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Preparing Idaho schools for an active shooter takes more than just arming educators; it requires a plan

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Equipping teachers with the training and resources needed to prepare for any emergency should not be influenced or determined by political affiliation or ideology.

The latest school shooting in Uwald, Texas, will no doubt lead to renewed calls to arm educators, especially in red states and among Republican lawmakers. What is missing from these conversations is the continued lack of community-wide adoption of the gold standard National Incident Management System (NIMS) and specific community measures (which may include arming educators) to mitigate threats. And even after all the changes that came from the 2018 Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, everything we’ve learned in the past 23 years since the term “active shooter” was coined and the “hold-and-wait” strategy law enforcement agencies refused.

After the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, lawmakers made great strides in creating preparedness protocols and expectations in all of their schools. However, despite high and worthy expectations, the actual implementation of the law has not been fulfilled.

According to a KXAN Austin reporter, Avery Travisfor the 2017-20 school year, the Texas School Safety Center reported:

  • 6.5% (67 of 1,022) of Texas school district emergency plans (EOPs) were rated “adequate.”
  • 16% (162 of 1022) did not have a 2020 EOP.
  • Among districts that had an EOP, only 86% reported that their plan contained necessary drills (eg, fire evacuation, shelter-in-place, lockdown, etc.)
  • 73% stated that their EOP required reunification exercises.
  • Only 19.5% (200 of 1,022) had a “viable” active shooter policy.

Texas is not alone. We can’t help but wonder where our Idaho schools rank on these metrics. If you were to examine these rates in Idaho, and frankly across the country, the results are probably similar to those in Texas. And COVID only compounded the problems. Many report that school safety has taken a back seat to health measures such as leaving doors and windows open for ventilation. For many rural communities, where a response takes seconds to minutes or even hours, this choice will surely be the difference between life and death.

Idaho can serve as an example of how to provide school safety well, especially for our rural and remote communities. In Fruitland, retired US Air Force Col. Steven Lambert operates Treasure Valley Classical Academy (TVCA), a K-12 charter school. Col. (ret.) Lambert is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and later a professor. He directed organizations in peace and war, both in heaven and on earth.

TVCA has a fully synchronized NIMS Emergency Action Plan. Faculty and staff are equipped with mobility kits and role-specific checklists. Classrooms are equipped with shelter kits. Local emergency services conduct regular patrols and participate in joint exercises. They have a common vocabulary and know what to expect from both sides when responding to an incident. There is no doubt that there will be command over the incidents that may occur, and command is key. As we saw at Uvalde, indecision is a killer.

Lambert and his team went further in preparing for the school. He created a rigorous approach to the training of first contact defenders by establishing a program of voluntary arming of personnel. The gun program is approved by the TVCA board and synchronized with local law enforcement. Armed men must undergo an annual certification from local law enforcement agencies and are required to keep the currency of the weapon during the year.

“It starts with the school culture,” Lambert says. “A school culture that focuses on character building as well as intellectual development and human dignity, respect and order is sine qua non for safety and security’.

Few schools are fortunate enough to be led by a retired officer with combat experience and experience dealing with the stress of times of great crisis. What’s more, not everyone can have access to someone with my extensive threat protection experience to help their school create a synchronized NIMS plan, training, and everything that goes along with it.

There is no shortage of information and resources available on how to prepare schools for all types of emergencies, including active shooter situations. The problem is human, there are simply not enough experienced warriors and defenders for every school. But there are more of them in Idaho than are currently working in our school. This is especially true because of the great work done by groups like Mission 43. In my role at Bluum, I often encourage those with military and law enforcement experience to go to their local schools and see how you can help.

Don’t wonder where to start. School and district leaders should start by asking themselves five basic questions:

  1. Have you properly planned for emergencies with a school leadership team that should include classroom teachers?
  2. Do you control who can enter the school(s)?
  3. Do staff and students follow established safety protocols, or do they take shortcuts, such as leaving doors open to quickly run to their car or get fresh air?
  4. Do you regularly and rigorously engage with local emergency services?
  5. Do faculty and staff proactively monitor for suspicious behavior or vulnerable blind spots in the school?

To successfully protect your students, you have to start with a plan, and that plan starts with school culture. Arming some of your staff can be helpful, but to make smart decisions, answer these five questions first. Armed personnel or not, he never downplays the importance of planning, training and regular training for the worst case scenario.

About Ray Crowell

Ray Crowell is the Chief Innovation Officer of Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum. He is a US Air Force veteran with extensive experience in planning and countering threats and protecting people.

Read more Ray Crowell stories »

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