The May 24, 2022 tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas was heart breaking beyond words. Of course, any loss of life is tragic, but when tragedy is preventable, it stings even more.
As we have done with countless other events, we analyze the circumstances of that horrific day – not with an intent to cast blame, point fingers or ‘Monday morning quarterback’, but instead to learn – so that we can hopefully prevent future tragedies from occurring. By preventing future deaths from occurring, we hope to honor the victims of this tragedy.
After every disaster, we purposefully engage in a period of silence. This is done for two reasons. First, we feel strongly that the immediate aftermath of a disaster should be used to remember and honor the victims. Second, in almost any disaster the initial flow of information is unreliable at best. We never seek to spread false information or rumors and would rather wait for credible information from official sources/investigations/reports before providing any sort of analysis or comment. We have always taken great care to ensure all the information we share is accurate and factual – this is a commitment that we take very seriously.
Unfortunately, many of the failures in Uvalde stemmed from complacency and a lack of vigilance. Also, several of the lessons learned at Uvalde, especially concerning the law enforcement response, had already been known and identified – some dating as far back as 1999 during the Columbine High School tragedy. It was sad enough to learn these lessons then – to see similar mistakes repeated is beyond rational comprehension. Let’s channel the sadness and grief that we feel for this incident into something positive – and let’s honor the victims by ensuring we are doing all we can to make our places of work as safe and secure as possible.
Lesson 1: This Can Happen in Your Community
Our aim is certainly not to increase anxiety or cause panic – however, we must live in reality. The years 2019, 2020 and 2021 saw the most mass shooting events in United States’ history. Currently, crime and violent crime is at or near all-time highs in many jurisdictions. As we have seen with countless other mass shootings, these do not just happen in big cities. We must ensure we do not fall into the mindset of ‘this can never happen here’. As our Institute’s motto states: Don’t be scared, be prepared.
Just as we prepare for fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and a host of other disasters – we need to ensure our programs are prepared for these types of incidents as well. The Institute for Childhood Preparedness offers many options to help get your staff and your program prepared – everything from in-person training, to site security assessments, to on-demand training offerings to our series of three books. We must strive to create a culture of safety and shift our thinking of preparedness as a ‘chore or requirement’ to understanding that preparedness truly is an investment.
Lesson: Do not be paranoid but be realistic. You know what to do if your clothes catch on fire – you also need to know what to do in an active shooter event.
Lesson 2: Doors Must Be Secured
The single biggest thing you can do to protect yourself, your place of employment and even your vehicle is something that literally costs no money at all. Ensuring your doors lock – and that you use the locks can go a very long way in keeping everyone safe.
Leading up to the tragedy in Uvalde this was not a priority. In fact, school personnel frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks. School administrators routinely ‘looked the other way’ and “actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys.” Further, multiple witnesses confirmed to the Committee that teachers would routinely use wedges, rocks, and other items to hold doors open. Substitute teachers were also instructed to use these methods of circumventing locks – because there was a ‘key shortage’.
On the day of the shooting, “in violation of school policy, no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary. As a result, the attacker had unimpeded access to enter.”
As noted in the Committee’s report, “Locking the exterior and interior doors ultimately may not have been enough to stop the attacker from entering the building and classrooms. But had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes—long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers.”
Sadly, this lackadaisical approach to security helped the shooter. “In particular, staff and students widely knew the door to one of the victimized classrooms, Room 111, was ordinarily unsecured and accessible. Room 111 could be locked, but an extra effort was required to make sure the latch engaged. Many knew Room 111’s door had a faulty lock, and school district police had specifically warned the teacher about it. The problem with locking the door had been reported to school administration, yet no one placed a written work order for a repair.”
As we have traveled the country, we sometimes encounter individuals who are confused about whether or not it is okay to lock doors. As we explained in this 2019 blog post , locking your doors does not run afoul of licensing requirements. In fact, many licensing officials – in the wake of these tragedies – are now actively encouraging programs to be more proactive with safety and security.
Lesson: Lock your doors, if door locks are not functioning report them immediately and prioritize their repair.
Lesson 3: Communication is Essential
If you have taken our active shooter course, you know that we put an emphasis on communication. Why? Because communication is one of the key elements to your response. Your communication methods should be practiced routinely, ideally daily. During an emergency you rely on the familiar, you fall back on what you know.
This leads to another big point – buying ‘stuff’ does not mean that you are prepared. Training your personnel so that your emergency procedures are second nature is what saves lives. In Uvalde, numerous factors – such as slow internet service, poor cellular coverage, and staff not having cell phones with them all prevented timely notification of the lock down. In fact, some staff/teachers never even received the lock down notification. The simple truth is the sooner you are aware of a potential problem, the more time you have to respond and protect yourself and the children in your care.
The initial notification of the active shooter incident occurred when Robb Elementary Coach Yvette Silva, who was outside with a class of third graders witnessed a backpack being tossed over the perimeter fence. After the backpack was tossed over, the shooter – dressed in all black – climbed over the fence and began shooting.
As noted in the Committee’s report, “Coach Silva thought the attacker was shooting at her, and she ran from the field toward her classroom. She used her school radio to report: “Coach Silva to office, somebody just jumped over the fence and he’s shooting.” She ran toward a group of third graders on the school playground to tell them to lock down. She expected to then hear an announcement of a lockdown, but she did not hear one right away.”
The Committee’s report also describes the actions of the principal. “Principal Mandy Gutierrez had just finished an awards ceremony and was in her office when she heard Coach Silva’s report over the radio. She attempted to initiate a lockdown on the Raptor application, but she had difficulty making the alert because of a bad wi-fi signal. She did not attempt to communicate the lockdown alert over the school’s intercom.”
Lesson: Communication systems must be practiced on a routine basis. Reliance on simple low-tech solutions, such as yelling down the hallway or blowing an air horn, can be more reliable than high-tech apps.
Lesson 4: Our Initial Response is of Paramount Importance
Most individuals think about the failure or success of an emergency or a disaster to be something that our traditional first responders (law enforcement, firefighters, EMS) control. However, the real truth is that the first few minutes of any emergency or disaster have a significant impact on the overall severity of the situation. We need to begin recognizing that we have a responsibility as the initial responder.
Uvalde is an interesting example, in that 376 law enforcement officers were on the scene of the shooting. This is a tremendous amount of law enforcement officials – way bigger than police departments in most US cities. Despite this overwhelming number of law enforcement officers, for more than 70 minutes not one officer engaged or stopped the shooter.
In thinking about who really could have prevented deaths from occurring, consider: “The analysis provided to the Committee strongly suggests that of approximately 142 total rounds fired by the attacker in the building, approximately 21 of those rounds can be identified as being fired after officers entered the building. It thus appears to be virtually certain that over 100 rounds were fired before the arrival of the first responders.”
Lesson: We all have a role to play, and our actions will likely directly influence the outcome of these horrific events. Knowing what to do and how to do it is of vital importance. We can’t simply rely on first responders – because in many cases the shooting is over before first responders arrive on the scene.
Lesson 5: We Must Remain Vigilant
One of our most popular courses is our Situational Awareness course. We strongly recommend that everyone receive situational awareness training prior to beginning active shooter training. Situational awareness simply means ‘being aware of your surroundings’. Understanding what is usual and unusual in your environment is so important.
Uvalde is a border-community and has seen a rise in human trafficking incidents over the past several months. The term ‘bailouts’ is a term used in “border communities for the increasingly frequent occurrence of human traffickers trying to outrun the police, usually ending with the smuggler crashing the vehicle and the passengers fleeing in all directions.”
As the Committee noted, “The frequency of these “bailout”-related alarms—around 50 of them between February and May of 2022—contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts. The series of bailout-related alerts led teachers and administrators to respond to all alerts with less urgency—when they heard the sound of an alert, many assumed that it was another bailout.”
Lesson: We must always remain vigilant and treat every alarm or notification as if it is an actual emergency. Obtaining situational awareness training so that you can be more aware of, and in-tune with, your surroundings is of paramount importance.
Sadly, we know that Robb Elementary School will not be the last active shooter tragedy that we experience in the United States. However, by learning these lessons we can help make our places of work more secure – and ultimately seek to limit the number of lives lost.
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