Shock, disbelief and tears have flooded us, after the Newtown, Connecticut slaying of 20 primary school children aged 5-10 years old--and six of their teachers and principal. Although it's easy to be blindsided by the heinous crime that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, let's ask ourselves if the same could happen at our child's school -- and what steps can be taken to prevent a similar tragedy?
Security - Is your child's school "secure"? By secure, I mean are all outside entrances locked (or gated) to visitors without security passes or security entry panel codes? Although such a measure may not have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it would definitely prevent some crimes from happening.
Screening - Does the school office have a live video feed of who is trying to gain access to your child's school? People who have a good reason to gain entry to the school could be buzzed inside, and others would be turned away. A live video feed, although not effective for concealed threats, would make apparent any obvious threats like unconcealed weapons.
Office View - Do all entrances in your child's school lead immediately to the school office? Does the office have a clear view of every person who walks through each entrance? If not, what system is in place to prevent a stranger from strolling and trolling unnoticed through your child's school? From all the schools I have ever visited, this seems to be one of the major weaknesses in the system.
Emergency Preparedness - Does your child's school have an emergency preparedness plan in place to lockdown the school if need be, and how effective is it? The same can be asked of an emergency evacuation plan? The steps that your child's school is taking in case of a threatening situation should be discussed with both parents and students -- and students and teachers alike should regularly have practice drills on the emergency procedure. There should be a special signal that teachers learn, either verbal (ie: Code Silver) and/or a special auditory signal to quickly classify and publicize the threat to the school body.
911 - Does your child's classroom have a telephone to the outside world in case there is an imminent threat? Do both teachers and students alike have permission to dial out to 911 if there is a threat? It seems that many classrooms are merely connected to a Public Announcement system that leads to the school's office. A teacher's cell phone would not be considered sufficient in lieu of a classroom landline.
Safety Equipment & Safe House - Does all the safety equipment work properly in your child's school? This would include the Public Announcement system, emergency exit signs and lights, and the fire bell. Does the school have a "safe house" area, like a gymnasium with no windows and a door that can be fortified? Having a safe house area in the school is essential for a variety of situations, not only for a gunman on the loose.
Stranger Danger - People who are known threats to the school should be made public to all staff. This includes people with restraining orders, those who've had past negative confrontations with the students, parents or staff, and those with a history of unusual behavior. Students should also be taught about "Stranger Danger" and told to avoid all non-staff members that are present in or outside of the school--and to report strangers to a teacher.