Sitting Ducks are for Carnivals—Not Schools
- By Dennis Truxler
- July 27, 2022
The most violent year to date for school shootings was 2021, with 193 people killed or wounded. Thus far this year, there have already been 145 victims. This is unacceptable and unconscionable.
The security measures currently employed in schools have not worked.
What can be done to keep kids safe and make them feel safe while at school? As an administrator, this is the most important question you will ever need to answer. That’s because if the next Uvalde or Parkland or Sandy Hook happens on your watch, you will have to face many more uncomfortable questions, and you may be haunted by excruciating regrets. It all hinges on what you do now.
Happily, a key safety measure has emerged that answers the above question, and you will want to know about it.
Students Are Sitting Ducks
"We trained our kids to sit under the table, and that's what I thought of at the time. But we set them up to be like [sitting] ducks." That’s the lament of Arnulfo Reyes, a teacher at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, who was shot and seriously wounded in the attack. He witnessed the horrific murder of all of his students right in front of him.
School districts have had 23 years since Columbine to figure out a solution. Yet, kids keep getting shot at and killed in schools. Why? Simple—they are sitting ducks, helpless targets.
That’s wrong. Sitting ducks are for carnivals, not schools. Regardless of what security measures are in place on the front end, once a shooter gets in the building, schools need something else to prevent casualties.
Although the challenge of preventing casualties seems elusive, there now exists a key formula to meet it successfully. Admittedly, school safety requires a multi-layer approach, such as, “see something, say something” campaigns, campus security personnel, security cameras, metal detectors, panic alarm systems, door locks, etc. However, should any of those front-end measures fail or prove inadequate (and they sometimes do), what then? At the end of the day, kids in classrooms must be protected, somehow.
Searching for the “Somehow”
When I woke up on Valentine’s Day 2018, my foremost thought was, “Where should I take my fiancée for dinner tonight?” Little did I (or anyone) know that within just a few hours, a horrific tragedy was about to occur. In a period of less than four minutes, a shooter killed 17 victims and wounded another 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Very soon after this, our school board and I urgently embarked on a mission to find the best way to protect our precious students and staff should a similar threat ever befall our campus.
The big question was this: What can protect potential victims—in reality, sitting ducks—from a killer with a gun?
Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was shot and killed at the Parkland massacre, wisely said, “Seconds matter.” Once a shooter arrives on campus, there is precious little time before the carnage begins—and ends. At Sandy Hook, for example, before the arrival of the first police officer, the shooter had already fired 154 rounds within five minutes, ultimately killing 20 children and 6 adults.
So, here is what is needed to save lives: Immediate access to a safe place right in the classroom, where most casualties occur. That is the key, the “somehow” that was needed.
Once we realized this, we began an earnest search for such a solution.
The “Somehow” Found
After much investigation, we found an American manufacturer that produced custom modular bullet-proof safety pods that could fit right into our classrooms and were capable of stopping high-caliber rounds from assault weapons, like the AR-15 or AK-47. These safety pods are made using a military-grade ballistic steel used for military vehicles. As an added bonus, they could even protect occupants from the most powerful EF-5 tornado, since the pods had originally been designed as tornado shelters.
Without delay, we installed these safety pods in every classroom so that, should a shooter gain access to one of the school buildings (or if a tornado approached the campus), all students and staff could be safely shielded within seconds. We also installed larger pods in our cafeteria (to protect 175 occupants), gym, band room and library to further fortify the safety of our students and staff.
Interestingly, the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety, released on December 18, 2018, in response to the Parkland tragedy, recommended the creation of “secure places within classrooms where students and teachers can shelter in the case of an active shooter.”
How proud we were to have already put this wise recommendation in place!
After the Sandy Hook shooting, the FBI came up with the “run-hide-fight” protocol as a response measure for anyone confronted by an active shooter.
Although this measure does provide a basic response framework and is certainly better than doing nothing, it can now be vastly improved upon with the presence of the safety pods we found. The “run-hide-fight” response potentially puts individuals in danger, as it recommends that they should first run (which is essential) and hide somewhere (the “somewhere” may not be immediately accessible nor provide adequate protection) and, if discovered, be prepared to fight an armed assailant. Hardly an ideal solution, especially for young children.
The utilization of immediately accessible safety pods, however, now allows the creation of a superior active shooter response protocol: “run-shelter-wait.” Those in harm’s way first run to a nearby safety pod, shelter from the danger, and wait in safety for help to arrive.
The key improvement is the “hide” versus “shelter” step. Hiding places (like in a closet, under a desk, or huddled in a corner) can turn people into sitting ducks. However, a safety pod is designed to provide immediate, near-absolute protection—clearly, a superior option expressly designed to save precious lives.
Save Lives—Add Peace of Mind
The above claim notwithstanding, let me frankly acknowledge that no one, and no measure, can absolutely guarantee that there will be no victims from an active shooter event in a school. Variable and unpredictable circumstances (such as faulty or non-existent alert systems) may contribute to less-than-perfect outcomes.
Nevertheless, the use of classroom safety pods in schools adds a superior level of protection that will at least mitigate the number of victims—and could potentially eliminate them altogether. In addition, students, parents and teachers can now be imbued with a newfound peace of mind that, prior to now, was virtually unattainable.
Gracie, one of our former high-school students, revealed when interviewed that she felt “safer at school than I did at home” since the addition of safety pods on our campus. One parent said, “I’m so glad my children are here so they and I can have the peace of mind knowing that whether it’s a tornado or a nut with a gun, my kids are protected!”
Unexpectedly, our student enrollment has increased by more than 20 percent since the installation of the safety pods. Many parents have told me personally the reason they chose our district was due largely to the presence of our safety pods. Parents desperately want to send their kids to a school they feel is safe.
Thinking “It Won’t Happen Here” is Dangerous
On June 9, 2022, a potential intruder at an elementary school in Gadsden, Ala., was shot and killed by a police officer. The superintendent said, “You don’t think that something like this is going to happen at your school.” There is no place for such a potentially deadly fallacy, which is all too common among school administrators. It must change. Lives are at stake.
Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, there have been 944 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, killing 321 victims! School administrators cannot ever think that a school shooting will not happen on their campus. Who of us would buy a new car without seatbelts or air bags? We don’t anticipate having an accident each time we drive, but we do acknowledge and prepare for the possibility. It’s the sensible thing to do, and the precaution does save lives.
When you are charged with the safety of someone else’s kids, you must similarly prepare for the worst. School shootings will continue to happen. No one knows when or where the next one will be. But this much we do know: It will happen again on someone’s campus. School districts must accept this reality and prepare for it.
Combining this acceptance with the creation of immediate access to safe places in the classroom is the formula that will keep students and staff from becoming sitting ducks during an active shooter event. Administrators and school boards, if you employ this formula, you will sleep well at night knowing your students and staff have the best chance of surviving a school shooting.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.