The specter of attacks on our nation’s schools casts a dark shadow over every community. Educators and public safety professionals are always seeking best practices in procedures and hardware to address the threat of violence. One company has a comprehensive solution to increase the success of countermeasures in the event of an attack. The NETTALON website says it very well: “It all comes down to speed.” In the multitude of studies, statistics and response plans, one thing is always true: attacks are sudden and responses are too slow.
Multi-strategy response capabilities
Under the potential threat of what appeared to be an epidemic of school shootings, the Indiana Sheriff’s Association, in consultation with NETTALON Security Systems, Inc., selected Southwestern High School in Shelbyville to be “the safest school in America.” A recognized challenge that school campuses face in responding to an attack is that few schools have multi-strategy response capabilities. Some schools have security personnel, some have cameras, and some have ballistic window coverings, but few have a comprehensive response package like Southwestern’s.
“This is a holistic comprehensive approach intended to empower the responder. It is also intended to eliminate or simplify some of the critical decision making that those inside the threat must make in a highly chaotic event. In order to to do this, we need to look at the obstacles or deficiencies that exist in almost all targeted mass casualty incidents,” said Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff (Ret.) Mike Kersey, who initiated the project and is now CEO of Blu4 Strategies LLC.
Taking a tour of the building as an intruder, the intruder would first be noted on an extensive video surveillance system. There are also alarms activated by motion sensors and the sound of glass breaking. The cameras relay images from anywhere on campus, not only to the school’s administrative offices, but also to the Sheriff’s Office 10 miles away. As a result of the many cameras, all emergency personnel would have immediate real-time knowledge of what was happening in the building and where. Real-time intelligence to track suspect movements is critical to law enforcement response, especially if there is more than one attacker. Knowing the location of any victims in need of rescue or medical attention would speed up the response to them.
“The entire system provides virtual command of a scene that would traditionally rely on responders arriving on scene, assessing and acting on limited information,” notes Kersey. “This allows for an increased operational tempo for responders who will be strangers to them. We rarely have accurate information in a timely manner, which causes us to be primarily reactive. Systems like this can enable us to be proactive by deploying in the event earlier and takes action.”
As the intruder walks the halls, they discover that an alarm is already sounding. Any teacher can activate a school-wide burglar alarm by pressing the button on the remote control each staff member carries. The alarm activation also notifies law enforcement. When the alarm goes off, each teacher can access a panel in the classroom with a toggle switch that can signal their status as needing help, needing medical attention, or being safe. 911 centers are typically overwhelmed with panicked calls from inside and outside the school around the time of an attack. Responding officers to this secure school have classroom information and video tracking, which is far more specific intelligence than an officer responding to a school not equipped with this technology.
“Because of the call stations in each classroom, the intelligence can be updated in real time,” Kersey said. “This really helps when it comes to those who may have been injured. The call stations allow the occupants to indicate that they have a medical emergency and is translated on the map. This allows the rescue teams to prioritize their movements to these spaces. It also helps determine the need for EMS personnel, needed ambulances, or hospital staffing. This can exponentially increase the survival of the injured, allowing rapid treatment. Interestingly, the system can be used separately as a medical alert directly to 911 , without it being the result of an active assailant.”
Trying a classroom door, the intruder discovers that it is not only locked, but also protected by bulletproof material to slow or prevent the attacker from shooting his way inside. Unlike many school classroom doors that have vertical windows that, if broken, provide immediate access to the interior doorknob, these security doors have smaller windows and impact resistant locks.
Secure door vs insecure door by epraetorian on Scribd
“Providing shelters that prevent direct or indirect weapons fire to those under attack changes the attacker’s game plan,” notes Kersey. “Many of the incidents we’ve experienced in this country have resulted in the attacker shooting through the door or glass of the room without actually having to enter. So making every classroom a protected space seems like common sense .The protected door requires no special barrier/fitting or engineering to enter. Simply close the door which locks automatically and can be connected to a magnetic access control system.This alleviates the need to activate special locking mechanisms and exposes staff or students to potential danger or inventing creative barricade techniques.”
While the intruder is frustrated by the locked doors and screeching alarm, there is another surprise. Since the location of an attacker is known, the dispatcher can activate a hot zone where thick smoke is sent from the ceiling to disorient the intruder. As the intruder moves, more smoke can be released in his path to slow or stop their progress and at least obscure their objective.
“The container’s ‘hot zones’ allow for remote mitigation and allow space to be denied to the attacker. They can be pushed through the building to specific areas by responders or ideally out of the structure entirely. This is all done by making tactical decisions made by responders with actionable intelligence. The added benefit is that these containers are also a fire suppression system if fire is used as a weapon,” adds Kersey.
Active firing procedures
The technology is complemented by active shooter procedures that include students practicing huddling behind a mark on each classroom floor that indicates when they are out of line of sight from the classroom door window.
Coordinated training between coordinators, law enforcement, the vendor and school personnel is essential to the success of any active damage event. Don Jones, president of Nettalon Security Systems, compares the adoption of this technology and standard operating procedure to the fire suppression system that codes began to require in the 1980s. Building owners were reluctant to make the investment, but quickly realized the benefits of the systems over time.
At the time the total system was implemented, the cost was in the neighborhood of $400,000. These costs were supplemented by the seller and grants for school security. The price tag may seem hefty, but must always be weighed against the system’s benefits in deterring attacks that can cost a school district millions.
“Cost is really a matter of priority,” Kersey said. “These events cost the whole community much more than the lives lost. Mental problems are widespread for those who experience such a tragedy. That price cannot be defined in dollars and cents. If we can find millions of dollars for sports facilities, we can spend more money to make sure these athletes get through school alive and continue their sports careers.”
As school districts continue to envision responses to school violence threats, their efforts are often piecemeal or centered around a single strategy. As with any security effort, there is a temptation to think, “Well, at least we did something,” and then move on to the next crisis. The PR value of implementing a strategy is often greater than the actual effectiveness of a plan, program or product.
Indiana Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Steve Luce called it a paradigm shift in public safety: “Your kids deserve to be safe, you as parents deserve to get your kids home safely after school, your teachers deserve to be teachers and not bodyguards, your communities deserve to move to a higher standard of safety in all your educational environments.”
The multi-layered strategy of both procedures and technology offers the most comprehensive protection and prevention efforts. The best practice solution used at Southwestern High School is a model for this strategy.