Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Take away the element of surprise

The much maligned Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, said, "The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun." Unfortunately, this is mostly true, as these sprees tend to end only when police arrive -- the shooter takes his own life, or the police do. Still, the idea of armed security at schools is one that should be considered. In fact, there are some schools that already have this in place. However, having armed security at schools is controversial, and even if approved, implementing this will take time and money. Further, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said these measures are "not conducive to a positive learning environment." 

But what about watch dogs? Schools already employ lots of security measures: locked doors requiring visitors to buzz in, scanning of drivers' licenses, wearing name tags, checking into the front office upon arrival and departure. It appears that Sandy Hook Elementary had many of these procedures in place. Instead of complying with protocol, the shooter gained entry after shooting out a window. It was only that commotion that alerted the front office to jump into action, which they bravely did. If they had had just a few seconds more notice of the shooter, even unarmed, they likely would have been better able to deal with the situation.

This awareness, which will provide a jump on the bad guys, is arguably even more important than being armed with a similar weapon. These shooters rely on two things: possessing a weapon that cannot be met with like force, and something which seems to have been overlooked -- the element of surprise.

While we can debate how to meet force with force, or banning the force altogether, it should be not be controversial to agree that eliminating the element of surprise can be easily implemented and requires little to no money. It calls for parents or community volunteers to organize roaming unarmed patrols during school hours. Parents clamor for opportunities to help out at school -- you will see them in the front office, in the classrooms, putting together fundraisers and teacher appreciation days. It's not far-fetched to believe that they would also be strongly supportive of a parent patrol.

These patrols could be comprised of volunteers who have had some type of security awareness training -- police departments put these on all over the country. Perhaps there is one already that can serve as a model specific to school security. Parents could spend a few hours and certify on a Saturday morning. A background check should be incorporated, which cost might be borne by the volunteer. Once cleared and certified to become a patrol member, these parents organize into patrols, perhaps through the PTA, and commit to however much time they have to be present at the school for a few hours during the school day. 
Some parents may be able to come frequently, others maybe only once a month. Others may not be able to come at all, but those parents are still frequently involved in other school supportive activities.

The purpose of the patrols is strictly for awareness. They would be serving as a lookout for the school, allowing teachers and students to enjoy the day of learning, instead of having to be hypervigilant about each shadow that passes in front of their classroom door. Removing the element of surprise from these shooters is an essential factor in defeating their ability to harm unsuspecting innocents.

Here's how the patrol might work: A two parent team walks the grounds during school hours. They pay particular attention to entry points on the grounds. They survey the parking lot. (Perhaps a lookout could be stationed permanently in the parking lot to prevent an intruder from simply driving in.) They have the ability to observe those who approach the school. They can alert emergency services and begin safety plans before an intruder gains entry to the school. If an intruder does gain entry to the school, they are already in the mindset to put a safety plan into action -- directing students to safe areas, perhaps even providing distractions or obstacles to the shooter in certain circumstances, although they should never be expected to personally confront the shooter, only to sound the alarm. Some may be comfortable in direct confrontation, but that would not be the purpose of the patrol.

The patrol can be more extensive and refined. There can be more than one patrol, particularly depending on the size of the school, and a patrol could consist of only one person, though two is probably better for communication and safety purposes. The patrols would carry their own cell phones, or an inexpensive walkie-talkie system would help keep them in touch with the front office. Schools would review safety plans with the patrols in mind, perhaps in conjunction with law enforcement, and run through scenarios that incorporate the capabilities of the patrols.

These measures would be valuable in both dealing with an actual attack, but also in providing a deterrent effect. By making a place, such as a school, much less of a soft target, potential attackers will have more factors to consider in carrying out their plans. Law enforcement often reminds us to make ourselves less of a target to prevent crime. This same concept applies to protecting our schools, and it can be done without having to settle the gun control debate -- which seems to be more about scoring political points than protecting our children. The patrols would provide added protection against any type of attack -- not just one where someone approaches with a gun.

Volunteer patrols are one thing, aside from a teacher with a gun, that may have stopped the atrocity at Sandy Hook. Had someone seen the shooter approaching the school, a safety plan could have been launched a few seconds earlier. Announcements could have been sent out over the PA to lockdown the classrooms, or get to a safe place -- the simple knowledge that an intruder was on the premises would have given teachers a precious few seconds to secure their students. The teachers in the front office would have known to secure their area (and maybe given them time to grab their guns if allowing teachers concealed carry was something the community decided to do). Most importantly, stripping the shooter of the essential element of surprise would have severely crippled his ability to be successful.

This plan calls for minimal cost, but maximum community support. These days, everything seems to be reduced to the level of cost benefit analysis. This plan presents an excellent ratio in favor of implementation. The costs are minimal and it is less prone to having a downside than having armed security at schools. There is little harm that can come from having an unarmed attentive parent on school grounds whose sole purpose is to watch for dangerous people trying to enter the school. Certainly it is not a foolproof plan to protect the children, but it goes a long way toward removing the essential element of surprise in these attacks, and it does so in such a way that avoids additional violence.


  1. NO! Unarmed patrols will be likely sacrifices to PC stupidity. What works is discreet carry on campus (perhaps the army vet repairman, the gym teacher? who voulenteer).

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog. I am not opposed to allowing our school personnel being armed, but I don't see that happening overnight or without a lot of community division.