How to Manage Active Shooter Incidents in K – 12 Schools: Pairing Technology with Strategy
It was about 2 p.m. one afternoon when Shannon Neubauer found himself walking down an empty hallway at the Nebraska junior high school he had attended nearly 25 years earlier. As he reminisced, he heard sounds coming from the boys’ bathroom. He walked through the doorway and saw three students attacking a fourth boy. He was aware only school personnel should intervene, so he quickly exited and notified a teacher across the hall.
It was pure luck that Shannon happened to be passing by the restroom. The irony is that he is a security professional by trade, who was at the school to discuss installing additional cameras and other equipment to an existing unified security platform – with audio elements that can “listen” 24 hours a day for incidents just like the one he witnessed.
“Technology is giving us a way to take fallible humans out of safety situations, and that’s a good thing, especially when it comes to active shooter situations in K – 12 schools,” Neubauer said. “People can’t be everywhere at once. And we can’t always depend on humans to follow through in the heat of the moment.”
It’s not unusual for training to fail during a violent event. “During a panic, the school secretary may forget to press a panic button, or they might be the first one targeted by a shooter,” Neubauer explained, “If a manual panic button protocol fails for whatever reason, then lives are doubly at risk.”
Schools are not the only ones that need to remove the human element when seconds count. As technological tools have advanced over the past few decades, schools, retail establishments, government buildings and many other venues increasingly have been able to use technology to improve security – and save lives.
Today’s best-practices for school security systems are composed of three main elements: access control, event detection and response, and having these all feed into a unified security platform.
The key is to combine technology with well-thought-out strategies and training.
1. Access Control: Proactively Preventing Violence
Prevention is by far better than having to deal with a live active-shooter incident. So, prevention should be the first element of any K – 12 security and safety plan.
A basic, but powerful way to prevent active shooter situations is simply to control access. In the old days of one-room school houses, safety and protection were provided by a single locked door. Most of today’s schools have hundreds of students and faculty, with multiple entrances on every side of the building.
To keep students and staff safe while at the same time allowing daily business to go on, access through these entrances must be controlled in different ways, at various times of day, and under different threat levels. Here’s how technology can help:
Identify pre-access threats
Technology: License Plate Recognition (LPR) software has become sophisticated enough to “read” license plate numbers and associate them with filters/rules programmed into the system. Cameras are mounted at choke points (entrances) to school grounds. Software can even record speed of vehicles. Soon, new software will be able to detect vehicle make and model.
Strategy: Set flags within software to notify appropriate personnel of known threats, such as students who have been expelled or suspended (black list), or their parents. The system also can be set to notify staff when unknown vehicles enter a parking lot. Some license plates can be “white listed” – such as teachers’ cars; their entrance may be recorded without notifications. LPR readings can be time stamped and paired with recorded security footage from other areas of the school to identify and prove illegal or violent behavior – for example, vandalism.
Funnel traffic through a monitored checkpoint
Technology: Access control can be managed in person or with electronics such as video intercoms, security cameras, access badges and panic buttons. Depending on the software employed with technology, at-risk students, parents or unidentified visitors can be recorded — or even identified using facial recognition before they are allowed to enter. Some schools employ metal detectors to proactively identify weapons before they can be used to cause damage. Access control can be placed in other critical areas, too, such as school offices, side doors, and entrances to sports venues.
Strategy: Every school’s needs are different. For some, it’s enough to simply post a resource officer or teacher at the entrance during class changes and other busy times to watch for potential problems in person. In these cases, training in threat identification and conflict resolution is essential.
For other schools, such as those in at-risk neighborhoods, every possible in-person and technological access control may be used to assist in identifying and responding to threats. Cameras can be used to verify actions of not only students and visitors, but staff. A knowledgeable security contractor can assist in formulating the most efficient and effective combination of security tools.
Monitor and control locked doors
Technology: In addition to front-entry access control, a variety of coordinated security monitoring systems and door-lock controls can be implemented based on the school’s schedule, the remoteness of the doors, likely personnel on duty at certain times, and other conditions and needs. Cameras, with or without microphones, provide imaging and sound to detect and verify threats.
Strategy: School side doors are notoriously left propped open, and in multiple cases active shooters have gained entrance through these unmonitored doors. In some cases, friends purposefully opened locked doors for their friends, knowingly or unknowingly allowing shooters to enter. A security monitoring system can notify staff when locked doors are breached. Well-placed cameras can provide instant video feed information, as well as recordings to help identify and prosecute perpetrators.
At night, when teachers and students are in the school for extracurricular activities, a double swipe can allow doors to stay open between certain times. Because it’s then not possible to tell a door is unlocked from the street, it’s less likely someone passing by will enter the school with violent intentions during those times.
Monitoring and controlling access is the foundation of a comprehensive security plan for any school, and the hope is that this will prevent violent incidents. However, it’s reasonable to assume some threats will not be neutralized by access controls. So, the next step is to plan how technology will be used during a live active shooter event.
2. Active-Shooter/Violence Event Detection and Response
Because minutes — even seconds — matter when it comes to saving lives, event detection and response technology and strategy should be focused on minimizing the amount of time it takes to identify an event in progress, as well as the amount of time it takes to respond and stop the violence.
No one wants to believe such an incident would happen at their own school, but the only way to save lives is to be realistic and face the challenges head-on, putting security and safety technology into place and practicing responses.
“Unfortunately, in today’s world, schools have to put plans together for a worst-case type of scenario and everyone needs to be thinking about it,” Neubauer said. He points out that K – 12 schools are not the only ones who must plan for management of active-shooter events and other violent incidents.
“It can happen anywhere. Whether you are a multibillion-dollar company or a smaller institution,” he explains, “We all have the same fundamental security and safety issues.” Here’s how technology can help:
Identify threats, even where people cannot be present
Technology: Today’s advanced technology includes sophisticated software that can work with cameras and microphones to identify threats before humans notice them and then automatically notify responders based on rules programmed into the software.
The latest technology is audio detection software that can be installed where cameras are not appropriate, such as in bathrooms and locker rooms. This technology can identify gunshots, yelling and even distressed voices. This is the technology Neubauer was introducing to the junior high when he intervened in the boys’ bathroom incident. This new technology is inexpensive to install because it is power-over-ethernet, like cameras, and can ride on the school’s network-structured cable.
Strategy: To gain the most effective coverage in event detection, install cameras and audio detection where they support each other. Determine appropriate automatic actions to follow event detection, whether it is lockdown, notification, triggered recording or alarms. Most likely, it will be a combination. Work with security experts and law enforcement to create a plan that is automatically carried out to the best of your system’s ability – in concert with human responses.
Once a plan is created, practice it with students, teachers, staff and law enforcement through regular drills. This may be the most important step of all in ensuring the success of your incident response plans. In the event of a real incident, training and practice will help ensure proper actions are taken, even at times when fear and confusion are the norm.
Create an access plan based on threat level
Technology: Today’s sophisticated technology can determine the level of a threat, with or without manual input from human beings, and then institute pre-programmed actions. The heart of this threat-detection technology is software that makes use of cameras, audio detection and access controls including key cards and pin pads.
Strategy: Higher threat levels require heightened measures. The highest threat levels may instigate actions such as automatic lockdown of every door in the school, including classroom doors. This can be associated with time of day, too. For example, if an incident takes place when students are off campus for lunch, it would not be a good idea for them to enter the building and walk into danger, so all doors can be locked automatically.
Different actions may be required for unlocking doors. For example, in a high-threat situation you can require that one or two staff keycards must be used for unlocking doors – or a keycard and a pin number.
3. Automated Crisis Response through Unified Security Platforms
Automatic responses to school threats depend on different pieces of technology communicating with one another. Many, many schools in the U.S. do not have unified security platforms that allow technology tools to “talk” with each other and carry out coordinated actions.
A proper automated system not only ensures student and staff safety within one school, but also can automatically lockdown schools within a radius of the event, notifying proper staff so a shooter can’t go from school to school causing as much damage as possible – often their goal.
Technology: In addition to preprogrammed software prompts designed to identify school threats, lock down doors and notify responders, a unified security platform can be coordinated with city technology to notify and support efforts of law enforcement. Ideally, schools, businesses and different city departments would use the same platform to aid in integration. Once this is done, it’s easy – and fast – to share information.
Many schools and cities are using systems such as the Genetec to share camera access.
Strategy: Software and hardware should be used together to provide seamless identification and notification. Privacy is important, so a system should be triggered only when threats are imminent or additional information is needed. For example, a school can federate in-school camera feeds to police to help them better prepare for an active event while they are on the way to help. Likewise, a motor vehicles department could provide camera-feed access to help a school identify a shooter who has left the school campus.
Whether it’s a scuffle in the boys’ bathroom or a life-threatening active-shooter incident, next time your K – 12 school faces a safety breach, wouldn’t it be nice to know you are prepared and lives will be saved? Schools can’t afford NOT to face these realities and take actions that give every life a chance.
To learn more about Prime Communications Inc. (PCI) and its ability to provide effective solutions for school access control, event detection and response, and unified security platforms, contact any of PCI’s New Business Development Managers at 402.289.4126 or visit PCI online at Primecominc.com.