A school shooting has struck another American community, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Nine innocent people were killed, along with the shooter, 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, who shot himself as police closed in. Over the past 15 years or so, school shootings have become a "trend" in the United States, as the infamy from one massacre seems to attract other unbalanced individuals with ill intent toward similar terrible actions. Any parent who sends their children to school should only do so in the knowledge they'll be safe from harm.
While statistically the likelihood of being killed in a school mass shooting is very low, it's still higher than the risk of death in a school fire. If schools have been successful in preparing and drilling in case of a fire, they should also ready to effectively protect students from deranged mass shooters. So how can we be sure that our kids are safe in their classrooms? School safety hinges on administrative accountability - schools and universities must have contingencies in place that are drilled regularly, with an eye to real-world flexibility. Parents should check their school's emergency procedures to ensure the security of schoolchildren in the event of a crisis. Here are five key questions parents can ask schools:
- Does the school plan for different scenarios? Schools should plan for a variety of events - not just rare active-shooter scenarios, but also more common, lower-risk situations involving unarmed individuals roaming campus, loose dogs, extreme weather, fires, etc.
- Does the school have varied responses in place? Be flexible in responses - have a few on hand. Different situations call for different approaches, and the corresponding lockdown procedures should be drilled and rehearsed, when possible with local law enforcement and first responders.
- Is there a clear, simple system of communication in place? Communication is critical - the success of crisis response depends on school staff, as well as students, being well-versed in how to react to a situation. Evacuation, lockdown, or reverse-evacuation procedures should be clearly communicated and easy to recognize and follow.
- Can all school staff access key buildings? All staff should have access to all buildings and facilities for a lockout. That means every staff member should have keys to lock and unlock rooms critical to sheltering students. If staff are unable to open certain doors in an active shooter scenario, tragedy can result.
- Does the school practice emergency scenarios regularly? Practice minimizes risk. The more staff and students are accustomed to drilling for various scenarios, the better prepared a school will be for a potential crisis. When classrooms can quickly and safely evacuate to a predetermined location for a medical emergency, for example, that translates to evacuation readiness for other contingencies.