Sandy Hook school shooting report: New lessons or old lessons revisited?

Posted by on November 25, 2013

A much anticipated report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings is due out Monday afternoon. The Connecticut State’s Attorney will present a summary report on the shooting, although the release of the full Connecticut State Police report continues to be delayed.

The tactical response of Newtown Police and other first responders will likely receive a great deal of scrutiny, along with the mental health history of the shooter.

It is also reasonable to expect the report to address questions about  emergency coordination at the chaotic scene (NIMS, interoperability of communications, etc.), the shooter’s movement through the school, a timeline of events, and perhaps some insights into the complex issues that fueled the shooter’s rage.

School security in focus

School security will also likely be touched upon. Sandy Hook Elementary School had buzzer-controlled access on the front door, staff had lockdown procedures, drills had been conducted, and local police worked in a number of district schools.  The principal was credited with being proactive on school safety. She was killed, along with the school psychologist, as they moved toward the shooter.

While 26 lives were tragically lost that day, I expect to hear that lockdown procedures, the heroic actions of teachers and the school custodian, and other proven safety measures helped many more children and teachers stay alive. In fact, a secretary and a school nurse were found still locked down in a main office storage room a couple of hours after police tactical teams swept the building and set up a command post in the office nearby.

Just two months prior to the attack on Sandy Hook, I provided training to Connecticut school officials and first responders at a statewide conference. That conference took place in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and included representatives from Newtown schools and police. There is no doubt in my mind that school security and preparedness was in the minds of educators and first responders from throughout Connecticut before the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

Knee-jerk reactions and failed governmental responses

What is surprising are the knee-jerk calls for strategies that are useless or dangerous in a K-12 setting, such as bullet-proof backpacks, arming teachers, and training young children to attack heavily armed gunmen. There are proven and reliable school safety practices, such as diversifying emergency drills, training teachers and support staff on security and crime prevention, SRO programs, and beefing up mental health services for students. Too many schools are still not effectively using these and other proven safety practices.

Government response has been minimally effective. Federal school safety programs, eliminated prior to the Sandy Hook shootings, have never been restored. School safety has been politicized in the gun control vs. gun rights debate. Financial aid to schools has been generally limited to one-time awards narrowly focused on security equipment such as surveillance cameras like  those exposed in recent investigative news stories for not being maintained and repaired in many schools.

Federal and state governments are failing to provide policy and funding for a more comprehensive approach to school safety, prevention and preparedness.

Will we learn any groundbreaking information from the State’s Attorney or will his report just reinforce the lessons of past school shootings? Will the withholding of 911 tapes and the delays of the full state police report create increased anxiety or help take the edge off of our nation’s raw emotions?

Stay tuned…

Ken Trump

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