School shootings are unfortunately impacting K-12 schools and districts across the United States every year. With the increased threats, schools are making a huge effort to prepare by running efficient school safety drills and lockdowns, installing school safety technologies such as metal detectors, and employing more school resource officers or extra security personnel on campus to make sure they’re ready if a tragedy was ever to strike. But what about school sporting events?
Although the Parkland school shooting tragedy, as well as many others, have shown school shooters have targeted students and faculty in hallways, classrooms, and from within the school building, there has been a recent focus on the reality that an active assailant incident doesn’t always happen within school walls. A New York Times article brings shocking statistics of after school shootings that have impacted school sports games, either from a targeted shooting inside a stadium or an altercation outside or nearby a school sporting event.
According to a New York Times analysis:
- Since 2013, there have been at least 108 incidents of gunfire around school sporting events in 36 states
- Most of those had some link to basketball or football
- About three in four were in the South and Midwest, regions where high school sports are widely popular
“There’s a growing problem there and we know that it’s not some spurious thing — it’s something systematic,” said Justin Kurland, a researcher at the University of Southern Mississippi’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. “How many of these have to happen before the schools and first responders start to take this more seriously?”
School Safety After School: A Security Gap
In this day and age, educators know what to do if a gunman was ever to storm into the school. It’s the after-school events such as proms, welcome back to school nights, and large sporting events such as football and basketball games that schools aren’t adequately prepared for.
Back in September 2019, students, parents, teachers, and school staff gathered at Jeannette High Schools after school football game. As the team comfortably lead in the fourth quarter of the game, Matthew Jones, the school superintendent, received news that there had been gunfire at the stadium gate. One spectator lay dying outside of the gates and the public address announcer directed fans to evacuate the stadium. Unfortunately, many fans stayed put including members of the marching band who lay down in the bleachers.
“We train extensively, but we had trained for events that would take place inside the school or on the school grounds,” said Mr. Jones, who had fortified school buildings with grant money and participated in active-shooter drills. “What we had not really trained for was an open venue with patrons, with people from a different school district.”
According to the New York Times, witnesses informed police that they saw one man elbow another, who then reacted, pulled a gun, and started shooting.
“In an event like this where you expect people to come and have a good time and not have any issues, it’s just one of those things,” said Chief Ron Applin of the Atlanta Public Schools police. “Anybody could get a gun into the stadium, probably.”
There’s an intense focus on security during classroom hours which has not been carried over to after-school events and activities. When an active assailant or safety threat has occurred after-school, those in charge have been left without prevention measures as well as plans for how to respond.
What Can Schools Do
Unfortunately, many schools have waited until after a shooting at an after-school event has occurred to improve security. Both a lack of awareness about the risks of school events and hugely limited resources when it comes to hiring additional police and security officers, installing metal detectors, and developing training - which could cost thousands of dollars - are all reasons schools have waited.
According to the New York Times, the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security has an informative 188-page best practice guide which calls for security screenings at every entrance as well as having the police run drills on what to do if a gunman appears. The guide also recommends that schools install metal detectors and limit patrons to clear bags, which is becoming a trend for large-scale football events at higher education institutions.
A free online training course was also released last summer, which was funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Within the guide there are teaching materials to educate police officers and educators on how to limit security risks at after-school activities.
Many schools have adopted mobile panic button applications that allow users to simultaneously alert staff, 9-1-1, and first responders of any kind of school emergency. The technology alerts 9-1-1 and first responders with critical information such as the type of emergency as well as the location of where the incident is occurring or has occurred. 9-1-1 can also initiate check-ins with those on-site to check location data, see who may be injured, and the current status of the situation to better direct the first responders arriving on scene. This technology can shave minutes off response times, which could ultimately save lives.
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