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After Uvalde, Safety Is on Every Parent's Mind: 6 Steps to Make Schools Safer


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A new school year begins in the wake of the tragic Uvalde shooting, and safety is on the top of every parent's mind, including mine. How could it not be?

As a veteran Navy SEAL and instructor in armed and unarmed personal defense, I am regularly consulted by school administrators and facility design experts from across the country—helping them develop and establish a school safety protocol. More than ever, the threat of violence hangs over those charged to educate our kids. Many are afraid and unsure of how to prepare for an emergency response.

Several school safety tools have been promoted for years—including Run, Hide, Fight; ALERRT; FASTER; and ALICE. Each method has merit, but I offer some experienced thoughts and tactics to enhance school safety procedures.

The D.E.F.E.N.D. plan outlines a practical approach with tangible steps. It is imperative that school employees and students not only train to know the steps, but train to actually carry them out. Reality-based training is the key to being ready for an emergency.


To protect our children, school faculty must be trained to defend them.

Defense is the broadest and the most effective preparatory step to avert tragedy. Defense applies to small-scale, isolated events like a student assaulting a teacher, or to larger crises like a violent encounter needing security or police response. School faculty must internalize this defense principle: "To get to them you have to go through me."

More than that, teachers and faculty must be trained in how to defend our kids, or else they're just bravely lining up to be the first victim. During the Sandy Hook tragedy, a heroic principal said with her posture, "to get to them you have to go through me," but she had no trained capability to prevent the assailant from murdering her and then the innocent children behind her.


Children need to be trained to know where to go if they have to evacuate the school.

During an emergency, children cannot wonder where to run for safety. The truism, "show them and they remember, tell them and they forget" is a critical lesson. It is not enough to talk about it; there must be plans in place and students must be drilled in evacuation procedures. 


School facilities and classrooms must be built to deny a shooter access to our kids.

A video taken by a student on lockdown during an active shooter situation shows a police officer breaking the small glass window in the door, reaching in and unlocking the classroom. If the officer can force entry into a locked classroom within five seconds, an active shooter could too. There are many effective products and building designs that address this issue.

Able Nation — a non-profit I founded to help churches, schools and civic groups increase safety and security — has developed a prototype school building that incorporates protective "courtyard designs." These designs implement low-cost response measures that drastically reduce the chance of an armed attack and are more efficient in defending children in the event of such an attack. I plan to build and test a real-world model of this school and then offer it to school systems nationwide.

All school employees should be trained to conduct CPR, apply a tourniquet, pack a wound, apply a chest seal and other first aid.
There are a number of organizations that conduct excellent training in first response emergency medical aid. For example, Stop The Bleed is a national initiative that teaches tourniquets and wound packing. This class equips school employees to potentially save a life. School systems should make this type of training mandatory.
NOTIFY Others & DIAL 911: 

School facilities must incorporate technology into emergency response plans. One obvious step is to equip schools with systems that notify others on campus of an emergency and simultaneously dial 911 to alert first responders.
Depending on the size and layout of school facilities, there could be active gunfire on campus without the whole school knowing. There are "panic-button" type emergency systems that use a range of alerts to inform everyone on campus of an emergency and what type. 
This kind of tool, though, is not a replacement for trained human beings but can help a human response be more effective. 
For example, in my town we boast a three-minute response time, but if the call for help doesn't go out for ten minutes, that's thirteen minutes. We have seen what devastation can be wrought in thirteen minutes. 
Like any other part of the D.E.F.E.N.D. plan, implemented technology must be part of the comprehensive safety training done by faculty and students, lest it be forgotten entirely or its usefulness impeded in a real emergency. 
I must stress: trained humans must respond quickly to an emergency or else the situation will end in disaster, regardless of how much technology is part of the response.
A new school year is an important time to model a healthy "Safety Culture." Set the tone now to establish a solid baseline for safety that can be built upon throughout the school year. It is up to us to protect our children.

Jimmy Graham is a Centennial Institute Fellow in Community Safety and CEO of Able Shepherd, which provides hands-on training in both armed and unarmed skills to face the growing problem of life-threatening situations. Graham is a veteran U.S. Navy SEAL and former Protective Officer for the CIA's Global Response Staff.

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