People gather for a memorial at Parkridge Church in Coral Springs, Fla. on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, one day after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Photo credit: (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Parkland is an affluent residential community that backs up to the Everglades. The school was named to honor Stoneman Douglas, an environmentalist who fought to protect Florida’s Everglades. In fact, just this week, the city was ranked as the 15th safest city in America and one of the safest cities in Florida.
But it could not be protected from an active shooter. Minutes after the ambulances flew by; I got the alert on my phone: an active shooter situation practically in my own backyard. By the next morning, we knew much more.
Initially, it was reported as one person dead but by late last night, however; the number had ballooned to 17 students and staff killed, and fifteen more in the hospital. It was the 18th school shooting of 2018, which averages out to almost one every other day so far this year.
A former student, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was arrested near the school. He allegedly entered the school with the other students and pulled the fire alarm, so they would run out into the hall where he opened fire. In addition to shooting students inside the building he also reportedly took aim at victims as they attempted to flee the hail of gunfire.
The shooter’s weapon of choice was an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which was purchased legally last year from a Broward County gun shop. Cruz made his first court appearance on Thursday and was charged with seventeen counts of first degree murder.
A student interviewed by the media said he knew the kid who had the gun, and that the student had shown him photos of guns on his phone. Cruz’s Instagram account also reportedly featured not only photos of guns, but of frogs and lizards he had tortured and then killed. According to published reports, he had posted on social media: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
Many students who were interviewed yesterday and today said the shooter was someone they thought might have been a dangerous person. He had a troubled background, including behavioral problems, and had been recently expelled from the school.
As politicians on every TV channel discussed the future of gun control, the political aspects of America’s gun problem and the role of the National Rifle Association in effectively blocking gun legislation, the real truth is that we need to protect schools now, not fight endlessly about long term solutions. The great technological advances in security have created realistic security solutions that can better protect students and schools today.
Immediate Steps to Shore Up School Security
1. Access control is the starting point. If you can’t control access, anyone can bring any kind of guns into our schools. Stand-alone metal detectors are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Wand scanners could be deployed tomorrow. Backpacks and cases need to be scanned or opened.
3. Actively monitor security cameras. Cameras should be set up for active monitoring on every egress door, so that if a shooter somehow gets in, they can be discovered at the first shot and then isolated so that students are removed from the immediate area. Students could have been prevented from putting themselves in harm’s way, or even rescued.
4. Leverage gunshot detection solutions. Gunshot detection software can alert at the sound of the first round fired.
5. Color photo ID badges should be issued to every student and worn at all times. They cost almost nothing and instantly help to keep people out who should not be in the facility, such as the shooter who carried out this massacre.
6. Use bullet-resistant backpacks and white boards. Though they can’t stop a gunman, these products can help children and staff protect themselves when all else fails.
Florida schools are required to “lockdown” if an active shooter code is called. This is not an effective procedure and the number of victims in the Parkland massacre show that it is ineffective. It does not limit the shooter once they are inside the facility and it prevents students from being able to exit quickly.
Once again, as was the case in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, we saw law enforcement holding back instead of entering the school sooner and finding and eliminating the shooter before he kills more students and then just strolls away down the street.
Long Term Solutions
Long term solutions should always be pursued but they must include a national discussion on access to lethal and automatic weapons. More stringent background checks need to be implemented, as we have seen with every active shooter incident, including the 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, the aforementioned massacre at the Pulse nightclub and even the 2016 New York bombing in which the suspect’s father called the FBI to report his child was planning to kill people and nothing was done.
These are long-term political solutions, but the conversation today and tomorrow and the day after that needs to be about preventing school shootings and mass casualty events, which require the implementation of mandatory controls/solutions that can be deployed tomorrow, not in three years.
Back in Parkland, this close knit community has been terrorized and there is no resolution. The most aggravating thing about the Parkland massacre is: one more time, it’s too late. No matter how many drills and training were done, it didn’t help.
About the Author:
Caroline Ramsey-Hamilton is a risk expert and Futurist, who creates innovative facility security risk assessment solutions, including how to prevent active shooters and workplace violence in healthcare, education, government, and manufacturing sectors. As part of the DoD Defense Industrial Base, she lives in South Florida near Parkland, and works every day to keep people safe.