Liberty Nation’s Graham J Noble – the author of this two-part series – is a former soldier, combat veteran and Certified Protection Specialist, trained in urban warfare, executive security, physical security and active shooter response. In these articles, he offers some observations and practical advice on how to better protect schools against would-be mass killers. You can read the first part here.
Protecting schools against active shooters requires a multifaceted approach. There is no single action that could be taken to solve the problem. In part I of this series, we looked at the holistic strategy that needs to be adopted; detecting behavioral and personality problems; heightened awareness and active shooter training. In this part, the focus is on physical security. Regardless of what other measures are put in place, it should always be assumed that the possibility of a deranged and armed individual targeting a school still exists. When all else has failed, it is deterrence, protection, and reaction that will make the difference between life and death.
When planning the physical security of buildings there are four fundamental, chronological principles to address. They are; delay, detect, alert and respond. Prior to any of these four principles, however, comes the most important step: Deter.
Serial Killer Mentality
The most unhinged individuals can never be deterred, perhaps. Serial killers fall into two broad categories; disorganized serial killers spend little time preparing and planning; they care less about the possibility of capture than they do about instant gratification. Such individuals may strike almost randomly, with little thought of the consequences, making them extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Organized serial killers, by contrast, will plan their deeds in advance; they will stalk or surveil their prey and they will consider the possibility of success or failure as well as the need to conceal their crimes.
Most active shooters more closely resemble the organized serial killer. They select their target and plan their attack based on the greatest probability of success, which – in their minds – means the greatest number of casualties or, at least, the elimination of specific targets. In many – though not all – cases, the active shooter assumes their crime will conclude with their own death. This type of killer, therefore, is not deterred by the possibility of dying but by the possibility of being killed or captured before they accomplish their deadly mission.
It is a tragic and frightening reality that every time a deranged mass murderer succeeds in taking multiple lives, the next monster is incentivized to emulate the feat and perhaps exceed the previous body-count. Thus, the more would-be mass killers who are foiled in their plans, the fewer there will be in future years.
Deterrence begins with regular police or armed security patrols in the immediate area and having one or more armed resource officers inside. Aside from fire exits, school buildings should have only one entrance and, at the opposite end of the building, one exit which, like fire doors, can only be opened from the inside. The entrance to every school should be locked from the inside during school hours.
Time is the vital factor in active shooter scenarios. Assuming a shooter gains access to the building – and in the absence of armed protection – hindering the shooter’s ability to move quickly around the interior and locate intended victims is the best way to save lives. Where possible, all interior doors should be doubled, making it necessary to go through not just one but two doors. The purpose of this is as simple as it appears; it takes longer to go through two doors than to go through one. Even a couple of extra seconds could prevent a killing. Likewise, extra doors should be installed in long hallways, simply to slow down anyone moving along that hallway and limit the field of vision. Students should be prohibited from gathering in hallways before or between classes.
All classroom and office doors should be lockable from the inside. Additionally, any interior windows, such as classroom windows that look out onto interior hallways and widows in classroom or office doors should be blacked out or covered with blinds or drapes. This gives the shooter no opportunity to know who, if anyone, is on the other side of any door.
These measures are simple, relatively inexpensive and can all be carried out without months of legislating and bureaucratic wrangling. They limit the speed of movement around the interior of buildings, they hinder access to interior spaces and they limit a shooter’s ability to find victims. Obviously, having metal detectors at entrances and having armed responders in the building would be even more effective measures, but those steps will, no doubt, take longer to implement and require much greater funding.
While lawmakers are convening committees and boards of inquiries, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students should already be discussing ways to make their school buildings less easily accessible and more difficult to physically navigate. Slowing the shooter down is the key to saving lives. The options for improvised security measures against active shooters are many – too many to include in this article. Everyone should be taking ownership of the task, rather than waiting for local governments to come to a decision.
Lives are at stake. This is not an issue that requires careful consideration and debate; it is an issue that requires immediate action. Deter the shooter from entering the building. If he still enters, slow his ability to move easily around the school and hinder his ability to find his targets. Without armed response on the site, precious extra minutes must be bought until law enforcement officers arrive. Perhaps most importantly, every attempted mass-shooting that fails is itself a deterrent for future killers.