Defending our Students – Efficient Response to an Active Shooter

In the previous article on school security I discussed various forms of perimeter protection.  As a part of that article I referred to the Concentric Rings of Security in NFPA 730.  They are Deter, Detect, Delay and Respond.  This article will detail the most important part of those rings, “Respond”.

Continuing on, let’s examine how you can provide a more secure interior to the building or buildings in question.  First, I should define the building structure. This system for the most part deals with those buildings with central hallways having limited entrances and exits.  I realize that many schools, especially in the south and west, have very open campuses and buildings with doors to the classrooms being exterior doors.  There are no central hallways.  Certain elements of this system, may be employed, however the issues on those campuses are better dealt with by elements described in the article on Perimeter Control.

For purposes of this article I will deal with those structures that have central hallways.  Main entries to the structure should have a true vestibule set up, with a set of exterior doors and a set of interior doors capable of producing a Man Trap.  The areas should be, but are not limited to; the main administrative offices, athletic facilities, auditoriums, and any other site that the public might be directed to.

A part of school security that is seldom mentioned, is the potential for parental interference with a student.  There may be an effort by a non-custodial parent to take their son or daughter; but by court action they have an injunction against them.  While not as widely published, it is an area to be concerned about.  By employing a Visitor Management system, drivers’ licenses can be scanned for any outstanding issues.  If properly set up the visitor is in the vestibule as the license in being scanned.  If there are any issues you can deny access to the interior of the facility.  Visitor management can also be used to track tours of a facility, assuring administrators of the security of the people touring and of others who are not regularly a part of the facility

Video Analytics, are also a part of interior protection.  Not only for background object recognition but also for tracking an incident.  Analytics are a very necessary component of the alert system for an active shooter, which will be discussed later in the article.

A critical and rapidly growing issue throughout the country, is the frequency of card cloning Kiosks that are appearing in malls and convenience stores.  The 125KHz card (standard access control card for most systems) has now become less secure as a result and it is my suggestion that facilities, especially educational institutions begin to migrate to the 13.56MHz cards for the added security in their access control systems.  Any new construction, or installation of an access system should begin with a “Smart Card”, not the standard 125KHz proximity card.

The primary goal of this article is to address the problem that continues to haunt this country and that is an active shooter.  In order to protect the greatest number of students during an attack, I suggest you begin by segmenting or “zoning” the school. The purpose of this action is to limit a shooter from moving throughout a building, thus exposing a greater number of students to their violence.  Segmenting can be done using cross-corridor doors, but is perhaps best accomplished by using Security Grilles.  These grilles will provide a barrier to any attacker who is trying to move from one zone to another.  They should automatically engage on lock-down but can be controlled by responders either remotely by means of the access control system, or on site by proper school personnel, if necessary.  They do not take up corridor space and are difficult to breach.  In creating these zones, particular care should be taken to allow egress from each zone to exterior in the event that an incident begins within that zone.

In evaluating your institutions, I suggest that areas of mass congregation be zones unto themselves.  cafeterias, auditoriums, and athletic facilities should be sectioned off from classroom areas, school offices.  If the structure has multiple wings with classes, then each wing may be considered a zone.

Within these zones, I suggest that classrooms should have access control devices.  To hardwire all the classroom doors can be extremely costly.  However, in this case a WiFi lock can be used.  The function of this lock should be a Storeroom function.  The Storeroom function is defined as a lock that has a fixed exterior lever, which can never be unlocked. The interior lever will always allow egress.  An access card or credential is presented to the reader that is an integral part of the lock and the lock unlocks to allow entry into the room.  A faculty member can then prop the door open so that students can enter the classroom.  In the event that a Lockdown is required, that is accomplished by simply closing the door, no locking by key should be required.  The suggested procedure, once an alert is broadcast, is to close the door, turn off the lights and have the students sit against the wall that is common to the corridor.  If the school is zoned correctly, then this action affords the greatest protection.

For those who are opponents of “shelter in place” and advocate sending people to bunkers, or to exterior, how can you be certain that the students are not heading into a shooter with an automatic weapon?  How do you know what is happening and where it is?  Do you know that an incident is in a static location?  Do you know how many shooters may be involved?  Has someone begun an attack to get students out of the building into the field of fire for automatic weapons?   You don’t know any of the answers to those questions and as such cannot make decisions based on assumptions.

How should we begin to respond to an active shooter or other emergency and how do we put a school in lockdown?  There are various devices that can be used.  Among those are Gunshot Detectors, emergency buttons, and wireless transponders.  To further define the use of and function of the wireless transponder, receivers in each zone will be set for directional areas of coverage that will correspond to the zone as set up.  The receiving unit will pick up the signal from a transponder in the possession of and activated by a faculty or staff member or any other authorized individual within a school and the system will immediately respond.  We know that the potential for a staff member to witness the beginning of an incident may be rare, thus the other devices are necessary.  As the system triggers a lockdown, it should also activate an audio system that will produce an appropriate message throughout the school. A suggested message might be “This school is in lockdown, Zones 1, 2,4 and 5 shelter in place.  This indicates that there is a serious incident in Zone 3.  As to procedures in Zone 3, I will leave that to the various community practices.  They vary widely and I will not presume to establish a protocol that fits all.  By blocking an attackers’ movement throughout the building, and having students shelter in place in those protected zones, you offer the greatest protection.

The activation will immediately trigger the access control system and automated procedures will be put in play to respond to the incident.  In all cases the Situation Manager and Global linkage are critical to the system design.

To date most incidents have been communicated by calling 911.  Regrettably, that is no longer effective in most communities.  A traditional 911 call takes on average 4 minutes.  By the time a person gets to and dials a phone, explains the problem; the Police are notified and the situation is explained, the most damaging part of the incident has already occurred.  For rural communities that do not have a central police or fire department, it may still be necessary.  However, the single most effective means of response to an incident is by a Federated Command and Control Mapping system integrated into the access system.  Once a signal is received by the access system and the lockdown commences, the mapping system will immediately transmit a map of the structure to the local Police Department.  The zone of activation will be highlighted and all cameras within that zone will appear at the Police department.  It is the grouping of and transmission of the cameras that requires the Video Analytics system.   Within seconds, the Police can begin to roll their officers with full “eyes on” the problem.  There will be no excuses about entering the zone of activation, as the attacker will be in full view.  The school will already be in a lock down condition, and audio messages directing students as to how to proceed will have been sent.  As this is happening, the 911 caller is still trying to explain the incident.  For the most part a local Police Department can have officers on scene in less than 2 minutes, — the 911 caller is still talking.  It is technology that is the defining difference between old and new processes and defines the “Response” section of the Concentric Rings of Protection.

The response to the incident is now being controlled by a commander at the PD.  They can direct their officers to a safe entry into the building by unlocking doors through the mapping client.  This image can also be presented at a security office, or main office within the school, so that school officials can also begin to respond to the incident.

Once the officers are ready to attack the perpetrator, another option can be available. That is a dry sprinkler system.  A dry system can be zoned in accordance with the security zoning.  It can be activated through a click of the mouse by the commanding officer.  This will cause a shooter, to “assume a defensive stance” for up to 5 or 6 seconds.  While that is not a lot of time, the police can make full use of that to take the attacker down.  No other response system can give as much information in as short a time as this.

In addition to the notification to the Police other procedures may be employed.  Among those might be “killing all cell communication”.  Why?  There have been incidents where the students through the immediacy of text or email messages can reach out to their parents to tell them what is going on prior to the police being dispatched.  Parents have then sped to the school, blocking first responders from getting there.  Let the first responders do their work.  Additionally, an attacker with accomplices will not be able to transmit information to those accomplices.

While the defense against the active shooter is our primary area of concern and the subject of this article, there exists the potential for other issues in our schools, such as fire, natural gas leaks, and weather emergencies.  The Situation Manager will be programmed for the various actions defined by the emergency.  For example, a natural gas leak will require a different set of first responders than an active shooter.  The system needs to be able to recognize the difference and respond accordingly.  What devices can be used as alert mechanisms to trigger the access system to respond?  Certainly, the traditional fire alarms, flow values, or environmental sensors, can cause the software to respond in accordance with the situation, and the first responders may be Firemen, or EMT’s.  Like the police in an active shooter, they can have full control of the situation.   The messages broadcast through the school will be very different as students will be led away from the emergency.  The fire department then will have notification on the device activation as all of their devices will be identified on the mapping program.  Their actions can be positive and direct in the correction of the problem.

In certain areas of the country you may have weather emergencies such as tornados. Triggers for notification can come from school officials who have reports from various sources. As with the active shooter or fire emergency, audio systems will signal actions to be taken while the access system will unlock areas for safe haven.

A proper mapping program will allow for the customization of and placement of icons that represent all devices being used in the building.  The linking of those icons to inputs and outputs that are a part of the access system, so that by a mouse click on an icon, the desired result is achieved.  A click on a door icon will unlock the door.  A click on a sprinkler icon will activate the sprinkler.  Each of these activations are in addition to the standard use of these devices.  Alarm panel locations, and fire panel locations all can be mapped.   The mapping is not intended to control the components of a fire system, only to give information to the respondents.

A properly designed access control system is at the core of all that can be done to prevent or minimize problems that are plaguing our schools today.  Since the above actions are dependent on a network-based access system, it becomes critical that the system have multiple fiber connections between all structures with dummy feeds to prevent compromise.  Fail safe redundant servers will be used to insure continued communication.  These servers will be located in a controlled and secure location.

In reviewing the various access control systems on the market, I suggest that a proper system will be an Interoperable software product.  A properly designed system will allow multiple manufactures to integrate with it, so as to give the end user options.  As an example, you may be able to choose from 3 different Video Analytic products.  In short it is flexible, scalable and will meet your needs.  It should offer an Active Directory interface so as to link it to other programs for data entry and deletion and most of all must be a network-based product with sufficient security within the software to prevent, or at least deter hackers. Perhaps the greatest benefit of an inter-operable product is the ability to change with advancing technologies.  Fully integrated systems are captive to the components in them and cannot change to keep up with the growth of new technology.

I have encountered people who see access control systems as being restrictive or confining.  They see them as an element of “Big Brother” — wanting to control others.  Consider this as an example of the freedom that access systems can allow you.  Through the proper set up and design of an access system, we can give permissions well beyond those that can be achieved by a mechanical keying system.  We can open up buildings to activities and to people who require access beyond the normal lock/unlock times of a building.  For example, a science professor at a college can have 24/7 access into a building.  They would be allowed through specific sets of doors, into the area where their classroom or lab is so that they have no restrictions on when they choose to work.  You cannot do that with a standard keying system.  One additional note with regard to keying systems, a proper system will consist of patent restricted keys.  Only a few select people will have those keys as they will override an access system.  By using patent restricted keys, you are assured that no key will be duplicated without proper authorization.   One additional benefit of an access system over a keyed campus, is this – if you lose a Master key or worse a Grand Master key, to a campus you will have to re-key an entire campus.  The cost for that is enormous and can run from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands depending on the size of the campus.  If someone loses an access card, the rights to that card can be cancelled with a click of a mouse, and security is maintained.

Throughout this article I have talked about schools, however this technology is not restricted to schools only.  It can be used throughout entire communities, town offices, libraries, recreation centers and all other buildings within a community.

It is regrettable that we have to put together programs such as these to defend not only our students but our citizens.  Maybe one day we will be able to feel safe again in our community buildings but until that time comes, we can at least know that there are systems that are available that can minimize damage if not prevent it.


High School Staircase students

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