Charlotte’s worst nightmare would be if one of our 176 CMS schools were the next active shooter global news story. Sadly, our policies are dated and inadequate to best save lives. All of our local leaders (CMS, city and county) need to be more proactively prepared in how to train students, teachers and staff.
As a CMS mom and a professional in the security field (my work involves active shooter issues), I know there are steps to make our kids safer than CMS’s current safety initiatives. The traditional “lockdown approach” we currently use was initiated in the 1970s. It was done to address drive-by shootings – bullets flying toward the building from the outside. That was a different problem. Today, most school shootings involve an active gunman hunting our children inside the school buildings. Active shooter situations are also unpredictable and are usually over within 5 minutes, often before law enforcement arrives. Every second that passes is a second closer to dying or surviving.
Current CMS “lockdowns” are based on a traditional Cold War-era “shelter in place” method that has proven to be ineffective in numerous school shootings. Schools experience the highest casualty rates in active shooter events because our children are directed to passively huddle together or line up against a wall, making them easy targets for a gunman. The county and CMS should be complimented for the implementation of technology, visitor management, and dedicated school resource officers. However, we can and must do more.
The preparation and training we have today can best be described as a “sitting duck” approach. Leaders must adopt a proactive and options-based protocol. This includes three key response actions: evacuation; advanced lockdown with barricade; and distraction techniques if directly confronted (as a last resort). This protocol would allow those in harm’s way to select the most appropriate response based on the evolving and unpredictable circumstances. This protocol includes a consistent communication plan to notify building occupants of the active shooter and provide the shooter’s location. More and better information allows better decisions to be made. This will save lives.
Our schools should not be expected to bear this enormous burden alone. There are numerous reputable programs, endorsed by state and federal agencies, that would provide this training for CMS schools. SROs, our police and fire department and EMS must collaborate with schools to provide ongoing training, communications and age-appropriate drills. Drills should be practiced at different times of the day (recess, between classes, etc.) to account for different scenarios.
Cross-functional teams made up of students, teachers, law enforcement and a diverse crisis team should meet at the school and district level on a regular basis. Our mayor, city, county and school leaders must develop an ongoing communications network. Other simple steps to improve safety are to ensure that everyone knows how to dial out of a building; and everyone at the school should be empowered to call 911 in an emergency. Parents and students also need a clearer and more consistent system to report suspicious behavior.
In the final analysis, one only needs to ask their kids if they would know what to do if tragedy strikes at their school. If your child’s answer is “no” or “maybe,” that’s not acceptable. These options-based solutions and proactive protocols have been considered a best practice for over a decade. Time is of the essence. We must change now to protect our children.
McGrath is a security professional who focuses on active shooter mitigation technology and services, and is an ALICE Certified Instructor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org