We’ve now had some time to process the tragic violence at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX – yet another senseless tragedy where the lives of children and their teachers were taken way too early. The suffering of the families is unimaginable. Reactions reflect the diversity of our country as we try to grapple with solutions to a problem that has so many roots. For nearly two decades, Rave Mobile Safety has been closely following active shooter incidents and trying to identify how we can help reduce the likelihood or at least mitigate the impact of these events. Sadly, the frequency of them continues to increase (see the FBI’s latest statistics) and many share common themes and characteristics. The good news is that there are actions we can take locally and immediately to address the issues (and they don’t require legislative changes, and in many cases, little to no additional resources).
If You See Something, Say Something
This phrase was originally trademarked by the New York Transit Authority, later licensed and launched by the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, and remains extremely applicable today. In almost every hostile event in the past two decades, including those that have thrust school safety into the spotlight, someone or multiple people either knew or suspected the assailant was considering violent action. Why did they not report it? That is something I’m sure each individual has had to come to grips with on their own; however, there are some things we can do to remove the barriers to reporting troubling or threatening behavior. First, work to create a culture where reporting something is recognized as helping people (both potential victims as well as the potential perpetrator) and not being a “snitch” or “rat”. Constant education about the fact you are helping and providing an anonymous way to report suspected threats is essential. Florida’s statewide anonymous reporting solution, FortifyFL, serves as a great model. As we’ve seen with today’s virtual society, the person who becomes aware of the threat may not be down the street and might not know whom to report it to, even if they decide to act. The broader the applicability of the solution, the better. While a school–specific solution email tip line is a great start, casting a much wider net that is not bound by geography and providing multiple means of communication (app, phone line, texting, web forms, etc.) is even better.
Act Swiftly and Decisively
Just as important as getting a tip is acting on it. Across the country different jurisdictions have taken on different models for responding to reports – from routing tips to local school officials, to state homeland security agencies, to third party call centers that triage the tips and then hunt down the right people to respond. Personally, I think a direct response model is most effective. We have seen that the fears of being overwhelmed with tips are unwarranted; regardless, all tips need to be followed up on. Mental health resources should be identified, engaged, and escalation procedures put in place to bring in law enforcement, as necessary. We can no longer write off potential threats as pranks without investigating. Swift and decisive responses will have a chilling effect on pranksters while also identifying and sending help to those who truly represent a risk to themselves and others. As we saw in Oxford, MI, indecisiveness on the behalf of parents and administrators brings significant risk and even liability.
Increase Collaboration and Communication Among 9-1-1, Responders and Those on Site
9-1-1 centers (Public Safety Answering Points or PSAPs) serve as incident command for the critical first minutes of a response and often for the duration of many incidents. They are generally the first to be notified of the unfolding incident, identifying the location and nature of the emergency, and quickly dispatching resources to the scene. Unfortunately, this critical lynchpin is often not part of response planning or not fully leveraged.
Today, more robust and automated solutions exist to ensure that dispatchers and supervisors have current lists of mobile phone numbers for local school officials and resource officers. The availability of such contact information, and other key data, can be game-changing in the midst of chaos. Precious minutes and lives can also be saved when communities put geography-based rules into effect so that on-scene resources are notified when a threat exists or is identified near a facility. For example, in Uvalde, the assailant was identified by a 911 caller near the school several minutes before he attacked the school itself. Had a geo rule protocol been established, public safety officers and school resources would have been notified of the nearby incident, and taken action to lock doors, initiate evacuations, and engage the threat outside of the facility.
We simply can’t be naïve about what happens in these PSAP centers – often it’s just one or two people answering a flood of calls and trying to quarterback a response over multiple radio frequencies. Even in bigger centers, it is unrealistic to expect that manual steps will suffice during the madness and “fog of war”. This is where automation can be a huge help. Mobile panic buttons or alarms can facilitate immediate connections between responders and those on site whose immediate actions will impact the outcome of the incident. Some computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems allow for triggers on certain events and more sophisticated CAD call out and situational awareness systems with powerful rules engines can help identify at-risk scenarios, automate the notification process, and even codify escalation workflows. Regardless of the method, improving communication between all parts of the response chain is critical.
Change the Hostile Event Narrative
Winston Churchill wisely said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There are common threads that run through each of these events – red flags that we need to better prepare and respond.
I am proud of those that, as part of their calling, work to prevent these tragedies. Thinking daily about how this might happen under their watch is an almost unbearable weight. We all owe it to our children, friends, and loved ones to continue to evaluate what has worked, what hasn’t, and what we can do better to help those in charge to shoulder this incredible responsibility.
CEO Rave Mobile Safety