Safe Schools

In early January a 34 year old English teacher, and mother of three, was talking with two students as they left baseball practice at a public High School in a trendy neighborhood. A few minutes into their conversation the group was approached by two men. Both were in their early thirties, one had prior convictions for aggravated assault, while the other was released from prison a week earlier after serving nine years for kidnapping and rape. There was little the teacher and two students could do to defend themselves from the unexpected assault – a violent attack which left them unconscious in a parking lot until an assistant coach found them later and called 9-1-1.

Two days earlier I met with a school Superintendent to discuss the rationale and logistics to allow licensed teachers to carry their legal firearms to protect themselves and defend their students against an active shooter. It was instructional for me as I learned first-hand how this senior administrator sought to satisfy his constituent’s desire for security. He argued that since parents and residents had not asked to arm teachers, he felt it was his duty to provide security through other means. He pointed out the hundreds of cameras that were recently installed and funded through a bond issue. The Superintendent was excited about having a recording of any event. He was more comfortable telling parents there was nothing he could do than to deal with another “distracting program” or the possibility a teacher might lose control of a weapon inside one of his schools. He did not understand the difference between safety and liability, and although he acknowledged security could only be offered through an immediate response to danger, he chose to support solutions measured in minutes on a timescale that must be mapped to seconds.

This Superintendent preferred optics to action and logic and reason were wasted on him. Moreover when he asked us what data existed to show that armed teachers provided a safer environment he cut us off before we finished explaining that police stations and other offices where guns were frequently available had a much lower incidence of gun violence – his response was “Those people are trained.” That’s a lot of faith in a curriculum he’s never seen, but it also dismisses the possibility that Safe Schools could require the same level of training required for law enforcement Officers.

Gun Free Zones are a misnomer. They imply security where there is none. Most arguments in favor of gun free zones simply ignore that by definition a criminal will not follow the rules. Rules that in most cities prevent teachers from defending themselves, even while many of them are capable of maintaining the skills required to carry a concealed weapon and apply good judgment about situations where they may be needed. Safe schools would mean qualified teachers can carry without diminishing the educational environments administrators, teachers and students strive for. Let me show you how.

The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program is an excellent proxy for arming teachers. This is a cost effective program that places responsibility for safety with potential victims and recognizes that seconds count. Following 9/11 pilots were allowed to carry fire arms in the cockpits of commercial aircraft, as long as they met the training and licensing criteria to be an FFDO. This continues to be a voluntary program and at one point almost half of all commercial pilots flying for major US carriers were enrolled. The FFDO program has overwhelming support from passengers, Government officials, and the public. It serves as an existence proof that pilots can do their jobs and flights depart and arrive on time safely. Guns in the cockpit have not proven to distract pilots’ attention from their core responsibilities. What makes teaching so different? Do we view pilots as old marine corps fighter jocks – they’re men and they can handle a gun, while teachers are thirty year old Moms who drive mini-vans to work and don’t know the difference between a revolver and an AR-15? I suspect stereotypes play a role.

Members in both the FFDO program, and the Sky Marshals, those dedicated armed special agents in the sky, have lost or discharged firearms since 9/11, some inside security, but none of those situations led to disaster, and it’s unlikely that a voluntary program that allows teachers and administrators to carry concealed in school would have a different outcome, but it would put potential shooters on notice – This School is NOT a gun free zone.

Here’s a roadmap for real security:

  • Start with the goal – Allow capable teachers and staff members to carry concealed weapons in schools.
  • First, map your school districts decision-making structure: Principals, Superintendent, Board, City Manager, Police Chief, Security Manager or Security Consultant.
  • Next determine who understands the distinction between real security (responses measured in seconds vs. minutes or longer) and who has a desire to implement actual security measures.
  • Then determine who the decision-makers are, and what pressures (constituent, budgetary, human resources, etc) they are under. You must uncover how they are measured – graduation rates, test scores, etc.
  • Collect data about the number and percent of teachers and staff who have prior military or LE experience. Gather data about the number who have a CHL. Additionally, interview some of those teachers to get their opinions about an FFDO like program for teachers.
  • Meet with Superintendents and Board Members, but plan to “Teach” them how to “buy” from you.  Example: “we’ve met with other members of the board and a number of your teachers and parents and they support our position.” Share real stories from parents and teachers and the data you’ve already collected – these provide a great starting point for your discussion.
  • Continue to gather supporters until you have a security program that addresses the threats facing your kids.

There’s little cost to this program – unlike paid security guards (many unarmed), the teachers volunteer their time for a license and their money for equipment and training. You could even use a school fundraiser to donate ammunition for teachers’ quarterly qualifications, and the local police department should be engaged to conduct quarterly training and certification. All this is available immediately and places “first responders” where they’re needed – at the scene, without delay, and every school could do this without spending incremental funds.

The real story about the teacher attacked in the parking lot ended differently. In early January a teacher shot two attackers in a school parking lot. One of them died at the scene while another was transported to a hospital. How do you feel about this now? Does it matter that this seventy-year old teacher’s heroic actions actually enhanced the sense of security at his school?

He was walking two girls to their cars in the parking lot after Basketball practice when one of two attackers grabbed the chain around his neck. This took place in Detroit, and he was armed since he is a Reserve Police Officer.  Why should he be allowed to protect himself, while every other teacher in that school is prohibited from carrying a handgun? These are important things to think about and even more important to act on.

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Risk Management

Security Considerations for Travel to the Sochi Olympic Games

If you’re planning to attend the Olympics in Sochi keep reading for tips to avoid becoming a victim while you’re there.

Several weeks ago I posted an article about rising crime in Venezuela and how armored cars provide exceptional security value. In the interim former Ms. Venezuela, Monica Spear, and her ex-husband, Thomas Henry Berry, were murdered by bandits after their car was disabled by flat tires. Although an armored car may not have prevented this outcome, the run-flat feature alone would have given them time to distance themselves from the road-block and may have saved them. Their five-year old daughter was also in the car, but survived the attack with a bullet wound to her leg.

Ms. Spear’s tragic death occured the same week I was planning a trip to El Salvador – a dangerous place adjacent to Honduras and relatively close to Venezuela. Although security is always part of my pre-trip planning, I decided to compare medical evacuation, legal, and security support providers. I contacted Travel Guard, International SOS and the Anvil Group to compare their products.

What I asked about – What they offer- What I need

When I think about support…I don’t mean a check to replace a lost ipad, or missing luggage. Insurance is not a substitute for 9-1-1, and most of the time travelers must be their own first responders. When I think about support I mean the lawyer who appears at the local police station after an impaired driver destroyed my rental car and shoved it onto a crowded sidewalk after running a red light. I mean the paramedic who runs into the local clinic to have my co-worker moved to a private clinic in the capital before someone makes a life-changing decision about his or her treatment. I am not interested in insurance coverage that pairs me with someone who met the minimimum standards for their profession. When it counts I want an expert. Money is not the limiting factor in the types of situations I want to avoid. I want Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction.

The providers (click to enlarge):

Security Providers lg

All three provide medical advice and support evacuation in an emergency. International SOS is the clear leader in this category globally, while Travel Guard seemed to have a stronger focus on insurance than as a care provider. The Anvil Group is the clear front-runner if you are looking for personal protection – from a driver through a VIP security detail. Medical care is integral to Executive Protection so the Anvil Group offers a range of products that fit my ideas about security.

At a minimum, travelers who don’t want to shell out cash before departure should be knowledgable about the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It offers many of the benefits available through for-profit providers, but emergencies that drive high contact volume (terrorism, typhoons, Earthquakes, Volcanoes) will put you in a long que so the private provider double your odds for support – and they’ll discuss your needs if you find a need for their services in-transit.

Back to the Olympics. Sochi offers a very real threat from extremist groups. Follow a few steps and you’ll minimize your exposure to that risk.

Extremists are drawn towards newsworthy, soft targets – western hotels, the main entrance to public transportation hubs, and any open-air venue where people are concentrated before they are funneled through security checkpoints.

  1. Use taxis and cars, but avoid buses and trains.
  2. Stay in a locally-branded hotel; if you must stay in a globally recognized hotel, always use a side entrance.
  3. When you leave your hotel leave a note to yourself at the front desk. Include your plans for the day and contact details for anyone else you may be traveling with.
  4. If you are staying at a globally branded hotel, avoid the hotel restaraunt.
  5. At sporting events, use less-crowded, side-entrances.
  6. Avoid spending more time than necessary in high-profile public spaces. Arrive to events well before the crowds or after they have subsided.
  7. Be alert.

Have fun and enjoy the games.

If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and enjoy your trips check out these posts on related topics:

  1. Trip Planning for India
  2. Travel Risk Management and Trip Safety
  3. The Safest Room in Every Hotel
  4. Vehicles are Deadly

You can follow me on twitter @paul_laherty, or find me on Linkedin.

Risk Management