Expert: Students' Impressive Behavior in Tragic Shooting Shows Importance of Training
The tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, held a few lessons for security professionals, says an expert and member of the ASIS International School Safety and Security Council.
First and foremost, the incident illustrated the importance of preparation, which may have saved some lives, says John Woodmansee, a security, environmental health and safety coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Education. According to various news reports, the shooter pulled the fire alarm on site, with the apparent intention of causing students to leave the building and come into harm's way.
The students' response to the fire alarm reflected substantial training, Woodmansee explains. "It seemed like they had obviously done a tremendous amount of fire drills," he says. It's important to maintain some type of order in these situations so that panic and chaos do not prevail, he adds.
Then, when students started to realize that a shooter was on the loose, "other training kicked in" and they transitioned, he continues. Many seemed adept at shelter-in place procedures, as they found safe places to hole up and hide, locking themselves into classrooms and closets, according to the news reports. This reflected staff preparation that the students took seriously.
"That's one of the big lessons learned from this," Woodmansee explains. "They had training, they had (performed) drills—and different style of drills." It's important to realize that previous active shooter incidents have illustrated the effectiveness of such shelter-in-place actions, and so the preparation and following actions may have saved some lives, he says. However, he also cautions that "it's hard to say until they see the final information on what was effective and not effective."
Also impressive was the compassion and care expressed for others by students in the aftermath of the shooting, Woodmansee says. Part of incident preparation includes "building a community," so that "someone has a relationship with every student," and potential outcasts can be brought into the fold.
In the case of the Parkland shooting, the alleged gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, was an expelled student from the school and has been described as a troubled loner with an obsessive interest in weapons.
According to Woodmansee, identifying and following up on such students can be part of the work done by a facility's threat assessment team. Although the team will do much work on assessing physical security vulnerabilities, it can also consider who might be a threat based on community members' concerns. "There can be someone on the team who looks at individuals who may need to be further evaluated," he says.
In the end, there is no magic bullet for effective preparation, so a multi-disciplinary approach, supported by dialogue and discussion, is needed, Woodmansee says: "No one way seems to be the answer."