School security after Newtown: Readers debate guards and guns

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

YARMOUTH, Maine—SSN’s News Poll for February clearly struck a chord, with more than 230 readers responding to our questions about school security in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. But like the debate in the public at large, consensus about solutions—especially the use of armed guards—was hard to find.

One point that a majority of poll respondents agreed on was the security solution that school officials would most likely choose in the aftermath of the shootings. Fifty-two percent said access control and cameras would top the list, followed by armed security guards (30 percent) and the addition of a mass notification system or emergency communication system (18 percent).

“The ability to automatically lock all classroom and office doors in the event of an emergency with a shooter is essential,” said David Stewart of Ace Inc., an independent monitoring station in Louisville, Ky. “People will be notified with a MNS that they have 15 seconds to enter a room. Any door for egress from the building will remain unlocked so a gunman can leave the building.”

“All doors should have electronic-release locking mechanisms [and should be] solid wood or solid steel, with bullet-resistant glass in the door windows or a ballistic blanket in each classroom,” another reader wrote. “The system should allow for immediate lockdown from multiple locations on the premises. There also should be biometrically controlled Taser lock boxes throughout the schools, with key personnel [allowed] access to these non-lethal weapons and annual training provided.”

“They should install a lockdown control so one button locks every classroom door,” another respondent said. “It would not have stopped someone like [the gunman] at Sandy Hook, but it would have slowed him down and saved lives.”

Many readers said schools would choose to focus on access control simply because it is the most economical way to improve security. But when voicing an opinion on what schools should do, more respondents favored adding armed guards (46 percent) than access control (40 percent) or MNS/ECS (14 percent).

“We tend to think of answers to this sort of situation as being best handled by hardware we are familiar with and make money on. However, the best chance to prevent these horrors is to have a person or persons on site who are trained, ready and able to terminate the problem at its source,” wrote David Gilbert, president of Guard Tronic of Fort Smith, Ark. “… We use armed personnel to protect our financial institutions, our public servants and other precious assets. Our children are much more important and valuable, but we seem very hesitant to do anything more than put a ‘public resources’ officer in the schools to keep the kids from sneaking a smoke behind the bus barn.”

“Schools should be able to arm willing teachers and administrators (special conceal-and-carry permits) like the pilots and air marshals in the airline industry,” said Richard Garten, president of ID Systems of Richardson, Texas. “Calling the police is post-crisis engagement. Being defenseless is no defense at all.”

“Nothing beats the presence of an armed guard at the front door, ready to shoot,” another reader wrote. “No matter what we do, if someone is disturbed enough, they will always find a way to disrupt other normal people of society. While it may be a good knee-jerk reaction to load up the schools with CCTV systems, it would not have stopped the incident at Newtown. An armed guard may have had an immediate response and put an end to it, or even stopped it from happening altogether.”

“Armed teachers, armed guards, armed police. There definitely needs to be an armed presence to protect our children,” said another respondent. “And for God’s sake, get rid of the gun-free zones in and around our schools. If individuals were allowed to be armed around schools, there would be more people to protect our children in events such as these.”

Other readers felt just as strongly that arming guards and teachers is not the answer, saying guards are expensive to deploy and that bringing more guns into schools would create a prisonlike environment detrimental to children.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I do not believe the armed-guard approach is viable. Besides being extremely costly, the liability of having an armed guard in a school is tremendous,” a reader wrote. “It is highly unlikely that an armed guard would be able to stop an active shooter, especially if that shooter is armed with a high-powered, assault-type weapon. Investing resources into tighter perimeter security, access control and video is the best solution available at this time.”

“While armed security officers may be the most robust protection, the reality is that many schools are already poorly funded, so this will be a challenge,” another reader said. “Schools in wealthier districts will likely be able to get the funding, which as it turns out—given the history of school massacres—is where it is needed the most. It is kind of ironic, but I guess that is life.”

“Armed security guards just become the obvious first target [and] their quality/background becomes an awesome burden to the community,” another respondent said. “My children’s school has guards now, and I shudder at the thought of arming them.”

Many poll respondents were reluctant to choose a single option to improve school security in the aftermath of Newtown and instead voiced support for a combination of approaches.

“As with all complex problems, the solution too is complex,” one reader wrote. “A combination of access control and surveillance (natural and electronic)—perhaps in conjunction with stationing a well-trained (and possibly armed) security officer with access to a mass notification system—needs to implemented after, and only after, a vulnerability assessment is conducted at the facility by a trained and experienced professional. No ‘blanket’ design will be the best solution for every school.”

“Right now I think arming, rightly or wrongly, will be the first choice because it makes parents feel good,” another respondent said. “Later, as the heat lessens, the technology procurement is more likely. Leveraging the fire alarm [for MNS/ECS] makes sense if you can do it and if it’s the voice evacuation type. It’s already in place, it’s designed for emergency notification, it’s a supervised system and it’s governed by code. It makes all the sense in the world to use it.”