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Veteran Navy SEAL Develops DEFEND Protocol to Address America's School Shooting Crisis

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On April 20, 1999, two students walked into Columbine High School and opened fire. In the 24 years since 13 people were killed at the school, there have been nearly 380 school shootings, exposing hundreds of children to gun violence, and revealing an epidemic that's yet to find a cure.

In the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, children, parents, and officials once again find themselves struggling with how to keep schools safe.

"The children of this country are demanding action. Our classrooms have become killing fields. Is that acceptable," questioned House Minority Leader Hakeen Jeffries (D-NY)

"I don't think that a piece of legislation would solve this. We have got to deal with mental illness," said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

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School security has grown to a $3 billion industry with investments in everything from video surveillance technology to bulletproof doors and electronic locks. But while technology is important, experts say it likely would not prevent the next attack.

"When people are the problem, people are always going to be the solution," said Jimmy Graham, CEO and founder of Able Shepherd, an elite active shooter training program in Denver, Colorado.

Graham said it's people knowing exactly what to do in an emergency that saves lives.

"So I'll walk into an institution and I'll say, 'Can I talk to this lady right here?' I said, 'Ma'am, what would you do if you heard gunshots?' She says, 'I don't know.' So that's what we need to start," Graham explained.

Drawing on his background as a Navy SEAL and his involvement with the CIA's Global Response Staff, Graham developed DEFEND. The acronym stands for Defense, Evacuate, Fortify, Emergency Medical Aid, Notify Others, and Dial 911. It's a strategy based on international safety protocols.

"There's an unbelievably efficient model for protecting our diplomats overseas, but not our children. So why is that? Because it's the same model. And what I've done is I've scaled it and said we don't need some of this stuff, it's not applicable, and to bring that back home and place the principles. Here's the defensive principle: to get to them, you have to go through me," Graham told CBN News.

Able Shepherd also provides training for those likely to respond to active shooter situations, whether that be an individual, a security team, law enforcement, or even faculty.

The training is reality-based, allowing those who go through it to experience live scenarios.

Graham stresses that even with all the right tools, security plans won't work if school leaders don't maintain the proper environment.

"The best way to describe would be this. I get a whole faculty together and I say, 'Whose job is it to protect this place,' and everybody, at the same time, says, 'Mine,'" Graham noted.

In 1999, as a first responder at Columbine, Deacon Ernie Martinez experienced the moment the country realized children weren't safe at school.

"A big wakeup call was twofold. I think number one is evil does exist without any reason for it. Right. And number two is it woke us up to not only law enforcement training but as a community as a whole that everybody should participate," Martinez told CBN News.

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Now retired after 40 years in law enforcement, Martinez is the director of deacons for the Archdiocese of Denver. Among his roles, helping schools in his Archdiocese come up with security plans.

"The important thing is its collaboration, leveraging assets, partnering with local law enforcement, because we have parishes, churches, and schools all across Northern Colorado, and everybody is in their own different financial statuses, right?  So you need to partner with your local law enforcement. You need to partner with local schools, whether they're public schools or not," Martinez said.

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About The Author

Caitlin Burke Headshot

Caitlin Burke serves as National Security Correspondent and a general assignment reporter for CBN News. She has also hosted the CBN News original podcast, The Daily Rundown. Some of Caitlin’s recent stories have focused on the national security threat posed by China, America’s military strength, and vulnerabilities in the U.S. power grid. She joined CBN News in July 2010, and over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to cover stories both domestically and abroad. Caitlin began her news career working as a production assistant in Richmond, Virginia, for the NBC affiliate WWBT