THE MAGAZINE

Black Swans and the Challenge of Mitigating the Unknown

By Bob Raffel

School vulnerabilities

I teach a course in risk analysis for a small university. Every semester, my students conduct a risk analysis on the school itself. Sometimes the threat they are given involves a school shooting incident. In these cases, the risk mitigation measures their teams apply to the university produce very similar results. Some illustrative examples follow:

• Classrooms are constructed without windows or exit doors. In some schools, classrooms walls are glass.

• Classrooms have one door, which opens in and cannot be locked from the inside.

• Doors all contain glass which enables anyone on the outside to look (or shoot) into the classroom.

• Interior walls are constructed of plasterboard. A shot from a 9mm handgun (Lanza had two of these) would travel through most (if not all) of the building before being stopped.

• Outer school perimeters are seldom contiguous; nor are they usually monitored, either by staff or cameras.
• Day-to-day protocols, even if understood and disseminated appropriately are often not observed.

• Importantly, emergency measures with regard to school shooting incidents are seldom briefed down to those who may actually need to know them and are (even less often) practiced.

• Administrative procedures (supported by classes, lectures, etc.) designed to identify and act upon certain student behaviors might be implemented and carried forward.

• Security guards/police and even teacher volunteers might be armed and placed in the school.

• On a higher plane, appropriate legislation in response to legal issues. These might range from availability of weapons to information-sharing among health professionals.

• Especially in the case of elementary schools, students need to be taught to both recognize and communicate dangerous behavior to school authorities.

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