here.”
Virginia Tech, Delaware State, Seton Hall University … all evidence that these events do happen, and are happening with increasing frequency.
One of the most important assignments in which I have participated since my retirement from the Department of Homeland Security was to contribute to the “Virginia Tech After-Action Report” ordered by the State of Virginia.The company for which I work (SES Resources International) was tasked with putting together a blue ribbon panel, empowered by Governor Tim Kaine, to draw upon the expertise and experience of high-ranking law enforcement officials at the state, local and federal level to analyze what took place (and, equally important, what did not take place) on the Virginia Tech campus, and to review the preliminary recommendations of the VT panel.
This included members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF, New York State Police, New York State DHS, Nassau and Suffolk County (NY), Union County (NJ), US Marshals Service and local University Security Departments.
Despite our diverse experiences at varying levels of state and federal law enforcement, we were able to agree on some significant conclusions.
It should come as no surprise that many attended this meeting to not only contribute to the VT Report, but to learn from others on the panel and in attendance about “best practice” methods to avoid, eliminate, contain, control, and respond to school shootings.
Why? Because all of us believed that these tragic events occur more frequently than the general public realizes – and that they will continue to occur. They will continue to occur on college campuses. They will continue to occur on high school campuses. And, yes, they will continue to occur at elementary schools … Especially if certain steps aren’t taken.
Although much of the discussion at this law enforcement summit focused on the specifics of the Virginia Tech tragedy, it became immediately apparent certain lessons could be applied more broadly to other school facilities.
Primary among those lessons was that advance planning is required, and that no two school campus security and safety plans should look alike. Preparations, training and programs instituted to eliminate, control and respond to school shootings or other violence requires unique circumstances specific to the school and environment they are intended to protect.
No one plan fits all. What will work in Virginia Tech, which is an open rural campus, may not work at Columbia University, which is set in a more urban and closed environment.
However, regardless of how the plans must be drawn up and the training implemented, one conclusion was conspicuous and consistent: Advance plans, preparation and training are critical to all school facilities.
We cannot control the motives or demons that afflict mass shooters, but we can control the environment to a degree. This means that schools must think broadly. Preparation and training is not only critical to campus and local law enforcement; all potentially involved individuals — to include students, faculty, administration and staff, contractors, etc., should be included in such plans.
No one can afford to be surprised by this kind of tragedy again in the future. As hard as it is to acknowledge, the truth is that such violence can and may happen “here.” And “here” can be anywhere.
Although no plan guarantees complete safety, every school needs to implement an audit of its security practices and self-inspect its “response” plans. Again, no one plan fits all, and by all, that includes the dynamics of students, faculty, administration, and most importantly security personnel. Rather than pretending that tragedies cannot visit your campus, it’s time to bring all members of a school’s community together and acknowledge that it just might. And then talk openly about how to respond should the unthinkable occur.