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5 Ways to Make Our Schools More Secure

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There is quite a bit of focus these days on the fact that corporations, churches, businesses and other organizations need to focus more time and resources on preparing for a critical incident such as an active shooter. I couldn’t agree more as I am very passionate about this fact. However, the single most critical organization that needs to focus A LOT of time and energy into critical incident and active shooter preparation is our schools. Whether it is a crazed gunman, an extremist terrorist, or the lunatic ex-spouse of a staff member, the threats to our schools are real and are not going away.

It was in April of this year when the ex-husband of Karen Brown, a special education teacher in San Bernardino, entered her classroom and gunned her down while she was teaching. He also struck two students in the process, killing one, before turning the gun on himself. In the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, the shooter wandered the school executing victims for 11 minutes before being encountered by the police and taking his own life. All of his victims were shot between 3 and 11 times EACH. These are two starkly different incidents with very different shooters behind the gun. Their motives and intended targets in both incidents were vastly different yet the result was still the same. Innocent lives were taken by crazed gunmen on school grounds and the existing security policies and measures failed.

Outside of the existing potential threats previously mentioned, our schools have to begin considering that they qualify as both a soft target and a high value target to terrorist organizations. Both terrorists and active shooters alike seek maximum carnage with minimum resistance and our schools would traditionally provide both to these deranged individuals. Although police response times to active shooter events have improved greatly, it could still be the most important three minutes of your life.

HERE ARE FIVE CRUCIAL THINGS EVERY SCHOOL SHOULD BE DOING TO IMPROVE THEIR SECURITY.

Consistently secure all buildings. This may seem simple and elementary but it can be a game changer. One door left unlocked and unattended could make a life a death difference. In the Columbine High School shooting, not a single locked door was breached by the shooters. In the San Bernardino incident, the gunman attempted to enter a side door where he would go unnoticed but it was locked and he was forced to enter the main entrance. Although their security policy still failed, the incident could have been much worse had he entered undetected. Even on the most beautiful of days, keep all classroom and building doors secured and locked. You are sending a message to anyone seeking to infiltrate your campus.

Conduct regular and visible patrols. This task should be shared by staff and faculty so that everyone participates in proactively creating a secure environment. Furthermore, the more personnel involved, the better. This also sends a message to any potential intruders that you have multiple people involved in securing your campus and that they will meet resistance. If ANY unknown or suspicious person is identified on campus or in a building, then you MUST confront them. Confront them IMMEDIATELY and ASSERTIVELY and preferably in pairs if the personnel is available. When any criminal is seeking a victim, they are looking for just that, a victim. Being assertive and not avoiding the situation communicates clearly that your campus is not a soft target.

Get a threat assessment and security evaluation done for your particular campus. Every school building and campus is different and will have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to achieving physical security. There are also several ways to advantageously exploit certain features of particular buildings and construction materials during a critical incident. Hiring a professional to evaluate your facility can make all the difference when it comes to critical incidents.

Have a plan. This also sounds elementary and obvious but I have been astounded at the number of school personnel I have spoken with that don't have a real plan. Unfortunately today our schools face multiple threats from both nature and man and having specific plans for those events and your particular campus are extremely important.

Waiting for the School Resource Officer to handle the situation is NOT a plan. Although SROs are an outstanding resource for schools, they cannot be everywhere all of the time. Even if your campus is small and it only takes one minute for the SRO to get anywhere on campus, one minute is an eternity during an active shooter event. Every school, campus, and faculty composition is different so having a customized plan creates an outstanding advantage when seconds count.

Practice and train frequently. When in danger, the human brain goes directly into survival mode. We cannot reason, our only instinct is to survive. When we do this, we have one of three reactions, fight, flight or freeze. These are primitive instincts that have kept our species alive for thousands of years, but they are just that: primitive. Our survival instincts can be programmed to change the way we respond under critical stress levels. The ONLY way to do this is through training and repetition. During any critical incident most people will have some sort of reaction, but prior training allows you to RESPOND.

To learn more about obtaining a security evaluation, training for a critical incident, or strengthening the security of your school or campus, please visit our website at www.defendsystems.com or give us a call at 615-236-6484.

Planning, Protocols & Persistence Saves Lives

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Protocols, training and persistence saved the lives of countless children at Rancho Tehama Elementary School in Corning, California. Another lunatic gunman began selecting seemingly random targets to kill in an apparent psychotic rage.  He eventually set his sights on entering the elementary school at the Rancho Tehama Reserve but that attempt was thwarted by the simple yet effective decision to place the school on lockdown. 

In the active shooter incident at Columbine High School, not a single locked door was penetrated by the shooters.  Further proof that something so simple can be so effective during an active shooter incident.  These gunmen typically come prepared to create the maximum amount of carnage with a large amount of ammunition and weaponry.  However, they typically do not come prepared, physically or mentally, to breach locked or fortified doors.  I often reiterate that these active shooters seek maximum carnage AND MINIMUM RESISTANCE.  The gunman in this case met immediate resistance at the school and immediately chose another path for his rampage. 

Faculty members reported hearing gunfire approximately a quarter mile away from the school and immediately took action.  Their training and protocols instantly took over and allowed their brains to process the noise as gunfire instead of fireworks as is so often the case. 

Many times our brains immediately try and process certain stimuli from our environment as something familiar and safe instead of processing it as something more sinister and unsafe.  What allows our brains to process these things correctly is training and planning in advance.  It is very difficult, if not almost impossible, for our brains to recall anything complicated during a critical incident.  Simply put, our stress response won’t allow it.  However, previous planning and training allows us to overcome several of our bodies’ stress responses during a traumatic event.  This is exactly how police officers and soldiers are able to operate successfully in the most critical and traumatic situations.  Many times they do not have time to think, they must simply respond to whatever they are faced with instantaneously with no time to process what they are seeing, hearing or feeling. 

I cannot reiterate this enough: ALL schools, churches, and businesses need to have a plan to deal with critical incidents and potential intruders.  Having a plan is a phenomenal start, however you must also PRACTICE that plan.  The goal is to practice it enough that your brain and your body will both respond to an event instead of simply reacting.  A response is typically pre-planned where a reaction is simply a moment in time reflection of what your brain is processing at that moment. 

In today’s world of lunatic psychopaths gunning down multiple random victims, it is time to shift our focus.  Instead of trying to predict the where and when of the next attack, we must focus on hardening potential targets as well as a implementing a planned response.  We would all love to have a solution to stop the next mass casualty incident but we all know that is not the reality.  These attacks will undoubtedly continue and we all have a responsibility to focus more on the safety and security of our schools, churches, homes and businesses.

To learn more about obtaining a security evaluation, training for a critical incident, or strengthening the security of your school, church, or business, please visit our website at www.defendsystems.com or give us a call at 615-236-6484.  We are passionate about helping all organizations achieve real security.

Companies Roll Out Gunshot Detectors at the Office - The Wall Street Journal

Fearing attacks, firms install sensors to track, help neutralize active shooters; systems’ true purpose often masked for fear of sparking a panic. 

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A gunshot detector in the lobby of 55 Water Street in New York City. PHOTO: CHIP CUTTER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 

By Chip Cutter
Feb. 19, 2019 6:30 a.m. ET 

Corporate executives worried about workplace shootings are quietly installing gunfire-detection systems in U.S. offices and factories. Most don’t tell employees what the sensors are, for fear of alarming them.

The rapid uptick in adoption of gunshot sensors follows a wave of workplace shootings in the past year. The latest occurred Friday when a man opened fire at an Aurora, Ill., factory following his termination, killing five co-workers and injuring five police officers. Deadly incidents in recent months include shootings at the California headquarters of YouTube, in the lobby of Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati, at a Maryland newspaper and in a Florida hot-yoga studio.

 

Shootings are “so frequent now, people are starting to accept it,” said Brink Fidler, who spent close to two decades in law enforcement in Nashville, Tenn., and now runs his own active-shooter training company, Defend Systems. “The more often these happen...the more people you have going, ‘We have to do something.’ ”

At Rackspace, a cloud computing company in San Antonio, management deployed 150 gunshot-detection sensors around its cavernous office in a converted shopping mall. “You can’t install metal detectors at the doors and have guards patting people down,” said Mark Terry, Rackspace’s director of global enterprise security. “So what’s the next best thing?”

The sensors blend in to walls and the ceiling, and look similar to fire-safety equipment. “I’ve told people they’re air-quality sensors before and they don’t even second guess it,” Mr. Terry said.

Originally developed for the battlefield, many sensors use a combination of acoustic and infrared technology to “see” the flash of a gunshot while also hearing it. The systems can be wired to alert police and instantly send texts, calls and desktop notifications to employees, flashing messages to tell workers how to respond in an emergency. 

Once the sensors detect a gunshot on a floor, the devices can track a gunman—integrating with camera systems—as he moves through a building, in theory allowing police to zero in faster and neutralize the threat. One reason many companies don’t explain to employees what the devices do is that they fear somebody will try to test them out by bringing a gun to work, security experts said.

Gunshot detectors now exist in employee cafeterias, meeting rooms and distribution centers, among other locations. Toyota Motor Corp. installed them at an auto plant in Kentucky. Pharmaceutical giant Allergan PLC and Corona beer maker Constellation Brands Inc. have put gunshot-detection systems at some offices and facilities.

An Allergan spokesperson said employee safety is a priority and the detection system is “one part of our multilayered security platform that helps us respond to situations quickly.” Constellation Brands declined to comment. At Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store in New York, the devices are perched over beauty and jewelry counters.

In 55 Water Street, one of the largest office buildings in Manhattan and home to S&P Global Inc. and Hugo Boss, about a dozen sensors are scattered through the lobby and beside an escalator, said Scott Bridgwood, vice president of operations for New Water Street Corp., which manages the building. The cost, so far, has been less than $100,000, and Mr. Bridgwood said he hopes to have the devices on every floor at some point. He sees tremendous benefits to having the technology widely deployed and linked to local authorities to hasten response times. 

“In an active-shooter situation, who’s calling 911?” Mr. Bridgwood asks. “I expect them to get out.”

The Charleston, S.C., airport put gunshot sensors near ticketing and baggage-claim areas. “I’d rather be prepared and not use it than need it and not have it,” said Paul Campbell Jr., chief executive of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.

The sensors cost around $1,200 each, and big employers can spend anywhere from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars on the systems. Many more major corporations have purchased the devices recently, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some security advisers question whether money spent on gunshot detectors could be better used on more robust active-shooter training, assessments to determine gaps in building security, or physical barriers, such as door locks and ballistic glass, to deter a shooter.

 

“I would tell companies to take a breath,” said Jesus M. Villahermosa Jr., who spent three decades in law enforcement in the Tacoma, Wash., area, including on the SWAT team, and now runs security consulting firm Crisis Reality Training Inc. Mr. Villahermosa said he sees the value in the detectors, but cautioned: “Don’t just believe that a system is going to solve your problem.”

While building codes mandate lifesaving equipment such as fire alarms, no such regulation exists for gunshot detectors. Indoor systems are still new enough that many law-enforcement experts remain unfamiliar with them, and research on their effectiveness is limited, says Ronal Serpas, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, and the city’s former police superintendent.

Shooter Detection Systems LLC is among the biggest sellers of the systems and has more than 18,000 devices deployed. Chief Executive Christian Connors says the company has never had a false positive, thanks to years of refining the product, which is based on technology developed in the 1990s by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known as Darpa.

The sensors can distinguish between a gunshot and a car backfiring, firecracker exploding or balloon popping because they listen for the specific signature sound of a muzzle blast, he said.

Those who have purchased the technology say it could save lives in an emergency when seconds matter. Some privacy experts wonder just how much monitoring the sensors are doing since they essentially mike the workplace 24/7. Mr. Connors says his gunshot detectors have “zero ability to transmit any audio whatsoever out of the sensor. It’s impossible.” 

Sales at Shooter Detection Systems are up 400% in the past year, with Fortune 500 companies now representing the firm’s biggest base of clients, Mr. Connors said. He declined to name the firm’s customers.

Public records show that the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta spent more than $200,000 in 2018 to put 95 sensors from Shooter Detection Systems across its campus, including the cost of installation, cabling and software.

More schools have been eyeing the technology, but some feel if they install them in one building, they must install them in all, security experts say, a stipulation that may prove cost-prohibitive. Mr. Connors said his company will soon introduce a package of sensors priced below $10,000 for schools.

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At 55 Water Street, one of the largest office buildings in Manhattan, the gunfire-detection sensors are scattered through the lobby and beside an escalator.PHOTO: CHIP CUTTER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 

 Write to Chip Cutter at chip.cutter@wsj.com