“We think the best place to start is having a comprehensive assessment,” says Timm. “That will tell you what measures you already have in place, and sometimes schools don’t even know [about them],” noting that some schools have discovered accordion gates that aren’t in use, or alarms that simply need new batteries.
Timm adds that an assessment helps schools identify where their vulnerabilities exist. After an assessment is taken, a document is written outlining recommended steps and what security measures the school should prioritize.
Timm identifies access control and communications as two extremely important factors. “People love to buy cameras, I love cameras too, but really the chief value is in forensics. People always have a burglar alarm system. I think that’s nice but the burglar alarm really isn’t protecting people,” he says. “But in the Sandy Hook case, it just appears to me that communications and access control were excellent,” says Timm, pointing out that the school did so many things right in terms of security. “So it’s just such a sad situation.”
Klinger emphasizes that training personnel should be part of any security plan. “The important thing going through the Sandy Hook report is the notion of buzzer systems. We have a lot of schools that have purchased a buzzer system and say, ‘Oh good, now we’re safe.’ Well you saw in the photos and in the report how easily [Lanza] breached that buzzer system. So if you don’t have a second and third line of defense, the buzzer system is essentially worthless,” she notes.
Klinger says the second line of defense is adequately training staff in how to screen individuals coming through the building. “We see thousands of times where you walk up, push the button and they let you in. They don’t screen to ask a visitor, ‘what can I help you with,’ or ‘what are you doing here,’ or even to find out what your demeanor is like, if you’re acting suspiciously, so there your first line is getting people who are trained to screen visitors.”
Some aspects of Sandy Hook, however, leave little to be learned for schools, such as the fact that the shooter used heavy weaponry to shoot through a glass entrance. “It’s very unsettling to think about the prospect of somebody forcing their way in like this. It’s an anomaly, we don’t have those incidents, or at least a pattern of those incidents,” says Timm, who points out that schools cannot barricade themselves against every possible type of weapon that might be used by an attacker.