At the recent NSCA Business and Leadership Conference, Michele Gay, the mother of a victim of the Sandy Hook school shooting, gave a keynote speech in which she told delegates that communication technology is just as vital as traditional security solutions in schools.
On Friday 14th December 2012, Adam Lanza shot out a glass panel next to the locked front door of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and started a killing spree that resulted in the death of twenty children and six staff members. The door had been locked just five minutes earlier as part of the school's recently upgraded security protocols.
As the shooting started, janitor Rick Thorne put his life in danger by running through the hallway to raise the alarm. Teachers were also alerted to the incident by school secretary Barbara Halstead, who inadvertently activated the school's intercom system when she called 9-1-1. Although a lockdown was quickly initiated, the short delay in communicating the threat resulted in tragedy.
Parents Found Safe and Sound Schools Organization
Two parents of children murdered in the incident, Michele Gay and Alissa Parker, subsequently founded Safe and Sounds Schools - an organization with the mission of finding and sharing the best research-based practices, resources, and tools for school safety. Michelle Gay has since become a nationally-recognized school safety expert who serves as a Director for the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools.
Safe and Sound Schools not only has the objective of helping schools better prepare themselves for an active shooter event, but all manner of security emergencies. The organization has prepared a “Framework for Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development” which encompasses six key categories that together support school safety:
• Mental & Behavioral Health
• Health & Wellness
• Physical Environment
• Culture, Climate & Community
• School Law, Policy & Finance
• Operations & Emergency Management
Michele Addresses NSCA Business and Leadership Conference
In her role as founder of Safe and Sound Schools, Michele frequently gives talks to parent groups, educators, and business organizations; and last month she delivered the keynote speech at the National Systems Contractor Association (NSCA) Business and Leadership Conference - an event for security product manufacturers, consultants, sales representatives, architects, and other allied professionals.
Michele had been invited to speak at the event to help raise awareness of the role technology plays in school safety. Her speech consisted of a powerful and personal timeline of how she lost daughter - Josephine Grace - on December 14th, 2012; and although not blaming the lack of an adequate communications system for her daughter's death, it was clear technology might have made an impact.
In the conclusion to her speech, Michele told attendees that communication technology is just as vital as traditional security solutions in schools, and asked AV and security professionals to take their skills and apply them to “something of immeasurable importance”. She said: “I encourage you to take these difficult lessons and use them for fuel. Keep educating and keep reaching out to schools especially”.
The Key Role of Communications Technology in School Safety
The message of communications technology having a key role in school safety was mirrored by Guy Grace, the chairman of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). Grace was at the conference to accept the Volunteer of the Year Award 2019 for his work on school security and emergency planning, and also for the production of the “PASS School Security Guidelines” (registration required).
The guidelines cover many different areas of school safety and security with a significant emphasis on the importance of fast and reliable communications. Using a similar framework to the Safe and Sound Schools organization, PASS recommends nine best practices that schools can implement in order to protect their environments with technology:
• Public Address System
• E911 Phone System
• Two-Way Intercom System
• Panic Button System
• In-Building Emergency Communication System
• Distributed Antenna System
• Mass Notification System
• Building-Wide Communication from Outside
• Mobile Applications and Social Media
Why Choosing the Right Technology for School Emergencies is Critical
In the Fall of 2018, a webinar featuring 911 Director of Communications for Newtown, Connecticut, Maureen Will and Todd Johnson, Chief Deputy of Newberry County, South Carolina, covered school safety.
The panelists stressed how there's a growing web of tools out there, but only a limited portion can actually make a difference when it comes to preventing and responding to emergencies. The key is to have technology in place that can communicate with 911, while also immediately notifying school staff to initiate appropriate lockdown procedures.