"People look for pleasant ways to deal with social settings," Cliffe says. That doesn't cut it with school shooters, as the staff and faculty at Columbine High School discovered. Cliffe recalls one 911 call from a teacher hiding with a group of students.
"You could hear it in her voice ... the training stopped at a certain point. She had the kids and it's locked down and that's all she knows, so she reverts to panic. No other tools other than yelling at the kids to stay down and get under the [tables]," he says.
The basic tenets of Cliffe's system, which he offers through his company, I.T.D. Systems, teaches educators to react proactively — and think like a cop when doing it. It's different from NIMS training in that this approach makes staff more proactive. For example, he illustrates the difference between cover and concealment to students. At Columbine, some teachers directed kids to hide in place beneath flimsy desks and tables, which offered minimal concealment and no protection whatsoever against the high-powered rounds fired by the gunmen. Students were also urged to hide when fleeing the area might have saved their lives or reduced the opportunity for injury.
"Educators don't just have to sit there and hope. They can make themselves (and their kids) safe, even the ones who are violently opposed to hurting someone in a social setting," he says.
He says getting past that initial objection is the key. Other objections, such as liability issues, Cliffe says, become moot once there's a real threat of violence. He asks, "What about the liability of teaching students to shelter in one concentrated area for a greater kill ratio?"
Cliffe points out that many times the first responder, who is usually the SRO, will be targeted immediately. Even if the SRO is not taken out of the picture at the beginning of the incident, one officer can only clear a building in the amount of time it takes for him or her to work through it.
By increasing the number of responsible adults who know the proper tactical response and can execute it, lives can potentially be saved. The cost, which can many times be off-set with grants, can run as low as $45 per educator, depending on the distance Cliffe's staff must travel and the time investment. He says the cost, compared to outfitting another SRO, is minimal.
"A lot of teachers come from the lily white background of the ivory tower. We teach them to react as if lives depend on them," Cliffe says.
Nationwide, severe budgets cuts are common this fiscal year, yet school safety remains a top concern. In addition to ramping up the capabilities of school staffers and making everyone, from students to parents, more aware of what is going on out there, some other ways to make schools safer on a shoestring budget include:
- Better camera placement. Where do school cameras focus? Could there be better placement?
- Locking exterior doors. Consider having only the main entrances unlocked from the outside while class is in session.
- Picture IDs for all staff. If they don't have them, they should.
- Good lighting. High quality lights can deter nighttime visitors who might plant weapons or bombs. They flush people out from their hiding places and help security cameras do a better, more accurate job. While it's not necessarily cheap, it's priceless compared to the cost of a school shooting incident.
- Security camera footage that can be viewed in real time. And a way to monitor them.
- Annual review and updating of the school safety plan.
- School protocol on behaviors that reduce the likelihood of school violence. Make sure the faculty reports any child they feel may be having problems or be prone to violent behavior. Swift intervention can save lives.
While both schools and law enforcement agencies face unprecedented fiscal challenges, school safety issues can still be met head-on by paying attention to small, but significant details.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.