Stopping the Next School Shooter

According to the Washington Post, the fear of school shootings has driven school security to become a $2.7 billion market. Sales of everything from $3000 ballistic whiteboards to $200,000 camera systems are contributing to that industry growth.

Fear is driving the school security industry. While media reports suggest that school shootings are on the rise, the data is conflicting, and schools remain some of the safest places for children. But even one school shooting is too many, and the trauma of an incident as horrific as a school shooting drives policymakers and communities to look for solutions.

The solutions receiving funding focus mainly on fortifying our schools and enhancing the response to an active assailant. Security measures are designed to slow down or stop a shooter. Districts are teaming up with local police and training consultants to put on advanced training and increasingly realistic drills to teach students and staff what to when the shooting starts. Very little focus is on what everyone wants to do – stop an attack before it happens.

After the tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department Education launched the Safe Schools Initiative. Their 2004 report concludes that acts of school-based violence, including active shooter incidents, can likely be prevented using a strategy called Threat Assessment.

Developed by the Secret Service, Threat Assessment takes into account that there is no profile for an active shooter, and an overwhelming number of shooters told someone what they planned to do or left significant clues about their plans. Research shows that threat assessment models adapted for schools – designed to spot behaviors consistent with school shootings – reduces suspensions, improves school climate, and prevents violence.

A lockdown drill does not prevent an active shooter any more than a fire drill prevents a fire. If we are going to get serious about school safety, we need to get serious about prevention. Fifteen years after the findings of the Safe School Initiative, comprehensive threat assessment programs must be in every school.