Even the most seasoned of school safety professionals have struggled to make sense out of the senseless — the loss of 20 children and six school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. While I do not believe most of us will ever make sense out of it, I have found some perspective and context in my interactions with those who have been very closely impacted.
Two months prior to the Sandy Hook attack, I presented a full-day workshop on school security and emergency preparedness to Connecticut school administrators and first responders less than 20 miles from Newtown in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Never did I imagine that within weeks of my visit to the region, one of the most horrific acts of violence would strike our must vulnerable school children. On the day of the attack upon the school, I struggled in many ways as a father and as a school safety professional, with an even closer personal bond knowing that I had passed through this region and met with so many educators and first responders concerned about school safety just weeks beforehand.
During the past nine months following the attack upon Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have had the unique and humbling opportunity to connect firsthand with a number of individuals directly involved with various aspects of the shootings including, but not limited to:
- Communications with parents and family members of several children whose lives were lost at Sandy Hook, including the parents who honored me with their request to list me as an advisor and reference best practices from my books and web site for their Safe and Sound: Securing Our Schools – A Sandy Hook Initiative;
- Met the now-former superintendent of Newtown Schools and a Newtown Police lieutenant who shared a day-long briefing on lessons learned, including their beliefs about how extreme approaches in the name of school safety are not beneficial to children;
- Observed firsthand the impact of the Sandy Hook shootings on the community after being flown to Connecticut by NBC’s The Today Show where I was asked to provide perspective and context on school shootings and school safety proven strategies for network and cable news on-site following the incident;
- Was the only full-time national preK-12 school security consultant invited to provide testimony to Connecticut Governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission; and
- Very recently participated as a panelist with two deputy speakers of the Connecticut General Assembly where we collectively presented on school safety public policy to a conference of state legislators from around the U.S. and Canada.
All of these contacts were unsolicited by my office as we take great steps to respect those who have lost lives and to be very clear not to create even the perception that we are in any way taking advantage of the suffering of others. Unlike some consultants who boast to enhance their self-worth if they do any unrelated work anywhere in the state where a tragedy occurred, we respond and serve when called, and my work for the media, providing testimony to public policy entities, and support of victims’ families are done on my own time, without charge, and with the goal of preventing a future tragedy.
From these contacts, I have had consistently reinforced to me that the most reasonable post-Sandy Hook approach to school safety is to avoid extreme, unproven proposed approaches to school safety. Some things I have heard from them include:
- A group of Sandy Hook parents whose children lost their lives at the school on the December 14, 2012, started Safe and Sound: Securing Our Schools – A Sandy Hook Initiative, providing parents nationwide a resource for asking questions and stimulating conversation on improving practical, proven school security best practices;
- Dr. Janet Robinson, now-former superintendent of the Newtown district, said that we must ask, “How do we protect children without becoming fortresses?” and “How do we give them what they deserve without the sense that I am only safe with someone at the door guarding me?”
- Dr. Robinson and Newtown Police Lieutenant Richard Robinson both said that only trained School Resource Officers (police officers) should be the persons in schools who have guns, not others; and even after living through the Sandy Hook aftermath, neither support the idea of teaching children to attack gunmen in schools; and
- Connecticut legislators wisely took the approach of addressing both school security and mental health, not an either-or approach, recognizing the need to balance the human and hardware approach to school security.
What has stood out to me from these and related discussions is that even those touched most closely by the senseless losses at Sandy Hook Elementary School have not turned to extreme and questionable security measures, or advocated for quick-fixes to school safety. In fact, they have even more definitively held that what they experienced is quite complex and efforts to prevent and prepare for such acts of violence are also complex and must be addressed with practical, real-world strategies.
Having had my life touched by these individuals and encounters, I move forward even more determined that we must focus on proven, tested and reliable security and emergency preparedness best practices. We owe it to those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School and to their loved ones who so desperately want to make sure that no one else experiences what they have experienced.