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Simple Things Can Save Lives in Our Schools: Lessons from Marjory Stoneman Douglas

A Preventable Tragedy

February 14, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a history of violent and aggressive tendencies, entered the school with a weapon. The death toll was staggering. And quick. In approximately eight minutes seventeen people, fourteen students and three staff members were killed inside the school. Seventeen others were wounded.

And it did not have to be that way.

There is a lot of discussion on how to prevent another tragedy like what occurred at MSDHS. Most of the current discussion is around “active shooter” training, lockdowns, armed guards, armed teachers, and so on, and so on, and so on. The only problem with these discussions is they are centered around what to do once the assailant is inside. Shouldn’t we start with the basics and do the same things we would do to prevent theft, vandalism and unwanted guests? Shouldn’t we start with how to keep the bad guy out?

Start with assessing security posture

On December 18, 2018 the Federal Commission on School Safety released its report which made numerous suggestions on how to improve school security. As quoted in the Executive Summary of their report:

The work of the Commission falls into three broad categories:

a) Prevent—preventing school violence;

b Protect and Mitigate—protecting students and teachers and mitigating the effects of violence; and

c) Respond and Recover—responding to and recovering from attacks

As we say at ORS, an organization needs to Prepare for, Respond to, and Recover from critical events. The first step in this strategy of is the security assessment. As the FCSS points out, “A school’s security management team should first consider conducting a risk assessment to deter- mine needs, identify vulnerabilities, and develop a security strategy.” After all, when we buy a house, don’t we have a home inspection done by a professional to identify potential structural issues that need to be repaired before we buy? I hope so. Should we not take the same approach to school security? A comprehensive security assessment takes into account more than just “active shooter” or “active assailant” preparation. The same fence and locked door that keeps trespassers, vandals and other petty criminals from entering the school grounds also helps deter or deny access to an assailant. A security assessment performed by a trained and certified security professional will be able to identify security gaps and make recommendations appropriate for the individual school and school culture that will help keep your school safe from both the vandal with a spray can and the violent assailant. If you would like to know a little more on what a security assessment entails, see our December blog, What is a Security Risk Assessment, Anyway?

Perimeter Security and Access Control

Perimeter Security and Access Control

In simple terms, perimeter security means protecting the area around your property. Fences, walls, and locked gates are some examples of structures and barriers used to protect one’s property. Access control means, simply, controlling who can come onto your property and into your buildings. We all do this in our homes, to some degree, right? Maybe we have a fence to control access to our property. At the very least, we lock our doors to keep out those who are not welcome in our home. We lock our cars to keep thieves out. So why are so many schools left wide open with free and easy access? MSDHS had perimeter security but, unfortunately did not utilize it. Among other findings in the MSDHS report, the commission highlights how simple security practices could have helped prevent the carnage that day:

1. Cruz arrived at MSDHS on February 14, 2018 at approximately 2:19 p.m. in an Uber that dropped him off on Pine Island Road to the east of the Building 12. Cruz entered the MSDHS campus through an open and unstaffed pedestrian gate that had been opened by Campus Monitor Andrew Medina for afternoon dismissal. Cruz exploited this open and unstaffed gate, and it is what allowed him initial access to the campus. This open and unstaffed gate was a security failure. 2. Unlocked and opened gates were regularly left unstaffed for long periods of time on the MSDHS campus. School administrators cited a lack of personnel as the explanation for the unstaffed and open gates. This explanation is unacceptable, as leaving open perimeter gates unstaffed is a breach of effective security protocols. 3. The overall lack of uniform and mandated physical site security requirements resulted in voids that allowed Cruz initial access to MSDHS and is a system failure.

Your security assessment will help you identify potential gaps in your perimeter security and suggest corrective measures that meet your needs without compromising your school’s culture.

Well Written and Rehearsed Policies and Procedures

Another finding from the MSDHS report is chilling:

The lack of a called Code Red on February 14, 2018—because there was no policy, little training and no drills—left students and staff vulnerable to being shot, and some were shot because they were not notified to lockdown. This was most evident on the third floor of Building 12.

No policy. No training. No drills. Seventeen students and staff dead. Seventeen more wounded. What more is there to say?

Just the tip of the iceberg

The MSDHS report is 439 pages long. We have barely scratched the surface of the lessons learned. Other topics such as Visitor Management, Emergency Communications, Emergency Response, and Behavioral Risk Assessments will be addressed in future postings. But a word of caution: protecting a school from violent assailants starts with the basics. Simple security protocols, procedures and training that organizations around the world use to prevent theft, deny access to unauthorized persons, secure valuable property, and protect their people can do the same for schools. In the future, we will be touching on these and other topics of importance to protecting our schools. School security is too important to get wrong.

If you would like more information on ORS’ approach to school security and our other capabilities, drop us a line at


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