Sunday, February 15, 2015


I had the chance to meet with Chief Doug Fuchs, Redding Police Department, one of the agencies responsible for coordinating the local criminal investigation of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, last year at ISC-East Security Exhibition in New York City.  After that startling conversation, I started looking at schools from a design perspective.  My research, albeit not scientific, seemed to say school officials were more worried about  making sure no one gets into the varsity football game on Friday nights without buying a ticket than they were about who gets into the school.  Now I know that as exaggeration, but think about it.  How many school football fields have fences around them and a gate, with a booth where admission is charged?  Nuff said.  Unfortunately, my conclusion is in order to protect our children while at school, we will most likely need to chance our procedures, train our staff and redesign the physical lay-out of schools while increasing the use of technology.  

I decided to post my thoughts on the subject after reading a recent tweet about some schools giving their students cans of vegetables to throw at a would-be active shooter.  I think the old philosophy of RUN-HIDE-FIGHT doesn’t seem to be working.  Originally developed by the Houston Police Department, the RUN-HIDE-FIGHT scenario basically says, run if you can, hide if you can’t run and fight if you have to.  Statics are showing; however, people who are able to run away from the shooter survive.  Those who don’t, well….  Whether at a shopping mall in Nairobi or a college campus or a coffee shop in Sydney, the survival rate dramatically increases if people are able to run away.    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, that to my knowledge no one has been shot in back while trying to escape to the outside of the facility they were in.   With that in mind, maybe a new way of thinking should be RUN-RUN-RUN, at all costs – no matter what.  If this new philosophy is to succeed, then two things need to occur; 1) administrators need to evaluate current procedures, change them if necessary and train personnel on them, and 2) redesign buildings so that additional opportunities for escape are available.  I’ll leave the discussion about the proper procedures up to the police, facility managers and school administrators.
What I’m suggesting here is looking at the “active shooter” situation strictly from a security engineering standpoint.  If we do that, there are four areas which should be addressed:

First, design buildings which incorporate the four basic Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles. Those principles are; natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement, and maintenance.  Further info about CPTED can be found at  Conduct a vulnerability assessment of all schools to understand if these principles are already in place, and if not, require them to be implemented as soon as budget’s allow.  These principles have been around since the ‘90s and they have been proven to work.  Shouldn’t they be mandatory for all new construction or implemented during major renovation projects?  Seems like a “no brainer” to me.
Second, install analytic video that observes approaches to the school from parking lots and roadways.  If my friends over in the CCTV world are correct, then the new technology they are professing to possess allows a variety of parameters to be established to identify suspicious behavior.  They tell me they can identify objects that seem out of place; i.e., long guns or even people dressed all in black or camouflaged apparel.  So basically, just about any parameter can be set.

Third, compartmentalize the school, such as they do with submarines.  Install fire doors in hallways and panic buttons in hallways and classrooms, so that once an active shooter is able to get into the school and claim the first victim, a student or staff member can hit the panic button and the doors close automatically trapping the shooter between the doors.  Configure the panic button to also lock classroom doors.  Once closed, do not allow the doors to be opened on site.  Require an over-ride switch be installed off-site; i.e., local fire station or police department.
And finally, make sure that every classroom or office has a second way out.    City ordinances and state fire code regulations require a point of egress for apartment buildings and public facilities.  Why isn't there the same type of requirement for schools?  I haven't seen a two story or higher school with a fire escape.  I'll admit I haven't seen every school in the country, but I would think I'd have come across at least one in my travels by now.

There are a variety of companies that provide bullet-resistance/anti-burglary glass and doors.  Get them.

Redesigning the building alone might not prevent this type of occurrence from happening, but coupled with adequate training and procedures, it may just alter the outcome.

One final thought, let’s take the action now and not rely on the government to pass legislation before we do something.


Additional information about school safety and design can be found in the January issue of Campus Safety magazine, here