Another School Shooting Means We Learned Nothing from Newtown

Almost one month and two days since the tragic school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 young first-graders were shot by a crazy person with an assault rifle.

That day was one of those moments that you never forget, it’s seared in your brain and you probably know EXACTLY where you were when you heard the news start to trickle out.  I was at Toys R Us with my son and we were buying presents for his young twins.  I was checking Twitter and I saw a brief mention of another shooting.  At first it said, 3 individuals and possibly children, then 5 individuals,  then 12 children and by the time our shopping trip was over, so were the lives of 26 people, mostly innocent little first-graders. And it was only a week before Christmas.

As a security person who’s done lots of security assessments, you can’t help thinking, “What went wrong?”  “What could have prevented this atrocity?”  And there are dozens of potential solutions and who knows what might have made a difference.

Then there’s the day that President Obama signed 23 Executive Orders to tighten up background checks on potential gun owners,  keep track of who purchases guns, requiring federal agencies to make more background-check data available, requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, and providing more training for police, first responders and school officials.  During his announcement, he said, “Let’s do the right thing!”.

We all want to do the right thing, but what IS the right thing, the one thing that will make a difference and significantly reduce gun violence in America?

These Executive Orders are a great start, but we all know the push-back that will come from Congress and the gun lobby, who still want to sell guns, even after they see a photo of a little girl shot, not once, but eleven times.

This was also a big wake up call for schools.  The public schools, colleges and universities seem to wake up every ten years and worry about security, and then they quickly forget and back into worry about academics instead of security and gun violence. Teachers want to TEACH.  Teachers often say, “Security is not my job, my job is to teach and I shouldn’t have to do anything else”.

But SCHOOL SECURITY has to be a process, not just a quick fix.  All security has to be a process.  The process starts with a clear policy.  There has to be an approved policy, whether that policy is a federal guidelines, like FEMA 428, “Primer to Design Safe Schools”, or whether it’s a security policy that mets a schools specific needs.  Without a policy, you have no place to start.

There have to be procedures written up, announced, handed out in 3-ring binders, and accompanied with education and training including drills.

There has to be training and education so people know what to do in an emergency, where to do, who to call, and how to respond.

There have to be annual security risk assessments to gauge the current threats, and measure the effective controls, and make the security program a process of continual improvement.

Without the foundation of policy, procedures, training, education and security assessments, it’s not a security program, it becomes just a grab bag of solutions that may or may not work.

For example – here are just a few of the point solutions we heard about today, endorsed by their own lobby groups:

  • Arming teachers with more guns.
  • Banning all guns on campuses.
  • Securing the school perimeter with chain link fences.
  • Doing more and better background checks.
  • Adding cameras which are constantly monitored.
  • Have an armed School Resource Officer on every campus.
  • Security Awareness courses for teachers.
  • Security awareness training for parents.
  • Giving teachers panic alarms.
  • Improving mental health services.
  • An assault weapons ban.
  • Banning high capacity gun clips.

If it was your children’s school or college, which of these elements would you choose?

Schools are a great leveler of our culture.  Everyone has personal experience with schools.  Everyone went to school once, and many have children in schools, or friends in schools, or know staff and teachers who work in schools, so schools are like a touchstone.  But you could also say “Hospital”, or “Train Station”, or “County Offices” or “Movie Theatre” and to protect these things, there has to be a security program in place.

We, as the security community, are the guardians of society.  We protect things of value.  And nothing has more value than our children.  Security has many other names like safety and emergency planning, and disaster recovery and loss prevention and risk management and violence prevention and information protection, just to name a few.

As a global security community, we should make our voices heard in this great debate, because we have the experience to know what works and what doesn’t and your voices are needed now, more than ever.

This is also a time where the public discussion of security breaks through the chatter and focuses attention on something that is critically important to everyone.   Security professionals have always networked and learned from each other’s experience.

Let’s talk to each other more about what works and share this with the rest of the country.

They need us.

About the Author, “Caroline Ramsey-Hamilton is a leading expert in assessing risk facilities security, workplace violence and security for hospitals, cybersecurity, nuclear security,  and also measuring compliance with security standards like FEMA 426-428, Joint Commission, HIPAA and OSHA. She has developed security programs with the National Security Agency, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institute of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and many other agencies, and has developed a school security risk program with Eastern Kentucky University.

Caroline is a member of the ASIS Physical Security Council,  the ASIS Information Security Security Council, and on the Board of the South Florida chapter of  IAHSS (International Association for Hospital Safety & Security) She received the Distinguished Service award from the Maritime Security Council, and the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board’s  Distinguished Service award in 2011. You can reach Caroline at caroline@riskandsecurity or thru her web site at  She posts breaking security & risk alerts at