It has been a week since the cowardly murders at Newtown, Conn. I stood back and watched to see where the hysteria is going to take us. As I expected, it was to arm everyone in the classrooms and other staff. That is ludicrous (and I’m a gun advocate).
The staff of Sandy Hook did all the right things (did you notice that Sandy and Sandy Hook is not a good name for the Northeast). They made sure that their charges were safe. They took as many precautions and then some to protect these children. They kept the children calm, focused, and assured. In the end, some of the staff gave their lives, wow! (Mr. President, where is the Medal of Valor for them and the Medal of Merit for the rest). I don’t think there is anyone that could enhance these actions, they could do no more.
A few good words for the school districts, they took all the precautions they could with the information they had to date. By the way, this includes the local districts. I did some checking, not testing. I don’t feel like going to jail or causing alarm.
So what can we do?
First, let’s make it clear what is needed is time — time to secure children and staff, time to notify police and any first responders, time for staff to check everything out, time to mobilize the world, if needed, to come to their aid.
We should start with the entry. Let’s get rid of the glass and replace it with resistant plastic (the degree is up to the district) and keep the doors locked. Any person coming will be on tape and told to I.D. themselves and open any coats, then buzzed in. All doors are to be taped. The staff office will be at the front door, not down the hall. At the office, there will be a second set of doors. After checking in with the staff, they can be buzzed in further. (I know they are doing most of that but I have to start some place.)
All other doors should also be plastic and entry resistant. They should also have panic alarms on them. When they go off, the staff goes into protection mode. If the alarm is set off maliciously, the punishment should be certain and severe. How are we going to know who did it? Have a luminous under black light powder or paint coating on it. The key is to slow the entry and alert the staff.
Why do the teachers need to be told of a lockdown? They are trained adults. If they hear a noise that is violent, or even the door alarms, go into lockdown for their class, secure the children while locking the door and then check with the office. If they err on the side of precaution, so what. Why do they need the office to sound the alarm first? Train the staff and empower them, and a different alarm should be used for fire danger.
Place two deadbolt locks on each door in addition to the door locks, not too high so the children can open them if needed or if scared. Make the glass in the doors small and re-enforced.
Place kickout panels in some of the windows to be used as an escape of last resort. Teachers will know when to use them. Designate an assembly area, unlike a fire drill, away from the school (a tough concept). Multiple targets running from the area are hard targets to hit, as opposed to confined in a classroom. I love some of our schools with the outside doors.
If the extra door alarms are activated, notify police. They might just be going to a false alarm, or in route observe the offenders leaving the scene. No harm.
Continue to hold fire drills. They are the greatest defense there is. However, hold aggressor drills (I think for drills, terror is just a little much). Let the children know what is expected of them and what their responsibilities are as students. Even give them some empowerment over the other students to re-enforce what they know, sort of a little bit of peer pressure to keep them in line.
Hold not just one or two drills a year, but hold one a month to re-enforce and update what they have been taught. Hold impromptu conversations or quizzes about what to do.
There are many important entities that need activating. The most important however is time. Slow down the perpetrators and activate the defenses. Let’s face it, these people are bent on getting in and they want to hurt and will hurt people.
I did hear one thing during the interviews that troubled me. One of the teachers that secured her children explained that "the bad guys are out there, we have to wait for the good guy." One child replied "I know karate follow me." How brave. To the teachers of karate, please let them know it does not stop bullets.
For those of you wondering who is this guy, I’m a retired police lieutenant. I spent 25 years with the NYPD, eight of those years with the Emergency Service Unit. We were those guys running in with the long guns. During 1977, I became an EMT and an AEMT. My last four years was as the administrator of the busiest precinct in the city. I had four schools in the district with 15 officers assigned to the detail. I’ve also spent 10 years as a volunteer firefighter. I guess one could say I might have a better than working knowledge of the problem before us. Unfortunately, only a few answers.
Tony Michalek, Harlowe